By JAMIE BURDORF
The Ratliff/Comstock families stepped up to the challenge! Front row from left: Callie, Camryn and Collins. In the middle: Deb and Terry on either side of Kyia.
Back row: Trey, Kerra, Ty, Dustin and Toni.
When you think of Shenandoah schools, you’d be hard pressed to find an entire family that is more invested than the Terry and Deb Ratliff family. The couple, along with their son Ty and his wife Kerra, and their daughter Toni Comstock and her husband Dustin, have all worked or currently work within the district.
For an array of reasons, this family made the decision to become part of the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation’s “Family Challenge.” The goal of that challenge is to raise $1 million over the next decade to build the foundation’s endowment. The idea is to find 100 families over a four-year period to pledge $10,000 each. The foundation met the challenge in 2020, with 25 families pledging, and the campaign is now intense to have 25 more by the end of 2021, at the end of this month.
“Our kids teach here, our grandkids go to school here,” said Deb Ratliff, explaining her family’s decision. “It’s a domino effect and we wanted to pay it forward. Education is our town’s future.”
Deb (Rolf) Ratliff was raised in Shenandoah and graduated from SHS in 1970. She attended Peru State College, worked in Omaha and then moved back to her hometown to work for First National Bank (formerly the City National Bank) for 20 years, before heading to the high school to work for six years in the office.
She met Terry Ratliff in 1982 and they were married in 1984. “I made him take me out for lunch!” Deb recalled, with a laugh.
Terry graduated from high school in Auburn, Nebraska, in 1968 and spent two years at McCook Junior College playing basketball before transferring to Peru State, where he started playing football as well. He joined the faculty in Shenandoah in 1973, and never left, teaching industrial tech for 39 years in both the junior and senior high schools.
Terry retired in 2012 and Deb in 2017.
If you think they stay home and relax in their retirement, you’d be wrong. This incredibly active couple can be found out and about at many events. Deb calls herself a “busy grandma” and Terry is a substitute teacher two to three days a week and does a lot of woodworking projects.
Their children, Ty and Toni, graduated in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Ty went to Peru State, where he played football, and Toni followed him there, playing one year of basketball and three years of volleyball.
Both Ty and Toni eventually found their way back home.
Ty is currently a high school physical education teacher, while Toni teaches first grade. Ty’s wife Kerra is a home-to-school liaison at the elementary level , and Toni’s husband Dustin teaches fifth grade.
Collectively, there are five Ratliff grandkids who are now growing up and making memories in the Shenandoah schools.
Ty and Kerra have two children -- Trey is 9 and Kyia 5. Dustin and Toni have three girls -- Collins 8, Callie 5, and Camryn 2.
Deb and Terry have lived in the same house for 43 years and, in talking with them, they seem to know just how lucky they are to have their kids and grandkids in the same community.
“We never thought it would happen this way,” Deb said. “We just hoped they’d be close.”
The number of lives that Terry has touched through both teaching and coaching is immense. Thirty-nine years of students and players will do that. He coached football, boys basketball, girls basketball, track and baseball at either the junior high or high school levels. And he was the young coach who started Peru State’s softball team. His daughter-in-law Kerra was a standout softball player for the PSC Bobcats.
Deb recollected that she was never given the opportunity to play sports, because Shenandoah didn’t have girls sports when she was in high school. The closest she could get was being a cheerleader, and she did that from 7th through 12th grades. She remembers cheering at basketball games in the Old Armory and then in the current high school gym when it opened by her junior and senior years. She remembers that Farragut and Essex both had high school girls sports, but Shenandoah didn’t start them until three or four years after she graduated.
The apple hasn’t fallen far from the coaching tree as all four of the Ratliff/Comstock families are now coaching. Football, volleyball, basketball, track and softball – you pick the season and someone in the family is coaching at some level.
He and Deb say their best memories are of watching Ty and Toni compete for the Mustangs and Fillies.
For Deb, it was watching Toni and the Fillies beat Red Oak to win the conference in 2006, and watching Ty defeat a Red Oak opponent in tennis by wearing him down.
For Terry, the memories are many. He has clerked the Mustang and Fillies Relays for the past 49 years and keeps those meets as well-run as you’ll find anywhere. He enjoyed coaching and teaching, and really misses all the teachers and the coaches he coached with and against through the years.
After the 2019 celebration of American Education Week that the foundation hosted, Terry said he looked at Deb and told her they needed to become a part of the family challenge, which had recently been announced.
“This community and this school has been so good to us and it was time we give something back,” Terry said. “It was a good opportunity, and you don’t have to pay for it all at once. It just made sense.”
While some funds donated to the foundation go toward building the endowment, which helps secure the long-term financial future of the schools, other donations are used more immediately. Graduating seniors are awarded scholarships, and teachers receive grants for classroom materials, programs and field trips. In fact, son-in-law Dustin Comstock has been the recipient of one of the teacher grants.
The Ratliff/Comstock family is now looking at their third generation going through the Shenandoah schools. They’re three generations doing their parts to make things better for the next ones.
If you’re interested in becoming part of the Family Challenge, you can reach out to the foundation’s President Corby Fichter at 712-621-2386, Treasurer Amy Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-246-9010, or Executive Director Jamie Burdorf at email@example.com or 515-520-7641.