People come first for retired principal

October 25, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Joe Robeson

Age: 72

Hometown: Outside of Frostburg, Md.

Where would you see Robeson? Even though he retired as principal of Boonsboro High School in 1990, Robeson stays in contact with many of the students. He said he and his wife, Lorraine, attend about two high school reunions a summer, as well as weddings and funerals.

"I still feel I should be there for the students," Robeson said. "It's a lifetime commitment."

Joe Robeson doesn't seek recognition for how he helps others. In fact, he is hesitant to even talk about it, but reluctantly agreed.

The couple, who are both 1952 graduates of Beall High School in Frostburg, met in high school. Joe made a bet that he could get a date with anyone in the class and was challenged to get a date with "the brain," Lorraine Martens, who was valedictorian of the class.


Having celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August, the couple would agree that was a bet that paid off. They have a daughter and a son, who are both married, and one grandson.

"I am what I am simply because of her," Joe Robeson said of his wife.

While in high school, Robeson played football and JV basketball and ran track. He said he was an average student whose vice principal wrote in his yearbook, "To my problem child."

Robeson spent two years in the Navy as a radio operator after high school, then went to Fairmont State College in West Virginia for two years. Lorraine graduated from Frostburg University with a degree in teaching in 1956 and the couple married that August.

In exchange for free tuition, Lorraine was required to teach in Maryland for two years after graduation. She got a job at Sharpsburg Elementary and Joe Robeson transferred to what was then Shepherd College, where he earned a degree in business administration.

Robeson, who said he grew up poor, said he was interested in making a lot of money. With a job lined up in the private sector, Robeson had a change of heart after a retired teacher asked him how he was going to make a difference in the lives of other people.

After consulting his new wife, Robeson went back to college for a semester to get a teaching degree. His starting salary as a teacher was half of what he would have made had he taken the job in business.

"It was a big move. I can't imagine what my life would have been without it," Joe Robeson said.

Robeson did his student teaching at South Hagerstown High School, then after a brief stint teaching discipline at South Potomac Junior High, he returned to South High, where he taught from 1959 to 1970. While at South, Robeson started the Senior Boys' Club, an organization that changed Robeson as much as the young men in the club.

He was offered a teaching position at Boonsboro High, but couldn't find anyone to take over the boys' club at South. He gave notice that he would be leaving the next year, so they would have time to find a replacement.

Robeson made the move to Boonsboro in 1970, but the teaching position he was offered the year before was no longer available. He became vice principal instead and held that position for two years, before becoming principal.

He said he hesitated to leave teaching because he loved the contact with the students, but realized he could still have close contact with them as principal. It would also allow him to influence teachers, so that they would be better teachers for the kids.

Robeson said he would study the yearbook so he would know the students by name. He said that meant a lot to the kids.

He said he had his own way of doing things, methods that might not be allowed today, but that were successful for him. Robeson retired in 1990, a date that was planned well in advance.

"I wanted to go out on top. The best time to retire is when they still want you," Robeson said.

In addition to his school "family," Robeson is committed to his immediate family. He is one of nine children and said his phone rings almost daily with requests for help from the family.

His church family is at Emmanuel United Methodist Church, where he and Lorraine have been active members for 46 years.

"We've pretty much lived our life for family and other people," Joe Robeson said. "I think being there for people, that's very important for me."

Hobbies: In 1978, Robeson got back into running after a 20-year layoff. He was trying to recover from a basketball injury that required him to use crutches and the doctors weren't too optimistic about his chances.

Robeson decided to try running and before long, his leg was stronger and he had lost some weight. He ran is first JFK 50-miler in 1980 to raise money for a friend's medical bills. Since then, he's run 10 more JFKs, raising money for different charities.

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