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Colleagues remember Charles William "Bill" Ridenour as a strong and gifted educator and administrator

February 05, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Charles William "Bill" Ridenour, who died Jan. 19 at the age of 81. His obituary was published in the Jan. 23 edition of The Herald-Mail.

HAGERSTOWN-- In 1970, when the Williamsport High School building first opened, Bob Wantz was second in command to Principal Bill Ridenour at the then-Williamsport Middle School.

"Despite the temptation to go over to the new school, I stayed with Bill," Bob said. "He was such a strong administrator and I wanted to learn from him."

And Bob, now retired and teaching art at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, said he never regretted his decision to stay with Bill, who died Jan. 19 at the age of 81.

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B. Marie Byers, a former school board member, added that Bill was as gifted a teacher as he was an administrator.

"He worked well with students and staff," she said.

As proof of his impact, Marie said when Bill was principal of E. Russell Hicks Middle School, he was a leader in the innovative concept of teaching students self-worth in addition to academics.

"Bill recognized that those years were so formative for the rest of a student's life," Marie said.

Except for one year, Bill worked exclusively in Washington County schools.

"In 1960, Bill and I were in Panama, where he taught college-bound seniors of Americans stationed there," said his wife, Helen Ridenour. "It was still a U.S. canal zone then."

A few of those students visited the Ridenours years later in Hagerstown to relive memories of their association, she said.

Married in 1950, Bill and Helen celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary last year.

They met through a mutual friend, who told Bill he knew this nice girl named Helen, so they got together.

Helen said she liked Bill, but it took a while for the relationship to deepen -- at least for her.

"It was love at first sight for Bill," said Ethel Barr, one of Bill's five sisters.

Helen told Bill, who was in college at the time, that he needed to get a job before she would marry him. After he graduated and they wed, they moved into an apartment in Funkstown while Bill was teaching at the then-Boonsboro Junior High School.

After teaching for about six years, Bill became an administrator. He went on to be principal of middle schools in Hancock, Smithsburg and Williamsport, as well as E. Russell Hicks in Hagerstown.

"He made me a better administrator," Bob said. "When things came up, I knew how to handle them because of Bill."

Like Marie, Bob also pointed out Bill's educational innovations, such as introducing the modular form of scheduling in Washington County schools.

"I wrote my master's thesis on that concept," Bob said.

Bill's ability to teach knew no bounds, and Helen said that was evidenced by his rapport with all kinds of youngsters. He taught a citizenship training course for troubled youngsters that was held on Saturdays, she said.

Bill retired in 1976.

"He was in real estate for a while," Helen said, but that was short-lived because of other interests.

"We went to Florida for five months every year for about 20 years," she said.

Bill then started dabbling in family genealogy and the history of his church. Through his research at the Washington County Free Library, he developed a set of "Obituary Books" there and then "Marriage Books," all of which are available for public perusal.

"He did that for about 15 years," Helen said. "Bill would write down what was on microfilm, bring it home and enter it into his computer."

Marsha Fuller said Bill was associated with the library for 17 years.

"Bill recorded 53,000 names in obituaries dating from 1790 to 2001," said Fuller, who is public relations coordinator with the Western Maryland Regional Library, which is headquartered in Hagerstown.

Records of Washington County marriages compiled by Bill included 123,000 names from 1886-1919 and 1941-1949.

"He was a wonderful man and a friend to the library," Fuller said.

Throughout Bill's life, he was steadfast in his pursuit of his goals, whatever they were.

A veteran of World War II, Bill served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific. There, he lost one of his legs from the knee down, and for the rest of his life, he wore a prosthesis.

Few people even knew that, but his sister, Ethel, remembered going skating with him once and his leg failed him.

"He would just fix it and go on," she said.

Looking back on his years as Bill's fellow administrator and friend, Bob said he feels very fortunate for both.

"Bill was so full of energy and humor," Bob said. "And he did it all on one leg."

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