People searched for their lockers. For names on the drama department’s legendary Green Room walls. They scooped up old yearbooks, class photos, bid on photos from the years they attended. They bought bricks that the school is famous for, or pieces of the gym floor. One woman even remembered the three numbers of her combination lock from more than 30 years ago.
It was a night full of memories, laughter and smiles as several hundred people toured the hallowed halls of Vernon Secondary School one last time during a public open house Thursday evening.
“Nostalgia,“ said VSS Class of 1991 grad Lori Shippy on why she attended the open house. “The school’s getting torn down and I’m kind of sad about that. The teachers were great, very helpful. I played sports throughout my five years here, all types of sports.”
The old school opened in 1968 as Vernon Senior Secondary, which housed Grades 11 and 12 students until 1984-85, when it expanded to Grades 8 to 12 and became Vernon Secondary School. It gives way in January to a new VSS, being built on the same 18th Street site.
Shippy attended Grades 8 through 12 at VSS, and said she made friendships at the school that still exist today. The new building that will open Jan. 7, 2013 has drawn some envy from the former Vernon Panthers athletic standout.
“It’s huge, nice and I’m really jealous,“ smiled Shippy. “I hear the gym’s amazing. And it’s got windows.“
Ah, yes, the windows, or lack of them in the old brick building. That was a very popular topic, particularly among original VSS graduating Class of 1969 members Juliette Bru Cunningham and Judy Inglis Hermanson.
“It was difficult getting used to not having windows in the classroom. I think it‘s been proven that was a bad idea,“ said Cunningham, who holds a soft spot for former VSS teacher Anna Cail.
“She was an excellent teacher and her classes were pretty inspirational,“ said Cunningham.
For the girls in the first graduating class of VSS, they took the protest movements of the 1960s into their own hallways.
“We were the first girls not wearing dresses anymore,“ said Hermanson, adding that students “froze to death in winter” at the new high school. “They said we couldn’t come to school in jeans. One day, we all showed up in jeans. That was the turnaround.“
While current staff members manned tables that were selling souvenir bricks, pieces of the gym floor, T-shirts, yearbook and photo sales, plus silent auction items, former staff toured the old hallways. Those included John Baumbrough, one of the most popular teachers in VSS history who was part of the first faculty in 1968.
“The first year was a bit difficult, everybody was getting used to it and we did our best to break the school,” said Baumbrough, whose five kids are all VSS alumni.
Among those purchasing souvenir bricks was Class of 1976 alumna Helen Schnyder, who flew in from Whitehorse Thursday to visit her parents, who still live in Vernon, but also to attend the open house.
“It was amazing,” said Schnyder, who met her future husband, Craig Smith, in Grade 8 at Fulton Junior Secondary. “It brought back all sorts of memories and it was great to be here with my old high school friends.”
Also wandering down the four levels of hallways in the main building was Vernon School District board chair Bill Turanski, who had three of his four kids graduate from VSS.
“The turnout tonight is incredible,“ said Turanski. “I expected quite a number of people but I’m overwhelmed by what I’m seeing.“
Current VSS students were also helping out. Demetre Kontos (Class of 2015) and Keiryn Young (Class of ‘16) were selling burgers and hot dogs. Both were impressed by the turnout.
“I wasn’t sure people would hear about it but it makes sense they’d want to come one last time,” said Kontos.
Young is looking forward to moving into the new facility in January.
“I’m excited for the windows,” she laughed. “It won’t feel like a prison anymore.”
Funds raised from the sale of items, and from a barbecue held in the school cafeteria, will go to the VSS Scholarship Fund and athletic department.
An open house at the new VSS will likely be held in the spring.