Find a way to preserve our ‘Red Devil relic’
“The past is prologue.” — Shakespeare
Simply put, we are products of past experiences which shape us as a person, a culture, a people, a nation, and yes, a community. As a retired history teacher of 34 years, I find today’s national events troubling but with some understanding. Those thoughts are for a later time.
I am writing today about preserving history and yes ... keeping, not tearing down, a monument worth acknowledging: the old Rustburg High School (now middle school) which has been in our community for over a hundred years. It will soon be destroyed to be replaced by a new but needed middle school.
How do we honor our Red Devil relic still knowing it must be torn down? A plaque on a wall somewhere doesn’t suffice. Those halls represent so many happy memories of graduation, meeting new friends, of the many athletic events and homecomings. Simple brick and mortar can not tell the story of those great teachers and administrators. Every student wanted to be in Mrs. Clara Drinkard’s (English) class. Who could forget Mr. Olaf Waddell (Agriculture)? What a treat for a struggling student to have the understanding of Mrs. Anne Greene (Math) or enjoy the love from Coach Pat Bell (Physical Education) or Miss Anne Bragassa (English)? Mr. Hugh T. Pendleton gave his career and life to Rustburg High School and Campbell County.
When people ask me why I ended up being a teacher, it was easy: the students and teachers of Rustburg High School displayed to me the care and dedication to follow in their footsteps.
Many years ago in Amherst County, I was teaching a Civics class with the goal of connecting the past to those students at Amherst Middle School. Originally, this was Central High School, the only Black high school in Amherst County before integration. We wanted to put a trophy case in the AMS lobby with a collection of old yearbooks, graduation announcements, school rings and banners from the school. To our shock, nothing could be found. Everything had been stored away at Amherst County High School and over time disappeared.
We did receive contributions from former Central High graduates who also came to school to be interviewed by the current middle schoolers. The day was remarkable as the younger generation were enlightened by those former students who had to face going to a segregated school. Their history is gone.
History lost is quite frequently forgotten. I do not wish the same for Rustburg High School. Yes, I know items are housed at the current Rustburg High School. Yet, I wish some of those would end up back at the school where those memories were formed.
In a perfect world, I would love to keep the original building which houses today’s middle school offices. Some people do not realize that this is the original high school that was replaced in the 1950s by the elementary school while the high school came along with a new addition and gymnasium. I know it would probably be too expensive to update and keep.
But I can dream of it with pictures or remembrances of former teachers and administrators. Also, trophies recalling the days of Charlie Falwell (our first football star), Ronnie Eagle (four-sports letterman), Donnie Puckette (basketball), Richard Elliott (track and field), Mauri Anderson (football and track) and Kenneth Tweedy, just to name a few standouts from that school.
If my fellow friends in Campbell County scoff, let me say the day is coming when the county may have only two new high schools. How will Altavista, Brookville and William Campbell celebrate their past in their respective buildings?
Some of Rustburg’s history is already gone. It is sad that our younger children and students never had the chance to eat at Jack’s Place? Nor venture down the street to the Coffee Shop? And who can forget “sitting on the wall?” Also, did you know Rustburg had a Buckingham Palace? If you do not know that, you are not from Rustburg.
In conclusion, this is a place I love. Change is inevitable. But to end on a happy note ... being a Red Devil taught me although we are different, and despite what we have heard, some things in life can be so important in our youth but to find life and expectations so different in our later years.
I learned early like many Red Devils about the Rustburg-Brookville rivalry. It is so funny many of those students and people at other schools became great friends (Coach Bunker Hill and Jim Whorley) ... some even became husband and wife. But as a man growing with age, I still experience youthful urgings left over from my Devil days which bring a youthful spark of passion.
Outside Brookville High School on Timberlake Road recently, a sign said: “Bees we are ... Bees we will bee.” I smiled and said to myself: “But on the level ... I’m glad to be a Devil.”
Once again ... the memories came back ... “When dear old Rustburg High School falls in line ... we’re going to win again another time ... and that dear old school we love so well ...”
I am asking the board of supervisors, school board and our Rustburg community to put our heads together and try to save our history, preserve it ... not tear it completely down.
TONY E. MITCHELL
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