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June 15, 2003

Livingston County
Daily Press & Argus On-line
by Jim Totten

Robert Scranton

A POW, Extraordinary Teacher and Principal
with a connection to Hartford Michigan


Bob Scranton will ride high on July 4

Bob Scranton is a living legend in Brighton. And so is his size 13 gym shoe.

When students at the old Brighton Middle School on the hill, now the BECC Building, managed to get into trouble during the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, they faced an imposing principal. Scranton stood 6 feet, 4 inches, weighed 250 pounds and spoke loud and clear.

His motto for treating students was "Fair, firm and friendly."

When it came to being firm, Scranton kept a size 13 gym shoe in his office to do the talking. He would give the troublemakers a single whack on the buttocks with the gym shoe and send them on their way.

This shoe was given to Scranton when he retired in 1983 after working 31 years for the Brighton school district. He served 29 years as principal at Brighton Middle School, which was re-named Scranton Middle School before he retired. The school moved 10 years ago into a new building on Maltby Road.

Scranton, who is 84 and lives in Green Oak Township, will receive special recognition next month when he rides as the grand marshal in the annual Fourth of July parade in Brighton. He will be accompanied by his wife, Mildred. They have been married 52 years and have two grown children.

Although Scranton's health has declined recently - he has suffered three strokes and uses a cane while walking - he's still passionate about three things. He's crazy about students and the University of Michigan Wolverines; he's also fiercely patriotic.

During his years as principal, Scranton watched students grow up and have their own kids who would attend the middle school where he reigned as principal. Not only did Scranton teach and serve as principal, he coached many students and single-handedly ran a summer recreation program that taught about 5,000 kids how to swim and play little league baseball.

Many former students and former co-workers have a tremendous amount of respect for Scranton. As they came to know Scranton, they discovered his bark was worse than his bite. His true love was teaching and guiding students.

"He had a heart of gold for the kids," Brighton resident Jere Michaels said. He said Scranton was his science teacher and coached him in football, basketball and golf during the 1950s. Michaels, who served 12 years on the Brighton school board, said Scranton was principal when his kids went to the middle school.

Michaels said many of the former students come back and visit Scranton.

"I don't know if anybody has given more to the (Brighton) community," Michaels said.

Current Scranton Middle School Principal Ken Hamman said Scranton was the one who hired him as a teacher-coach in 1975. Hamman taught four years and served as assistant principal for four years before replacing Scranton as principal in 1983.

"I was scared to death," Hamman said about the first time he met Scranton. He said it was his first job interview and Scranton was an "imposing figure."

"I'm not a small guy, but I was small next to him," Hamman said. The interview went fine because Hamman and Scranton had something in common; both of them were from the western side of Michigan.

Hamman described his mentor as friendly, very honest and forthright. He said, "You always knew where you stood with him."

Hamman said his former boss was well-liked by the students.

"Compassion, I think compassion was his greatest asset," Hamman said. "He taught me the value of looking at what was in the best interest of the kids and always to base your decision on that."

Scranton is a huge Wolverine fan because he attended U-M and received his master's degree. He's been a fixture at football and basketball games for the past 40 years. He served as an usher at football games for over 40 years and at basketball games for over 30 years.

What many residents might not know is what Scranton went through to make him so patriotic.

His World War II days

Scranton grew up in Paw Paw, a small community in southwestern Michigan. He played football and baseball in high school and went on to play football at Western Michigan University. When he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, the 25-year Scranton soon found himself fighting in Europe.

He fought in the Battle of Bulge and was captured by the Germans in December 1944. He spent the next few months on a forced walk across 540 miles through Czechoslovakia and Germany.

Scranton said he and his fellow soldiers lived on raw sugar beets and potatoes that they stole from nearby farms. The sugar beets were raised for cow feed.

He remembers asking a buddy why everyone was calling him "slim." According to Scranton, his buddy said, "Look at yourself, you're skin and bones."

Scranton said he lost over 100 pounds during the walk, and his 6-foot-4-inch frame had dropped to under 150 pounds. He said many guys couldn't keep walking, and the Germans picked them up and supposedly took them to a hospital. He said, "Those guys just disappeared."

Of the 300 soldiers who started out on the march, Scranton said only 30 survived.

Scranton said he wasn't scared during this time.

"I had a strong faith in God that I would make it," he said. Scranton kept a small Bible with him and read it every night with whatever light was available. Scranton received a Bronze Star for his service.

A lifelong educator begins his work

When Scranton returned home in 1946, he became a teacher-coach at Hartford, a small town near Kalamazoo. He coached football, baseball and basketball and became a very popular person.

One young girl, an eighth-grader, even had a crush on Scranton. She told her older sister, Mildred, about this wonderful teacher and kept talking about him. Mildred decided she would have to meet this Mr. Scranton. Her younger sister arranged for them to meet at a dance after one of the games. [Mildred (Clover) Scranton was a 1943 Hartford High School graduate.]

Mildred liked him immediately.  "I liked him because he was in charge and knew what he was going to do with his life, there was no indecision about him," she said.

Scranton was equally impressed with his future wife.  "She had good looking legs," Scranton said, grinning.

