Class of ’95 President pays it forward, pumps up the jam at Ponderosa
PARKER – As this summer’s reunion for the Class of 1995 approached, Chris McNellis says he was battling a growing sense of guilt. The former class president had done a lot at Ponderosa High School, including winning the school’s first state championship in wrestling, but he had failed to see one important task through.
Since Ponderosa opened in 1983 senior classes had presented the school with senior gifts. Whether it is the electronic marquee in front of the school, the slate sign outside the entrance or the state championship trophy cases, the donation signifies the gratitude of the graduates.
The Class of 1995, however, didn’t take part in the tradition.
“It is a way to honor and give back to the school, as they graduate,” McNellis explained. “As the class president, it was an obligation that fell on my shoulders.”
At the time, McNellis says he was a bit more focused on the social side of things. Years later, however, his regret over his unfinished business grew.
“I always felt like I didn’t fulfill part of the obligation that we had—to give back, like so many of the other classes had done,” McNellis said. “It was a wrong that needed to be righted.”
As his 20-year reunion approached, McNellis decided to do something about it.
“As I’ve gotten older, I've gained wisdom in life. I just realized how important it is to do what we can to clean up the wreckage of our past,” he explained.
He started a GoFundMe.com site, encouraging his former classmates to donate to the cause. A total of $1,460 was raised and presented to Ponderosa’s Athletic Director Tim Ottmann at the end of July, during a tour of the school for the returning alumni.
“People did what they could and they really thought it was a neat project and were happy to just fulfill their responsibility or their obligation like other senior classes,” said Ottmann.
The gift has been combined with the $4,000 raised by the Class of 2015. While you may not see the result—you certainly will hear and feel it the next time you’re at an event in Ponderosa’s gym.
“Two classes, twenty years apart, contributed to the new sound system in the gym that was so desperately needed,” McNellis said proudly.
“We’ve been working hard to upgrade this 33-year-old facility and make it competitive with the other high schools,” Ottmann said. “We want to thank both classes for their donations. We encourage them to come and watch a game and hear the music on the new system, once it is put in.”
McNellis, who now works in Minnesota for a training and consulting company in the automotive industry, says he will likely get a chance to check out the new sound system this winter when the school invites back its former wrestlers.
Nearly half the Class of 2015 came out for the reunion, which included three days of events. Thirty-five or so alumni came to the tour, led by Ottmann.
“They went around and found their lockers. It was great and we reminisced with them a little,” Ottmann said.
“That was one of the highlights of the trip,” added McNellis who brought his wife and two sons. “I have a couple of old friends that I like to connect with and they have a couple of boys too. To see them in the gym and play in the wrestling room is a really cool experience.”
“A lot of the school looked the same. It looked great,” McNellis said. “Ultimately it was the same sights, the same smells, the same sounds.”
As he has gotten a bit older, he has gained a greater appreciation for the school and his education.
“Looking back, I have a lot of pride in that,” McNellis said. “There were really great people, with really great families at a really great school and the school system in Douglas County.”