LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Lawrence Fisher

Position: Dean of Student Life
School: West Michigan Aviation Academy
School District: West Michigan Aviation Academy
City, State: Grand Rapids, MI

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Lawrence Fisher was nominated by an anonymous colleague.

Mr. Fisher is a bit of a storyteller. As he tells it, the story of his career began as a Central Michigan University student. In his first year of college, he became quite ill and required extended hospitalization. During that hospital stay, he fondly remembers how his dorm’s RA was the only student who came to visit him. In an effort to follow in his footsteps, he made a commitment to become a professional school counselor -- so he could be there for people who needed it most. 

Mr. Fisher is somewhat famous in West Michigan educational circles for being a phenomenal school counselor, a transformative coach, and a passionate school leader. At the end of his 40th year in education, he can name the graduation years of thousands of former students, tell you what kind of mischief they got into, and tell you what their parents were like when they were students. Upon entering the school building, he’ll be quick to shake your hand, make your acquaintance, and crack a quick joke. Before you know it, you’ll be learning about the time a former student earned his private pilot’s license before he learned to drive, or how a former student chose to wear his school uniform for every day of virtual learning, even though it wasn’t required. 

Mr. Fisher is quick to draw in even the most reclusive student. He is constantly in search of someone whose day he can brighten. With his firm handshake and a wink, he can sneakily slide some chocolate from one hand to another in the crowded hallways. For students who have demonstrated outstanding character or service, a tradition of $2 bills rewards their unique contributions to their school. In the simplest of ways, Mr. Fisher engages with each student on campus, assigning nicknames, developing inside jokes, learning backstories, and making sure that no student eats lunch alone. 

Beyond these simple interactions, Mr. Fisher has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to individual students. He has a way of learning hard news and showing up at exactly the right time. He is known for appearing at students’ family funerals. Mr. Fisher has testified as a character witness in students’ defense at deportation hearings. During the COVID-19 pandemic and at risk to himself, he personally helped ensure food security by delivering meals to students’ homes. He does these things with a smile.

Through these frequent and intentional engagements, Mr. Fisher is able to build trusting relationships with the students he serves, culminating in a school culture that permeates the entire building. He is a warm demander of students, calling on each to act as “Ladies and Gentlemen,” and his students are proud to live up to those expectations. It is by his example that students shake hands with guests, demonstrate professionalism in both dress and manner, and take it upon themselves to name and eliminate bullying behaviors at school. When students falter, he is often one of the first people to know, as he has taught them to own their mistakes, to be honest, and to care. He is known for turning discipline problems into learning opportunities. 

One of the most powerful moments of Mr. Fisher's career occurred when he was a cross country coach. One season, his team took on a runner who wanted to meet personal fitness goals more than he wanted to compete. This was a student who did not identify as an athlete, nor had he ever competed in any high school sport. He would be running alongside a team that regularly sends runners to the state finals. When he began the season, his initial mile time was over twenty minutes. While his season began by only attending practices, Coach Fisher eventually talked this young man into competing, to be proud of his consistent trend of setting PR’s (personal records), and to not worry about where he finished in the line-up. Each race that season, as his team members finished ahead of him, they would each circle back on the track to find their teammate. One-by-one, they would line up behind him so that when he crossed each finish line, he had his entire team at his back. Coach Fisher ensured that each of his runners got the audience they deserved when they came to the end of their own race.

In fact, before Mr. Fisher, West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA) did not have any official extracurricular activities for students to participate in. His vision for finding opportunities to get young people involved, along with his belief that running is a metaphor for hard work and character development, brought cross country to the school. He takes that metaphor seriously. Mr. Fisher models commitment through the simple fact that he has not missed a day of distance running for 35 years. He has logged enough miles to circle the globe several times over, and he keeps a book that memorializes every person he has ever run with. It's this type of commitment that inspires others across his career. He walks his talk consistently and with dedication, and he is always inviting others to follow him on that path.  

After a full career as a counselor, Mr. Fisher transitioned into school leadership. He has served WMAA for the past 11 years as a Dean and as Interim CEO. He has helped build a school from the ground up, providing exceptional learning opportunities to young people. While the school provides unique academic opportunities to students, Mr. Fisher has helped keep the school’s vision focused on the most important things: character development, citizenship, and service. The school’s graduation requirement of 100 hours of community service can be traced back to him. He established student expectations for professional dress with WMAA’s student dress code. Most importantly, he built a student culture based on handshakes, eye contact, honesty, and common courtesy that has become the hallmark of the school. When alumni return to WMAA each year, this is the part of their education that they remember most colorfully and that they attribute most to their success.

