Independence High School Alumni Award Recipients

Russell Fortlage 2024 Recipient of the Diploma of Distinction

Russ Fortlage, '59 recipient of the 2024 Diploma of Distinction

Photos From the Ceremony

Russell Fortlage was born in Independence and has remained an Independence resident his entire life. He was a member of the first-ever Independence kindergarten class, held in Historic Hall, which at that time also housed the Council Chambers and City Jail! Russ attended first grade through senior year of high school in the old brick school building on Brecksville Road (now demolished) across from St. Michael Church. As a senior, Russ was elected president of his class as well as Student Council President. School policy did not allow one person to serve in both positions, so a classmate took on the Student Council leadership role. …Read More Russell Fortlage 2024 Recipient of the Diploma of Distinction

William Taylor & Mike Foor To Be Honored as Educators of Excellence

The IHS Alumni Association is pleased to announce the 2024, Educator of Excellence Awardees! This year we have selected two esteemed faculty members, William Taylor, biology teacher and Mike Foor, industrial technology teacher. Both will be recognized at a luncheon on March 11, at 11:30 a.m., in the Media Center at the High School. Please consider attending this celebration and share a memory about either of these instructors!

Mike Foor receives the Educator of Excellence Award from Dale Veverka

Dan Konfal, Geraldine Kaftan and Joe O’brien enjoying the Educator’s of Excellence award luncheon.

View a photo gallery from the luncheon

Diploma of Distinction Award Ceremony

Honoring Joan Puzder GanimIHS Class of 1965
Monday, June 12 7:00pm, Media Center – High School

The Independence High School Alumni Association welcomes you to attend the 2023 Alumni of Distinction Award Ceremony on Monday, June 12th at 7:00pm in the Independence High School Media Center (old library room). This is an open public event – all are welcome to attend.

The Alumni Association is proud to announce that the 2023 Alumni of Distinction Award will be presented to Joan Puzder Ganim, IHS Class of 1965.
Joan is recognized for her dynasty of Gymnastics excellence, her pioneering vision, her selfless dedication and her unparalleled success in gymnastic education, training, coaching, and mentoring.

Remember that during Joan’s high school years, there were no varsity sports programs for girls. Joan was the premier pioneer leader in bringing excellence to women’s as well as men’s high school gymnastics varsity sports.

Recognizing that developing and achieving gymnastics excellence must start long before high school years, 48 years ago, Joan and her husband, Ron Ganim, envisioned and personally funded the creation of Gym World, providing an opportunity for kids – girls and boys alike – “as soon as they can walk” through highschoolers, to develop and refine their personal athletic, health, fitness, and gymnastic skills, abilities and confidence.

In 1984, recognizing public school limits, Joan and Ron (Gymnastics World) accepted coaching contracts from North Royalton and Brecksville High Schools. They agreed to provide the floorspace, equipment, trainers, and leadership for both schools’ high school gymnastics’ programs. These services are still being provided to this day.

Perhaps even more so than the incredible records set, and competitions won, Joan provided a welcoming environment of care, belonging, purpose, commitment, hard work, and teamwork.

We are ever so proud to recognize Joan who has perhaps the most State Championship winning record with 20 consecutive State Championships (23 total) for any public school in the State of Ohio.

But more than a winning record are the thousands of young children who matured into confident adults with lifelong skills, confidence, and appreciation for hard work and exacting standards.

Please join us to recognize Joan

Educator of Excellence 2023 Award Ceremony

Monday, March 13, 11:30am-1:00pm, Media Center – High School

The March meeting of the IHS Alumni Association recognized the accomplishments and achievements of Jodie Hoffner, the 2023 Educator of Excellence award winner.

Jodie Hoffner The Independence Alumni Association recognizes the accomplishments and achievements of long-time educator and Independence Primary School kindergarten teacher Jodi Hoffner by naming her the 2023 Educators of Excellence.

Hoffner is in her 33rd year of teaching. She has taught 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 1st and now kindergarten. She feels the best part of her career in education has been forming a close bond and life-long relationship with her students, their families, and her colleagues in a “magical” place like Independence Primary School.

Mrs. Hoffner was the lead coordinator of two National Blue Ribbon School Awards for IPS (1994 and 2012). She received her undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and her masters degree in reading from Baldwin Wallace University.

Mrs. Hoffner is married to her husband, Edward. She has two amazing daughters: Emily, 26 and Rachel 22.


Diploma of Distinction Ceremony

Alumni Meeting
Monday June 13, 7:00pm

IHS Alumni Peter Kirsanow — Class of ’72 will be honored.
Don’t miss the June 13th, IHS Alumni Association Meeting. Join other alums on Monday at 7:00 pm, in the High School Media room, where the Diploma of Distinction will be awarded followed by refreshments and a general meeting!
Pete KirsinowPeter N. Kirsanow, graduate of the Independence High School, class of 1972, will be honored. Currently, Peter is a partner with the law firm of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, working within its Labor & Employment Practice Group in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a black civil-rights commissioner and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (a part-time appointment), serving his fourth consecutive 6-year term, to which he was reappointed to by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in December 2019. He is the longest-serving member among the current commission. He was previously a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from January 2006 to January 2008.
President Bush appointed Kirsanow to the five-member NLRB in 2006 for two years, where he was involved with significant decisions including Oakwood Healthcare, Inc., Dana/Metaldyne and Oil Capital Sheet Metal, Inc. In 2008, Kirsanow returned to the Cleveland law firm of Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP, where he is a partner with the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group and a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. He represents management in employment-related litigation, contract negations, NLRB proceedings and EEO matters.
Kirsanow has written articles for National Review since 2003. Kirsanow testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nominations of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, and at the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions’ nomination for United States Attorney General.
Biography courtesy of Wikipedia (

Awards to Graduating Seniors

Submitting an essay responding to the prompt, “My years at IHS have prepared me for my future in the following ways.”
Since 2009, Graduating Senior Awards totaling over $10,000.00 have been awarded. All Awards after 2015, have been $500.00.

2009 Nickole Iula
2010 Chris Bierman
2011 Nicole Schmetzer
2011 Emily Buffington
2012 Rebecca Molinar
2012 Lauren Pieplow
2013 Graham Montague
2013 Jonathan Wygonski
2014 Kelly Jones
2014 Alex Scotton
2015 Alyssa Prochanski
2015 Kelsey Stefansk
2015 Magdalena Zumack
2016 Elena Paparizos
2016 Mallory Trombetta
2017 Ryan Wancata
2017 Marielle Bender
2018 Karah Chappel
2018 Nicole Dolansky
2019 Timothy Marcinko
2019 Diamanda Zizis
2020 Rachel de Haan
2020 Katie Taliaferro
2021 Benjamin Vitron
2021 Josette George

Diploma of Distinction Award Recipients

1936 Evelyn Kurtz Skoczen
1937 Jack Buess
1938 Walter Wisnieski
1939 Joyce Wisnieski Kramer
1938 Bud Wisnieski
1942 Wesley Gaab
1942 Miriam Wisnieski Merleno
1948 Jeannett Hasman Jenson
1952 Anthony Appenzeller
1954 John Galik
1957 Jack Katzenmeyer
1966 Bob Wagner
1975 John Nicastro
1975 Tony DiGeronimo
1995 Anthony Togliatti
1959 Russell Fortlage