A few months ago, I visited my Iowa hometown to attend my youngest brother’s final football game of his high-school career. Brandon attends the same high school I attended, which is also the same high school our father and paternal grandfather attended.
The school building has changed during the years. When my grandfather was a student in the 1940s, he went to a small but stately brick building that was one of three high schools within 5 square miles. During my father’s high-school career, in the late 1960s, early ’70s, the three high schools in the area had merged and, to accommodate the additional students, the high school received a new wing that blended seamlessly with the original brick structure of my grandfather’s day. My dad’s class was one of the first to utilize the new wing. While I was in high school, in the 1990s, we still referred to the addition as the “new” wing.
During summer 2012, my former school built another addition to accommodate the elementary students who now also attend classes in the building. Despite years of rumors that our small school was closing, I am grateful the place where I enjoyed my adolescence still stands.
Similarly, Margaret Christian, class of 1937 of Lynchburg High School, Lynchburg, Va., is able to point out where her school memories took place because Kirk Noyes of Gloucester Development Team Inc., Gloucester, Mass., gave her high school a second life as a residential space. Noyes has dedicated his life’s work to making abandoned schools into low- and moderate-income housing and condominiums. (Read more in the January-February issue’s “Residential” section.) When Noyes told me about Lynchburg High School during our interview for the magazine, I reached out to an industry friend, Paul Seufer, general manager, Machinery, for Lynchburg-based N.B. Handy, to get a local’s perspective about the project. Little did I know Lynchburg High School has a long and storied history, and Paul’s relatives were part of many of its highlights.
For example, Margaret, who is Paul’s 92-year-old mother-in-law, mentioned her time at Lynchburg High was the happiest of her school life. “People were people; everyone was accepted; and they came from all over the city. They were lovely, wonderful, ordinary people,” she said.
In the 1940s, Lynchburg High was renamed E C Glass High School after Lynchburg native and Sen. Carter Glass (D-Va.). “Glass was responsible for the Glass-Steagall Act, which limited commercial bank securities activities and affiliations between commercial banks and securities firms. It was repealed in 1999,” Paul noted, pointing out we currently are grappling with what happened after the act was repealed.
When a new high school was built in Lynchburg in the early 1950s, it took the E C Glass High School name and Lynchburg High was renamed Robert E Lee School. “It was named after a famous general in the South during the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’” Paul chuckles. (He and I have a bit of a North/South rivalry.)
Bruce Christian, co-chairman, N.B. Handy, and Paul’s brother-in-law, was class of 1965 at R E Lee, a time when Lynchburg was integrating its schools. “It was the first time Bruce had class with anyone other than kids of the same color,” Paul explains. “Bruce commented on how it was ‘neat’ to be with other kids from throughout the city, along with the African-Americans who were given their choice to attend R E Lee.”
A building with such a fascinating history like Lynchburg High School deserves the opportunity to remain a functioning part of its community. Had it not been for Noyes, Lynchburg High School may no longer exist. This fact is not lost on me. I, too, am glad the building I attended for four of quite possibly the most important (and fun) years of my life still stands and that I can walk the halls with my niece and point out where my beloved school memories actually occurred.