As a leader, Mr. Fisher has been a proven model for others to follow, and no job is beneath him. He's well-known for coming to school on Saturdays to inspect the site. He can be found picking up trash and wiping windows in order to show students the best school he can. Without a doubt, he's the reason why students can be found picking up after themselves and others, following his example to keep the school a place people want to be in. In his own words, Mr. Fisher is an “enabler." He finds ways to help others be successful in the work that they do.  Little things, like swapping out a teacher’s lunch duty to help them get ahead in planning, or pushing around a refreshment cart during Parent-Teacher Conferences, become big things when done consistently for the team over time. After a hard day, a teacher can predict Mr. Fisher will be waiting for them in their classroom with a “mentor moment” to build them back up. In these ways, he has kept his school counselor mindset with him in leadership, saying “I try to lead when it's appropriate, but I try to be of service always.”

"This year, when Larry retires from 40 years of civil service in education, we wish to recognize him as a LifeChanger in honor of a career of being there for others," said the nominator. "Larry is not a LifeChanger because he had a single groundbreaking moment or had a one-off radical idea about how to 'do' education in a new way. Larry is a LifeChanger because he has spent an entire lifetime changing lives in education. Across his career, Larry has dedicated himself to showing up for those in need and to serving for the greater good."

Comments (28)

Shannon Mayo Posted over a year ago

I have been a teacher here at WMAA for almost 10 years. A few of the words/phrases that come to mind when I think of Larry: kind, positive, wise, sharing, supportive, committed, integrity, flexible thinking, balance, role model, full of life, generous, helpful, always willing, easy to talk to, values relationships, passionate, humble His dedication to co-workers and students throughout the many years as a mentor and leader is priceless! As others have said, he inspires us to BE better and DO better each day! Larry is a "life changer"! Perhaps better said a "LIVES" CHANGER!

Kira Rosol Posted over a year ago

Mr. Larry Fisher is a man who serves every single day. His support, dedication, leadership, and passion to guide and help others is evident in everything he does. Many of my students have voiced how much they admire and respect Mr. Fisher, and I couldn't agree more. He is an inspiration to us all!

Caitlin Lewis Posted over a year ago

This description couldn’t be more accurate of a portrayal of who Larry is: his exceptional character, his consistency, his leading by example, his wonderful ability to impact and change the life of any person lucky enough to interact with him or benefit from his stalwart & steadfast example. Larry is one of the biggest role models in my life and as many have echoed here, Larry has personally changed my life. I’ve not told Larry this yet (sorry to spoil this, Larry, if you see this before the card I’ll give you when you retire), but he is the reason I decided to accept the teaching position at WMAA that I currently hold. He’s the one who sold me on the school’s mission & vision; the one who first demonstrated what “exemplary individual of outstanding character” meant firsthand; the one who told me that while I had big shoes to fill, that I was more than capable. He is also one of the biggest reasons I have not burned out as a young teacher growing in her profession. This has never been more apparent than this year when, early into COVID teaching, I thought I couldn’t and felt like I was absolutely drowning in all of it. Larry listened emphatically, asked what I needed, asked how he and the team could support me, and gave me the permission I didn’t know I needed through the advice he gave me: take care of myself, do what brings me joy, take it day by day. That 30 minute conversation in his office was the life-raft I needed at the time and has helped me stay afloat in this year of teaching. Thank you, Larry, for changing my life, the lives of our students, the lives of our colleagues. You are a blessing to all of us and our worlds are so much brighter because you are in them!

Robin Koop Posted over a year ago

The description of Larry Fisher in the above nomination really tells it ALL. He is truly a "life changer" with tremendous servant leadership. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Larry Fisher while servicing as a Board member for West Michigan Aviation Academy. I have worked both in education and as an executive in a large corporation and I can honestly say there are very few people who possess the talents, compassion, dedication , commitment, vision and "just get it done" attitude that Larry Fisher has. His first and foremost priority is to students! He is an extraordinary coach, mentor, and counselor! Larry Fisher is truly a "LIFE CHANGER"

Eric Fey Posted over a year ago

Larry is willing to stop what he is doing to help any one at any time. This man changes lives, every day, and he's been doing it for decades and decades. I cannot think of a better way to describe Larry (I'm gonna start using it), he IS a "Life-Changer".

