How Margaret Livensparger changed Holt for generations
As I leave high school, I cannot recall the number of times I've played music there. I cannot recall how many events I've attended there - countless shows in which I've been a guest at my peers’ performances. It is a place that gives all people, from within our community and beyond, a place to unite. I cannot recall the number of times I've walked past its name, fixed honorably on the wall, so that all who might walk by may see.
Being an involved Holt bands student, I have spent hours in the Margaret Livensparger Theater. At the heart of Holt’s beautiful main campus sits a room that not only brings people together, but brings the best out of students and community members alike, just like it’s namesake. But I must say that I wouldn’t know this without knowing who Margaret Livensparger was.
Each year in early May, a panel of four or five people with strong connections to Livensparger sit down to speak with many soon-to-be graduated seniors. Holt Education Foundation’s Margaret Livensparger Scholarship is given to one student who has taken courses or been involved in the arts at Holt High School. I am honored to have been one of those students.
To prepare, I began doing research on Livensparger a few days prior to my interview with the board of panelists.
I learned that Livensparger began teaching at Holt as a substitute in the early 1950s. Eventually, she was hired permanently at Midway Elementary School.
After chasing down a line of connections, Livensparger’s former Board of Education colleague, Deborah Roeske, agreed to meet with me and tell me a bit more about Livensparger’s life - at least the details that she knew about her. Only minutes into our conversation that spoke the most basic details of her career in Holt, my mind started to wonder: "How many other peers of mine, who are just like me, don't know the impact that this woman had on our community today?”
"Few individuals impact a community like Margaret had."
I thought it was time to bring back her history and let other students have the chance to appreciate her life and her work for our schools once again, or, for many of them, for the first time.
“Few individuals impact a community like Margaret had,” Roeske noted.
It seems most definitely that she was, and still is, well respected by students and colleagues. Described as strict and potent in her classroom, Livensparger was strong-willed.
“For me, the first time I met Margaret; it was when I entered Midway School in 1952. I was told that the teacher at the end of the hall with the raspy voice - you needed to stay away from her,” said her former student Patrick Brown with a laugh.
Brown seemed like the next appropriate individual to seek out: a student of Livensparger’s who eventually became a friend.
Today, Brown is the owner of Holt & Dimondale Insurance Agency, and since has become an active member himself in the community. He notes that Livensparger was “a force to be reckoned with,” and it took him some time before he wasn’t timid around her.
“You took the voice as the frightening aspect of her but when you came into her class, it was all about promoting your health and welfare and promoting your education. She was more than willing to do one-on-ones. She was more than willing to help with struggling students. She really would go the extra mile to help students,” said Brown.
Quite early on, I learned that her strive for excellence and strong personality would lead Livensparger to become the principal at Midway for six years after her time teaching.
I was able to get more insight about her relationships with students from a close friend of Livensparger’s, Holt High School English teacher Bobbie Mann.
Often times, I learned that Livensparger would volunteer her time to students who were struggling or those who had been suspended, and would encourage and reinforce their sense of identity by giving them emotional and academic support.
“She was always looking for the kids that were at risk. Kids that felt like underdogs and she would tutor them in her home after school. She did that for years. She helped countless kids from feeling like failures at school,” said Mann.
Not only was it part of her daily routine to be compassionate towards others, but she would go to extensive lengths to ultimately love those who were within her reach, no matter where they were.
As I wrapped up my conversation with Mann, I asked if there were any memories that exemplified and highlighted the kind of heart Livensparger had.
"She did it constantly, that's what's so hard to put on record,” Mann said. “I mean, she was in service to her community in so many ways and it never stopped. She was always looking for a way to help others. She was always there to be supportive.”
And while I think Mann’s response was more than appropriate, I felt that by the end of our conversation there wasn’t one particular instance that I even needed for my research. Livensparger’s attitude and life were overflowing with a proclamation of everything that this woman was.
The more I spoke with those that experienced and witnessed everything that Livensparger was, I was all the more blown away with her sacrificial lifestyle. I was hearing of selflessness and a giving heart, all the while maintaining a drive for higher standards from her students and fellow community members.
What astounded me the most was finding out her husband, son, and daughter predeceased her. Somehow, she found a way to pour the rest of herself and everything she had into other people, even after multiple devastating events. I can’t imagine being strong enough to do that, and even if I had that strength, I can’t imagine giving it up for someone else.
