For Fritz and Gerry Koshiol, it all started on a spring night in 1958. Their twin boys, Pat and Mike, were ready to start school, and it was time to register.
Having gotten married in a Catholic church in St. Cloud, it was natural to want to send their children to a Catholic school in the Twin Cities, where they had moved shortly after their wedding in 1949.
But enrolling their children at St. Raphael School in Crystal, less than a block from where they lived, was not as easy as just calling the school and saying they wanted two spots in the first grade for their boys.
“First, we had to register and stand in line overnight to get our kids in the school,” Gerry recalled. “He [Fritz] came at midnight and waited in line [until registration opened later that morning]. It was first come, first serve.”
Memories and emotions
Little did Fritz and Gerry realize at the time that getting the boys into the school that fall would begin a streak of 54 consecutive years of a Koshiol family member attending the school, a fact the family plans to celebrate at the parish in the coming months. All 11 of their children went there, and 12 of their grandchildren have walked the hallways of the school as well.
The streak will end on June 1, when eighth-grader Nicole Miller, daughter of Maria, the eighth child, completes her last day of classes. Come September, she will join her older sister, Ashley, also a St. Raphael graduate, at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley.
As Fritz, Gerry, three of their children who have sent their offspring to St. Raphael and Nicole gathered recently at the school to talk about the significance of the streak, a flurry of class photos and memories surfaced — and some emotions as well.
In typical teenager fashion, Nicole at first brushed off the meaning of it all, then said, “I think it’s cool that I’m the last person.”
Her mother, however, is struggling with some stronger feelings.
“Saying it’s sad doesn’t really capture all the emotions that are there,” she said. “I’m afraid I’m going to cry at her graduation and totally lose it.”
That would be understandable, considering she has been sending her kids to the school since the fall of 2000 and works there part time. In fact, she will keep a family presence at the school by continuing her employment, which she says will come in handy for paying high school tuition.
One of three siblings to send her children to St. Raphael, Maria has seen many changes in the school in the last five decades, perhaps the most significant of which is enrollment numbers. Right now, the school has 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, a far cry from the numbers it had while Maria and her siblings attended.
Space was at a premium back in the 1950s and ‘60s, when enrollment was about four times what it is now, and both the classrooms and playground were bursting with kids.
“When I started, we had 40 to 50 kids [in a classroom, with three classes per grade],” Pat said. “It would be five rows of 10 and they were well behaved. They had no [discipline] problems.”
The 11 siblings attended the school for a 30-year span, from 1958 to 1988. Continuing the legacy into the next generation was Pat, who, with his wife, Becky, sent six children to St. Raphael, from 1981 to 1999. When it came time to decide on a school for their kids, they did not hesitate to choose St. Raphael.
“I just wanted them to have a good, Catholic education,” Pat said. “I didn’t want to send them to a public school, and I had gone here, so I felt very comfortable sending them here.”
Their oldest child, daughter Tiffany, was only two grades lower than Pat’s youngest sibling, Christopher. And, by the time Christopher graduated from eighth grade, five of his nieces and nephews had gone to the school with him.
“They [school staff members] thought they were siblings,” said Maria, who got married at St. Raphael to her husband, Don, also a parishioner prior to their marriage. “Christopher became an uncle when he was 2 years old.”
Said Gerry: “One of the girls got hurt on the playground and she wanted Uncle Christopher to take her to the nurse’s office.”
What may have confused people at the school even more was the fact that Pat’s children had the same address that he did growing up. He and Becky bought his parents’ house in 1977 and stayed there for 10 years. That added up to 17 children spending at least part of their childhood there.
Not long after Pat started sending his kids to St. Raphael, his brother Dan joined in. He and his wife, Gail, put four kids through, from 1985 to 2002. There was a brief span, from 1985 to 1988, when members of three Koshiol families all attended — Christopher (the youngest of the 11), plus four of Pat’s children and Dan’s oldest daughter, Jennifer.
“I thought it was kind of neat,”?Pat said. “I guess I wondered, too, if there was any other instance of that happening in the parish.”
Not likely, especially now with so many kids coming from outside the immediate neighborhood. In fact, long-time teacher Dave Johnson thinks there may be as few as 10 families living within walking distance of the school today.
For him, and probably many others, the graduation of Nicole Miller will be a sad day.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without a Koshiol around,” said Johnson, who started teaching science and physical education at the school in 1977 and taught four of Fritz and Gerry’s children and all of their grandchildren. “It’s a very good family. That’s the hard thing about letting go.”
Click image to enlarge
Looking to the future
Unfortunately, the prospects of more Koshiols enrolled at the school are not good at the moment. The other siblings don’t live close enough for St. Raphael to be a viable option.
But that doesn’t stop interim principal Jan Schulz from hoping. A teacher at the school since 1991, she can’t help but think ahead to the days when more of the grandchildren will get married and start having children, thus resurrecting the family connection.
“I think they should have more [kids go to the school],” she said. “Is the next generation ready to come in — the great-grandchildren?”
There are currently 13 of those, with two on the way. Added to 29 grandchildren, the odds are that someday, another Koshiol will find his or her way into the school building.
For now, the family will spend its time looking back on five-plus decades of education at St. Raphael. A party to celebrate the streak was originally planned for April 28, but has to be rescheduled due to Gerry’s recent heart surgery. They are hoping to do it sometime in June, after Nicole’s graduation.
At least one member of the family is daring to look forward. Dan offered this suggestion to Nicole as she prepares for life beyond St. Raphael: “You could get married and start it all over.”