School celebrates 30 years

March 08, 1999

E. Russell Hicks MiddleBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

The world was in turmoil when E. Russell Hicks Middle School first opened its doors.

It was 1968, the year assassins killed Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The Vietcong staged the "Tet offensive" in South Vietnam and Soviets invaded what was then Czechoslovakia.

"But the news was not all bad," said Gary Decker, speaking to a crowd gathered in the middle school's auditorium Sunday.

Love and social consciousness were on the radio, he said. "A new car cost about $2,800, a house was $15,000, bread was 22 cents a loaf and gas was 34 cents a gallon.


"The Dow Jones, skirts and life expectancy were all going up. So life wasn't so bad after all."

E. Russell Hicks celebrated its 30-year anniversary Sunday with songs, speeches and reflections. Decker, a history teacher at the school, recalled the era of the school's beginning.

On tables in the auditorium stood old yearbooks and memorabilia. Newspapers in a scrap book described the innovative design of Washington County's first modern junior high school.

A yellowed clipping showed the school's ground breaking ceremony. On Dec. 1, 1996, Claude Merckle, president of the Washington County Board of Education, dug his shovel into the earth where the school now stands.

The construction of the school came to almost $2.4 million, about $330,000 over budget. The 103,000-square-foot structure was built with a capacity of 1,000. It now has 651 students and 71 full-time staff members, according to Shumaker.

The 2 p.m. program began with the 8th-grade band's performance, including "American Heritage," a mix of patriotic marches such as "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Deidre Shumaker, principal of the school, welcomed State Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, and Delegates Robert McKee and Chris Shank, R-Washington.

The dignitaries presented Shumaker with resolutions from the State Senate and House of Delegates commemorating the event.

Shank, who attended the school, remembered imitating Tom Cruise in a "lip synch" contest on the auditorium stage. He refused to give an encore performance, reasoning it would not benefit his political career.

"Three of the best years of my life were spent here," he said. "I had a heck of a good time and I learned an awful lot." Sen. Munson praised the school as "an exceptional center of learning."

Superintendent of Schools Herman G. Bartlett Jr. spoke about how times have changed since the 1960s when he was in school. Schools have much more to guard against, he said, and family structures are different.

The challenges facing today's students are greater than ever before, he said. Bartlett told teachers, "you're the cornerstone to the next millennium."

Jenny Ruppenthal named Shumaker custodian of a time capsule the school is preparing to seal June 16. The 8th-grade chorus sang, "What a Wonderful World."

Gerald Hicks, nephew of E. Russell Hicks, remembered the man he said motivated his students with an enthusiasm for history. If the school's namesake were alive, "he would tell us to love our country, study its history, vote and be active in the community," Hicks said.

related story:

-- Founder Hicks knew his history

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