Haitian school honors Marchand legacy
The late Rob Marchand's legacy extends far beyond the borders of South Dakota. On Sept. 10, Marchand's wife Mary, joined by daughter Kate and son Jay, trekked all the way to a Haitian island, where a group of local children eagerly awaited the fa...
The late Rob Marchand's legacy extends far beyond the borders of South Dakota.
On Sept. 10, Marchand's wife Mary, joined by daughter Kate and son Jay, trekked all the way to a Haitian island, where a group of local children eagerly awaited the family's arrival to dedicate the Rob Marchand Education Center in Anse-a-Galets on the La Gonave island in Haiti.
"When I was informed about the school being dedicated to Rob, I was taken aback," Mary Marchand said. "I had never left the country before, but I knew going to Haiti and being there for the dedication ceremony with my kids was something I would cherish in my heart forever."
La Gonave is an island located northwest of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, and although Marchand had never been to Haiti in his lifetime, the memory of his impact on the Mitchell community traveled far across the Caribbean Sea with longtime friend and missionary Bruce Blumer.
Blumer, a Mitchell native, has been doing missionary work throughout Haiti for the past decade with a group he help found in 2013 called La Gonave Alive, which is a nonprofit organization in Tea that helps provide much needed resources and assistance for the impoverished country of Haiti through generous donations and volunteering.
"Haiti is a country that needs help in so many facets of life, and education is one of those needs," Blumer said. "I was in the midst of organizing fundraising for school scholarships through our organization, and that is when Dr. William and I began having an initial conversation about building a school in La Gonave, which is an area that was in need of another school."
In between feeding hungry Haitian children, healing wounds of elders and building houses, Blumer would always find time to share memories about his longtime best friend Marchand, who died after battling prostate cancer in August 2014 and was instrumental in kids' lives as the director of the Mitchell Recreation Center for 21 years.
Dr. William Hyppolite is a Haitian student that was going to medical school in 2010 when his school was destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. Blumer and La Gonave Alive have raised money for to help cover the costs of his education since, which has allowed him to attend medical school in the Dominican Republic.
"Dr. William called me out of the blue after we discussed building a new school in 2016, and he insisted we should name it the Rob Marchand Education Center," Blumer said. "It shocked me at first, because I knew Dr. William had never met Rob, but he said he knew Rob was very important to me. That was a powerful moment knowing he listened to my memories of Rob all this time while working in Haiti together."
In 2017, the Rob Marchand Education Center was officially underway, as a crew of volunteer laborers broke the dirt and began digging the foundation with help from locals and another Mitchell native Tyler Miller.
"While we had great help from missionaries in building the school, almost all of it was built by the hardworking local Haitians, and they did such a nice job," Blumer added.
The school currently has one floor, which consists of first through fourth grade, but Blumer said the school plans to build a second floor as soon as possible. If enough funds are raised, the completion of the top level of the school will house fifth through eighth grade classrooms.
As soon as La Gonave Alive began fundraising for the new school, the donations from Mitchell residents followed, mobilizing efforts to help fund the school's completion.
"We had checks from so many people from all over the place," Blumer said. "Former Yankton classmates, coworkers, coaches and parents of kids who had been impacted by Rob in one way or another, all showed their support. ... It's interesting because we didn't have any really big donations. Instead, there were so many small donations, which says what kind of person Rob truly was."
The school's students are also building a connection with Marchand and Mitchell. GF Advertising printed and donated shirts to each Haitian child who attends the Rob Marchand Education Center, while L.B. Williams Elementary students sold jam and donated all the proceeds to the school.
"Rob was a humble man who loved his community and always believed in helping kids become better people," said Mary Marchand, who taught next to her husband for 35 years at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School. "Those are just a few reasons why so many people love Rob and donated to the school to honor him."
Marchand said L.B. Williams raised enough money to buy the school uniforms for the education center, which were designed by Blumer's son, Ian, who also volunteers his time in Haiti.
"When I saw some of the Haitian kids wearing their shirts with Rob's name on them prior to the dedication ceremony, I got very emotional," Marchand said. "Having the opportunity to see how happy these kids were to start their education and future was so uplifting."
At the dedication ceremony on Sept. 10, Marchand's older son Jay and younger daughter Kate both spoke to a crowd of grateful young Haitians who now have access to an education and future, something Rob Marchand always valued.
"Now that I've been there and saw these little kids in that school wearing shirts with my husband's name on them, it made it that much more meaningful," said an emotional Mary Marchand, who stuffed extra school supplies into her carry-on luggage to bring to the students in Haiti. "There really aren't any words to describe that moment."
From a school bus with Marchand's name on the side, to a mural of him in the hallways of the brand new school, Marchand's legacy of serving the youth lives on through every Haitian student that walks the halls of the building bearing his name.
"I left with a smile in my heart knowing that these kids have an education, and there are kind people in this world that want to make the world a better place, just as my husband did," Marchand said.