Varina HS celebrates 50 years at site

On May 5, 1963, at 3 p.m., officials of Varina High School dedicated their brand new school on Messer Road.

Exactly 50 years later, on May 5, 2013, at 3 p.m., VHS officials and community members will again congregate on Messer Road to dedicate the school and celebrate their sparkling new surroundings – courtesy of a three-year, $30-million renovation project of the facility and grounds.

Among the activities highlighting the 50th anniversary and re-dedication ceremony in the auditorium will be performances by the VHS band and chorus and presentations by student leaders recounting events of the past six decades. (Until 1963, the high school was located in the building currently housing Varina Elementary School.)

Following the opening presentations, Varina District leaders John Montgomery of the School Board and Tyrone Nelson of the Board of Supervisors will join officials from the architects and contractor, BCWH and KBS, to lay a commemorative brick outside the main office. A reception will be held afterwards in the new cafeteria.

Student leaders will also conduct tours at six stations throughout the campus, and visitors will enjoy the opportunity to record their favorite memory on posters at each station.

In addition, the VHS Center for Communications has produced a documentary and published a commemorative newspaper that will both be available at the event. The eight-page newspaper will sport a cover page featuring all VHS principals and will contain a retrospective of events, advice from 10 outstanding alumni and infographics illustrating, among other things, the evolution of sports uniforms over half a century.

Junior Sara Wagner remarked that studying changes in fashion design and hairstyles over the years was one of the most interesting aspects of her research for the paper. "It was a lot of fun getting to look at old yearbooks," said Wagner, "and seeing people you know – even parents and some teachers."

Department chair Beverley Lanier noted with a chuckle that she, in fact, was one of the "old-timers" students discovered as they browsed the old yearbooks – and that the discovery inspired considerable hilarity among the students.

"They even found an old videotape [of me] from 1982 with really long hair," said Lanier, whose teaching career at Varina spans 33 years.

‘Shocking' surprise’
The half-hour documentary, which includes clips of seniors interviewing 26 coaches, principals and alumni, presented a challenge to the juniors who were charged with connecting all the pieces into a cohesive whole. "It was difficult to put it together and make it flow," said junior Katie Norman, "so there were no awkward gaps. Then we had to add effects, graphics, and music."

But their work on the documentary also helped students appreciate the advances that have been made since the school's early days – not only in technology, but in the learning environment in general.

Junior Arlee Pearlswig was struck by several revelations in the documentary – among them an interview with a teacher describing the tedious mimeographing process, and another depicting traditional teaching models in which students listened passively and rarely asked questions. "It was definitely not as interactive as today," Pearlswig said.

What most surprised Pearlswig in making the documentary, however, was learning about smoking policy on campuses of the not-so-distant past.

"You used to be able to smoke at school," said Pearlswig. "The teachers could smoke in teacher meetings, and the students had smoking areas. I found that shocking."

Progressive plumbing
Other features of the year-long celebration include a new history exhibit in the main office that contains artifacts dating back to 1929, displayed in a special case built and designed by current teacher Tim Greenway.

Among the older items catalogued by Virginia Brown, VHS librarian of 18 years and unofficial historian, are photos of the four one-room schoolhouses (Osborne, Fort Harrison, Laurel Hill and Town Hall) that combined to form the original Varina School in 1909.

At the time, said Brown, the school housed a total of only 45 students in grades one through 12 – who probably answered to the call of a 1909 school bell that also has been uncovered.

"[Another] tidbit I thought was interesting," said Brown, "was reading that the [original] Varina School got running water in 1923."

The Varina Community League, which had raised funds to supplement the school's operating budget in 1909, came to the aid of the school once again and helped bring in modern plumbing amenities.

"The League raised $607.87 for a well, tank, pump, and drinking fountains," said Brown. "And one restroom – for 376 children.

"That doesn't even count the teachers!" she exclaimed incredulously.

For details about the VHS 50th anniversary or the May 5 celebration, visit
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