November 10, 2023

The New Oasis

    Raise your hands if you remember the Ontonagon Area Schools’ in-house store called The Oasis.  If you remember it, dig back a little farther and try to remember why it was called The Oasis to begin with.  Many, many former students and staff remember the store, but so far, no one has been able to identify the source of the name.  Former OASD electronics instructor Larry Mattioli suggested the title of the popular song Midnight at the Oasis as a possible source.  The store was run as part of an Intermediate School District vocational class so some of us parlayed that connection into Ontonagon Area Schools Intermediate School (District).  That is our story and we are sticking with it until someone comes forward with a better memory, or perhaps (even better), actual facts.

     The Distributive Education program faded from view in the early 2000s and the room where the old Oasis store was located reverted into a more traditional classroom space.  It was rented to the ISD for a time and later converted into the school’s new Fab Lab.  School counselor Lindsey Kalla’s Career Exploration and Entrepreneur class recently renovated a room in the hall above the school music room into a new version of The Oasis.  The new store opened for business on November 1, 2023.

     The project actually started during the last nine weeks of the 2022-23 school year when the CC&E started a different venture called the Gladiator Caffeinator.  The GC is a portable coffee bar which can be rolled out for special events.  The Caffeinator was put into service when a production team from NBC Nightly News who came to the school in late October 2023 to film a feature about the school radio station, WOAS-FM.  The Caffeinator was always intended to be the first step in setting up a new school store.  The students decided it should bear the name of the former school store, The Oasis.

     According to Kalla, “We planned, created a Code of Ethics, and a slogan (‘We are always GLAD to serve you!’).  We have voted on what products to sell and the prices for the items.  After all the work done during the first nine weeks (of this school year), we decided to open small, knowing that as we make money we will create more items with the Oasis and Gladiator themes (like t-shirts) and expand the products we are selling.”  K-12 principal Liz Grenke-Leach pointed out the new business made a conscious decision to not sell the same products available in the snack machine that helps pay for some of the bills for WOAS-FM.  It sounds like the students are being exposed to ‘best practices’ like cooperating with other fundraising efforts rather than engaging in outright competition.

     It takes a certain ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ to start a new business and it certainly seems Kalla and her students checked off all the right boxes to get the store up and running.  When approached about selling WOAS-FM logo items in the store, they were greeted with another cooperative gesture when the station staff said, “Oh yes, please do!”  The station even offered to donate ten shirts and some logo hats to help them get off the ground.  The station’s GM offered to put them in contact with the local vendor who produces them for future reference.  We could call this a lesson in ‘local product sourcing’ with a side helping of ‘support your local businesses’. 

     The store is open before school, at lunchtime, and during 5th hour each day.  Plans are for them to eventually be open during home games, but this is still in the planning stages.  It would make sense because the new Oasis is located in the same hall fans enter on their way to the Gladiator Arena.

     As long as we are taking a trip down memory lane, how many former OASD students remember the school newspaper, The Spotlight?  The late Helen Toivonen, the school’s business teacher for many years, served as the advisor for this endeavor.  She always chuckled at the lengths her students went to dig up school and community news fit to print.  The Spotlight even had their own Dear Abby style advice column that went by the title ‘Dear Glipshot’.  Helen said they wrestled to come up with a suitable name for the column.  They finally resorted to cutting out the letters in the name, Spotlight, and pushing them around on the table until something resembling a word appeared.  The word was, of course, ‘Glipshot’.

     They say you can’t go home again, yet the opening of the new Oasis is more than just a nostalgia trip.  Students are never too young to learn how to become entrepreneurs – who knows what kind of path these skills will lead them down in the future?

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