Scranton said he ended up in Brighton because the school superintendent, H.G. Hawkins, told him about an opening in the district. Hawkins [Hawkins at HHS 1944-1947] knew Scranton from when they worked together at Hartford. Scranton took on his responsibilities in what was then the small town of Brighton and never left.

"Brighton has been good to me and my wife and my two kids," Scranton said.

Scranton has been a longtime member of the Brighton Rotary Club and the American Legion Post 235. He served as president of the Rotary Club.

Bob Sweeney, former Brighton community education director, worked with Scranton for 10 years. Sweeney retired this year as community education director after working 29 years.

Sweeney said four of his kids went through Brighton schools, and two of them had Scranton as a principal.

He said Scranton had a great sense of humor and a "booming voice."  "You always knew where Mr. Scranton was," Sweeney said.

He said Scranton was a kind man but one whose authority was clearly evident when he entered a room.  "He never minced any words," Sweeney said. "When he had an opinion or thought, he would let you know."

Sweeney said the longtime principal helped students become better.

"He really tried to hold people to a high level of success and have them realize you're not going to go too far in life if you don't take care of business," Sweeney said.

Mark Binkley, co-owner of Cooper & Binkley Jewelers in Brighton, has known Scranton for many years since both are members of the Rotary Club and Brighton First Presbyterian Church.

"I know he's fiercely patriotic," Binkley said.

He remembers seeing Scranton seated in a wheelchair at a U-M basketball game earlier this year. "When the National Anthem played, he stood up," Binkley said.  "Although he's not able to get on as he used to, he had the class to stand," Binkley said.

Bob Scranton passed away on April 29, 2009.

Daily Press & Argus
by Reporter, Leah Boyd

Former School Principal dies at 90     

     Robert Scranton, the former school principal for whom Brighton's Scranton Middle School is named and who survived as a prisoner of war during World War II, died Wednesday. He was 90 years old.Robert Scranton d 4-29-2009
     Family members said Scranton, a sports lover who spent decades actively volunteering and serving Brighton Area Schools, died from complications of kidney disease at a nursing home in Ann Arbor.
     He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mildred, two children, and three grandchildren.
     "He had a tremendous zest for life, but the body just gave out," said Mildred Scranton of Brighton. "He really enjoyed people and the community."
     Robert Scranton began working for Brighton Area Schools in 1952, and served for 31 years in roles including teacher, coach, athletic director and middle school principal. The district Board of Education named Robert L. Scranton Middle School in 1977 to honor Robert Scranton after 25 years in the district.
     Friends and former colleagues said Robert Scranton was highly respected as an administrator.
     "He was an institution all on his own," said Peg Siford, a former Brighton teacher. Siford said she knew Robert Scranton for 50 years and, in her younger days, worked with him to run a recreation program for Brighton Area Schools.
     Joyce Powers of Brighton said her late husband, Lyle Powers, a former Brighton High School principal, also worked with Robert Scranton for many years. Four of her children had Scranton as a principal. "We could always count on Bob," Powers said. "People ran a tight ship in those days and that was good. He was highly respected."
     Robert Scranton, born Nov. 8, 1918, in Paw Paw, was also known as a World War II veteran who was captured as a prisoner of war in Belgium during The Battle of the Bulge. The battle, fought in the winter months of 1944 and 1945, was the Nazis' last major attack on the Allies. More than 76,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured during the attack.
     Ken Hamman, current Brighton High School principal, said Robert Scranton shared several war stories with him during their years working together for the district.
     "He made me appreciate what their generation went through," Hamman said. "He shared a lot of his stories of survival."
Hamman said Robert Scranton escaped as a prisoner and was eventually found by the Allies. He spent 50 years as a member of the American Legion and served as commander of Brighton Post 235.
     Robert Scranton was involved in numerous community activities and had a passion for sports. He served as a football, basketball and golf coach during his career at Brighton Area Schools and was an enthusiastic University of Michigan sports fan, family members said. His wife said Robert Scranton spent many years ushering at U-M football and basketball games.
     He also was a member and past president of the Brighton Rotary Club and served as a deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Brighton.
     Family members said Robert Scranton was a family man who loved to dance. He and Mildred Scranton married in 1950. Scranton had been the teacher of his wife's younger sister.
     Before coming to Brighton, Robert Scranton was a teacher in Byron Center and Hartford. He taught English, social studies, biology, and U.S. history throughout his career.
     He earned a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University and a master's degree from the University of Michigan.
     Robert Scranton is survived by his wife; son, Clare Scranton of Pinckney; daughter, Karen Kierpaul of Westland; and three grandchildren, Eric Scranton of Pinckney, and Aaron and Kassandra Kierpaul of Westland.
     Visitation will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at Herrmann Funeral Home, 600 E. Main St. in Brighton. A funeral service will be held at 12 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Brighton, 300 E. Grand River Ave. Following the service, a burial will take place at Brighton Hills Cemetery.
     Memorial contributions for the Robert L. Scranton Academic/Athletic Fund can be sent to 9441 Old Lee Road, Brighton MI 48116.


Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: March 20, 2014