Debbie Hall Posted over a year ago

We first met Larry Fisher over 4 years ago when he gave us and our son a tour of WMAA. I can honestly tell you he is a very big part of why our son ended up attending for the last 4 years. His commitment and knowledge of the school and the importance of education all hit the mark head on! Our son also ran cross country and I know the entire team has nothing but the utmost respect for him. He has taught our son that when you strive to do your best in everything, you will succeed. Congratulations Larry on your many years as one of the finest in education. So glad our son has learned so much about life from the best. Larry Fisher for President! Could sure use your leadership elsewhere, just saying!! ??

Paul New Posted over a year ago

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear Larry’s name is integrity. He is a principled and devoted educator. This is a well deserved nomination. Congratulations Larry, it is my privilege to have you as a friend.

David Pray Posted over a year ago

Congratulations Larry, an honor well deserved!!

George Pavey Posted over a year ago

Larry is a man truly "Build For Others"!  Having known Larry now for 9 years at West Michigan Aviation Academy, his caring for students and their success is integral to his DNA.  His servant leadership style creates a welcoming and warm environment for students and fellow colleagues to thrive.  Congrats Larry...a well desired nomination!

Maureen O'Keefe Posted over a year ago

This nomination has captured Mr. Fisher so well. Perhaps the one thing not highlighted is the multitude of people who are his fans! We are grateful for his service, touched by his example of how to be excellent and of service and selfishly sad for our loss as he retires. A life of service, positively influencing lives, through humble, yet decided, leadership truly deserves this award. He's a wonderful role model for all of us.

Shannon VanZegeren Posted over a year ago

There are many wonderful things I could say about Larry Fisher, but since this is called the "Life-Changer of the Year" Award, I'd like to share a specific moment that Larry changed my life. On a February afternoon (I remember it like it was yesterday), Larry asked me to sing the National Anthem at our school's annual gala. I had aways told myself I would never publicly perform the National Anthem because it is an intimidating song as a singer – I did not believe I was capable. Anyone who knows Larry knows his charm & his wit... I simply could not tell him no. Singing the Star-Spangled Banner for 1,000 people is one of the most exhilarating moments in my life – almost like flying an airplane solo. It challenged me as a person & as a performer. Larry proved that I had been wrong about myself. Where I had told myself "I cannot", he said, "yes you can!" Thank you, Larry for changing my life.

Danielle Daves Posted over a year ago

Mr. Fisher has always been a great man to look up to. As a former WMAA student, I was lucky enough to learn from him everyday. He always showed kindness and understanding. He seemed to know when to speak and when to listen. I am very thankful for my years at WMAA and especially for Mr. Fisher.

Lisa Carr Posted over a year ago

This is well deserved. I have been fortunate to work with Mr. Fisher on occasion and he is an advocate for the amazing students at WMAA. His love for the academy is seen in everything he says and does.

Cathy Fenton Posted over a year ago

Mr Fisher is an amazing mentor, encourager and example for kids and adults alike. From the moment he welcomed my son during his first visit to tour the school, through Cross Country and track seasons and through Every day school encounters Mr Fisher has been an outstanding example of how to be a good person. Thank you Mr Fisher!

Ray Wilson Posted over a year ago

Mr Fisher showed compassion for all his students. Was there for them ad they needed support A fine gentleman and friend to all

Angie Brown Posted over a year ago

My oldest child is graduating from the West Michigan Aviation Academy this spring, and I am so thankful for the role Mr. Larry Fisher has played in his life over the past four years. Mr. Fisher has been his coach, his advocate, someone to give a kick in the pants when needed, and someone my son knows he can trust. Larry gives great advice, establishes meaningful relationships with students, and even though he is the disciplinarian, does it effectively and with care. One of the biggest impacts he has made for all students, whether they know it or not, has been working tirelessly to ensure that they can learn in-person at a time when everything is turned upside down due to COVID. Yes, all the administration has played a role and has done a phenomenal job, but it was Larry who was measuring spaces last summer to make sure proper distancing can occur and who, as Dean of Student Life, makes sure the students can still use the building safely so that there can still be student life during a pandemic. (Although like I said, every member of our administration has done a bang-up job with that!) From stopping by lunch tables to have quick conversations with students to greeting them in the hallway with the silly nickname they were dubbed at cross country practice to sharing anecdotes about former students that are helpful or funny to current students, Mr. Fisher is THERE for his students. And all teens need caring adults in their lives. Mr. Fisher is, hands down, one of the best educators and administrators I have encountered in my life...and I am grateful my sons have had the opportunity to be influenced and cared for by him.