At least that’s how I see things.
Apart from Livensparger’s relationships with students and Holt Public faculty around the community, she was an instrumental leader as a Board of Education member after her retirement and a 20-year period of time as a Holt substitute teacher in 1996. Her strong-willed demeanor from her classroom teacher days seemed not to dwindle.
"...she was in service to her community in so many ways and it never stopped."
“[After her family passed,] Margaret decided to get herself involved in everything. And the voice… the voice demanded attention. When Margaret spoke, and I don't care who you were, you listened. She did not say things twice,” recalled Brown.
Brown emphasized the ways in which Livensparger had to the will to drive a project to its completion, no matter what it took.
“When Margaret spoke, we listened. She said, ‘We need to get this and this and this done’ - and we did. I don’t care who you were. Even if you were the superintendent, because the superintendent would bow down to Margaret Livensparger. And in a respectful way, because she would nag you until it got done,” Brown said.
Roeske recalls her time with Livensparger on the board similarly. She explained that she was never afraid of standing up for what she knew was the right decision - and it was always in the best interest of students.
Roeske said that as for the board, “all we had to do was follow her example.”
The reputation of this involved lady was nothing that was kept a secret. She was well-known, and not just for one thing or another. So I decided to post in Holt’s community Facebook group to see if there might be any one of the 5,000 members of the online group who had something to say about Livensparger. I received numerous comments from people around the Holt community today who were touched in some way by Livensparger’s life. It was incredible how many testimonies arose with stories of everything she was involved in: largely Holt’s United Methodist Church and her annual spring break mission trips with the youth group, her renowned babysitting programs, her gardening, and one of the most monumental pieces: Gunn School.
Livensparger spearheaded the restoration and preservation of Gunn School, the one-room schoolhouse situated on the corner of Holt and Washington roads. Now honored with an Ingham County historical marker, the school represented Livensparger’s passion for keeping students engaged in a piece of history that was dear to her heart.
During the construction of the Main Campus High School (behind which she, of course, was a driving force), I was told Livensparger convinced the construction workers to help her out in renovating the schoolhouse. At this point, it doesn't surprise me one bit that they would listen to her, and she would find a way to make her dream come alive for that ramshackle structure. It has so much history - a history that we can remember thanks to her.
Her passion for students, her love for history and knowledge, and her strong-willed persona were abundantly and faithfully expressed right up until the stroke that would ultimately take Livensparger’s life. The day just before the incident, she was doing what she had been for several years: taking students from Washington Woods Middle School on a field trip to the old schoolhouse on the corner to share her experiences growing up in the Great Depression and her well established connection to one room schoolhouses, just like the one they found themselves sitting in.
“That’s how she would’ve wanted to go,” said her granddaughter, DiAnne Warfield, who currently works at the Holt-Delhi library.
Livensparger’s life was one that I can genuinely say I want to model. Her consistent and enduring care for others made an impact on this community in such a large way through her seemingly small and trivial interactions and relationships. It molded, in many ways, a generation of Holt Public Schools administrators and students, all the while transforming our community as a whole.
Livensparger was a woman who loved others where she was at. She didn’t need to create something monumental to have an impact that was just that. Amid her unimaginable hardship, she pushed forward, giving endlessly by pouring her time, energy, and resources into those around her she decided to love.
It’s easy to see that Livensparger influenced the next generation of our community, but I have to say - it can’t be just that. A life as well-lived as Livensparger’s may be forgotten in some of its detail, but I believe it’s impossible to extract the spirit of her life from Holt’s DNA.
If I may add one last thought: It’s important to know where you have come from. It’s who we are as humans. This is our DNA - as people, as a community. We couldn’t be who we are or where we are without people like Margaret Livensparger who paved the path to get us here. Her dedication was not only for the students she had in her classrooms, but it was also for us, the generations to come. The work of Livensparger and those like her is worthy of our respect. It’s honorable and it’s worth remembering.
Today, I walk by her name fixed on the wall above the theater entrance and it’s not just a name anymore. It’s a symbol of selflessness, compassion, a standard of excellence, and most importantly, the unity of a community.
The Margaret Livensparger Theater has been rightly named.