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SRHS opened in '63; alumni plan event

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By John Barnhart

    Fifty years ago this year, students from Huddleston High School, Moneta High School and Stewartsville High School first walked through the doors of the brand new Staunton River High School. It was so new, in fact, that it wasn’t completely finished when it opened.

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    “The bells weren’t working, the cafeteria wasn’t set up, the gym wasn’t finished,” recalled Glenn Ayers, who taught English and had been on the faculty of Stewartsville High School prior to Staunton River’s opening. He retired in 1995.
    Ayers said that he and another teacher were assigned to blow whistles to signal the end of classes.
    Margorie Cooper, who taught chemistry and biology, recalled the challenge of lunch without a cafeteria.

    Actually, the cafeteria dining room was open, the kitchen just wasn’t in operation yet. Only beverages were available.So, the students brought their lunch and their fourth period teacher took them to the cafeteria and ate lunch with them. Cooper said a teacher learned a lot that way, and that was a great benefit.
    “You got to know them because they came from three different schools,” Cooper said.
    Ayers recalled that there were other challenges. The gym wasn’t finished and that meant that physical education classes had no physical activity if there was bad weather. The shower rooms weren’t ready either.
    He called the prom “absurd.”
    “We all had to attend in our stocking feet,” he said.
    The reason for this was school administration wouldn’t let them wear shoes on the newly completed gym floor. The reason Ayers thought this was absurd is that, during the summer, he saw county workers walk across that floor in work boots.

Alumni
    Two current members of the board of supervisors were at Staunton River High School that year. District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek, who wears a Huddleston High School class ring, graduated with the Staunton River Class of ‘64, the school’s first graduating class.
    Ayers said Cheek, along with a number of other students, came to ask him about their grades. Everything was new and students were concerned; Cheek had received a low B.
    “Roger, this is just the first six weeks,” Ayers said to Cheek.
    Cheek’s answer came as a surprise to Ayers.
    “I just wanted to tell you this is the first time I ever got a B in English,” Cheek said.
    Ayers also taught Cheek’s daughter, April Cheek-Messier, who is currently president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
    “April was a brilliant girl,” Ayers recalled.
    “She liked to write plays,” he said. “I thought of her as a good creative writer. She had a poetic flair.”
    Bedford Circuit Court Judge James Updike is another Staunton River High School graduate who has become prominent in the community. Ayers had him in English and, back then, never thought he would become a judge.
    “He was very good in drama,” Ayers recalled.
    Ayers noted that Updike was a good speaker and had a probing mind, and these characteristics surely served him well in the career he chose.
    District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin was also one of Ayers’ students.
    “He was a character,” Ayers said.
    Ayers recalled chewing Martin out once because he tended to skip class. He told Martin that, if he didn’t straighten up, he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life. Looking at the situation today, Ayers concludes that pumping gas worked out pretty well for Martin. Martin owns Glennwood Oil and Automotive and sells more than 2 million gallons of gasoline and heating oil every month.
    Along with English, Ayers also taught economics and recalled that Martin liked the economics class.
    One of Ayers’ former students, Charlotte Maxey, ended up being a teacher in Bedford County. He said she was Staunton River’s first student government president.
    “She was just super,” Ayers recalled.

The first year there
    Cooper said the first year was a difficult transition for some students who had been used to being “a big fish in a little pond.” Now, they were “little fish in a big pond.” Another problem is that students from each school wanted the students who had been the leaders at their old schools to be the leaders at the new school.
    “It finally worked itself out,” Cooper said.
    The Class of ‘64 included three sets of twins, one of which consisted of Dennis and Douglas Dellis. The two are identical twins and this sometimes caused some confusion. Dennis said that school discipline used a demerit system. Accumulate enough and you got after-school detention. When a teacher wrote a student up for an infraction, the student would have to sign for it.
    “Every once in a while he [Douglas] would get a demerit and sign my name to it,” Dennis recalled.
    “Nobody really wanted to change schools,” Dennis Dellis said, recalling that first year.
    He and his brother wear Huddleston High School class rings and he said they all would have preferred to finish their senior year at Huddleston. However, they knew that somebody had to be the first.
    He also recalled the whistles that the two teachers blew to signal the end of class. Dennis noted that nobody had a problem hearing them because they listened closely for the whistles, “especially that three o’clock one.”

Golden Anniversary
    Now, as Staunton River High School marks its golden anniversary, the faculty is headed up by a Staunton River graduate. Michelle Morgan, currently in her fourth year as principal there. She  graduated from SRHS in 1986. That’s recent enough that some of her former teachers now work for her.
    “It really made me feel honored to work with people that I always had a tremendous amount of respect for and looked up to,” Morgan said of the feeling she had when she first took charge as principal.
    Morgan remembers two former teachers at Staunton River who had a great deal of influence on her. One was Shelby Robertson, who taught math.
    “She was a wonderful math teacher,” Morgan said. In fact Morgan almost majored in math in college because of that influence, but the influence of another teacher won out and she majored in English.
    “He [Glen Ayers] was a great teacher,” Morgan said. “He was passionate about 11th grade English. He was passionate about American literature.”
    Morgan is excited to be Staunton River’s principal.
    “Staunton River High School is a wonderful place,” she said. “We love it.”
    Morgan said she and the school’s faculty encourage students to learn and grow.
    A group of former students has organized a homecoming for all Staunton River graduates. It coincides with the school’s homecoming football game on Oct. 4. According to Vickie Woodford, there will be a pre-game celebration beginning at 6:30 p.m. and former teachers will be honored on the football field before the game. Later, between the first and second quarters, a list of SRHS alumni who serve the Bedford community will be recognized.
    “We want everybody to return to Staunton River for one night,” she said.