Annette Ries Posted over a year ago

Mr Fisher is an absolute irreplaceable part of West Michigan Aviation Academy he is kind and non judgmental of all the kids and his co workers. My son made a wonderful transition from middle school to high school with the help of this amazing man. You more then deserve this award Larry thank you for being a instrumental part of helping my son and all the students at West Michigan Aviation Academy ????

Leona Robinson Posted over a year ago

This nomination is most appropriate. I am a witness of Mr. Fisher's influence and effective leadership at WMAA 2014-2019. It isn't something he puts on and takes off; it is who he is. He is an extraordinary caregiver and counselor. His impact was important to our Angel and his imprint will hopefully continue at WMAA. Happy retirement and Congratulations on this nomination. Grace and peace, Leona Robinson and family.

Maurice H. Groce Posted over a year ago

Larry, can’t think of anyone who deserves this award more than you...have enjoyed working with you these past 10 years!

Maurice H. Groce Posted over a year ago

After retiring from manufacturing and banking I was looking for a job where I could give back and hopefully involve helping young people. After exploring several opportunities I decided the best fit was working along side of Larry helping him with mentoring and your typical Assistant Principle duties. I was drawn to Larry because of his commitment to all students regardless of background social skills. I’ll never forget in my first month we were dealing with a few disciplinary issues and I went to Larry’s office and asked him what was wrong with these kids? Larry responded “ Mo remember when you were fifteen (15).” That put it all in perspective!

Ryan Kamerman Posted over a year ago

Larry has been a fantastic role model and mentor for students at West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA). He is a leader in creating a culture of professionalism, integrity, and respect for others at our high school. Additionally, I have been an assistant cross country coach under Larry for 5 years, and in that time Larry has been an ideal mentor for me as I've grown into my roll as a coach. I can't thank Larry enough for all of the positive impacts that he has had at WMAA and for all of the things he has taught me personally.

Nicole Gasper Posted over a year ago

Mr. Larry Fisher has been a model for others of what living your life to better other's lives means. He never stops looking for ways to connect and build relationships and has more energy than most! You can always count on Larry to dive into every opportunity he can if it benefits students. He doesn't shy away from doing the extra things and no task is beneath him...examples include coming to school on the weekends just to check on it, delivering meals to students during school closures, spending weekends making phone calls to families because waiting until Monday just didn't seem like a great option, running with cross country students instead of just coaching from the sidelines, and always being willing to do whatever is needed for those in his community. It has been an absolute privilege working alongside Larry where I have witnessed his love of learning, counselor heart, mentoring spirit, and genuine kindness. He sure has left his footprint at WMAA.

Sammie Stuart Posted over a year ago

As both a former WMAA student and current WMAA faculty member, I can attest to the fact that Mr. Fisher is dedicated to caring for people in general, regardless of their position in relation to his own. He is interested in the well-being of others as both individuals and as professionals and is therefore totally deserving of recognition for his selflessness.

Chris Williams Posted over a year ago

An amazing mentor and a total inspiration. Mr. Fisher always puts others before self, and every school and community he has been a part of has benefitted from his optimism and will to serve! Thankful for all he has done for me and for WMAA!

Julianna Wilson Posted over a year ago

Mr. Fisher quickly became more than just my Dean of Student Life at WMAA and more than just my Cross Country and Track coach. He became like family. We can joke around and also have serious conversations about life. He supported me from day 1 and believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. He would always push me to be better, as an athlete and as a person. He was and still is one of my biggest supporters when it comes to running, although he is no longer my coach, he will forever be a mentor to me not only in the running community, but also in life. I am so thankful to have Fisher in my life.

Peggy New Posted over a year ago

Larry Fisher is a man I am proud to call “friend”. He is thoughtful, loyal and his integrity is unquestioned. He does not judge people and has always been inspirational to me and my family. Congratulations on your next phase of life!!

Joan Porter Posted over a year ago

I'm so pleased that someone nominated my brother, Larry Fisher, for this recognition. His commitment to his students and schools over the last 40 years has been inspiring. He was born to be an educator, it's in his DNA - teaching, coaching and encouraging kids, not just his students but also his nieces and nephews, to strive to be their very best. He is authentic, down to earth, possess a generous spirt and is hilarious. I sometimes think he is Peter Pan - leading his students along to their next adventure, promoting hard work, but also encouraging fun while they learn.

Meggan George Posted over a year ago

I am proud to know Mr. Larry Fisher, as both an exceptional educator and friend. He has been a steadfast and reliable teammate, a student-focused leader, and one of the most humble educators I have ever known. I'm sure he will continue to be an inspirational leader in both Grand Rapids and beyond. Thank you, Larry!!!!