For one of the few times in his administrative career, Vernon Secondary School principal Morris Vardabasso was unaware of a school assembly.
That’s because the one called for Wednesday morning at VSS, which staff and students knew about, was in his honour.
Vardabasso retires at the end of January, fulfilling a goal of seeing the new high school open to replace the old brick building, which it did on Jan. 8.
“They told me there was a problem in here (gymnasium), I walk in and see all of you guys,” said Vardabasso, called “Mr. V” by students, who was greeted with a standing ovation by the entire student body and staff.
Vardabasso was given a seat at centre court, accompanied by his wife, Julie, daughter Natalie, and guests from the school district including superintendent Bev Rundell.
Vice-principal Tony Dolinar and counsellor Dennis Gendron served as emcees – Gendron joked that Vardabasso was “the best-ever principal in the new building.” A video was played with students saying good bye to Vardabasso, who retires after a 33-year career that began in 1979 after his graduation from UBC.
He started teaching at the old Armstrong Junior Secondary, then moved to Pleasant Valley Secondary to teach physics and math. Vardabasso moved to Fulton Secondary in Vernon and taught physics and computers.
He worked for the school board and Ministry of Education before returning to the hallways as vice-principal, then later principal, at Kalamalka Secondary. He finished his career by spending nine years and 11 months in the old VSS, and one month in the new building.
Natalie Vardabasso had the pleasure of attending Kal while her dad was the principal.
“Two moments rudely reminded me what it was like to have your dad as principal,” said Natalie. “I was sent to the principal’s office for starting a revolution in computers class, and heard the worst words ever imagined coming out of a principal’s mouth: ‘We’ll talk about this at home.’
“And then there was the awkward experiences at high school dances. After not being asked by any boy to dance song after song, I came to the realization their principal was my dad and he was standing right there, watching.”
Natalie Vardabasso is following in her father’s footsteps. The day after he officially retires, she enters her very own classroom to teach her first class at Fulton.
Grade 12 leadership students Mckinnley Massey and Natalie Johnston presented Vardabasso with a clock as a going-away present, and let the principal know how much he’s respected and how much he’ll be missed.
“The positive difference you’ve made, you’re more than just a principal to most of us,” said Massey. “You’re a mentor and a friend. VSS will never be the same. Thanks for all you’ve done for us.”
Vardabasso himself is an alumni of VSS, graduating in 1974 after starring for the Panthers’ volleyball and basketball teams.
VSS athletic director Sean Smith announced Wednesday that Vardabasso – who once scored 68 points in a Vernon summer basketball league game – will be the first inductee in the new VSS Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Morris was one of the hardest workers you could come upon,” said Vardabasso’s Grade 12 coach Rick Inrig, who coached at VSS for seven years and is now a retired school administrator living in Surrey. “He worked endlessly. He just never stopped. He was one of those guys you could count on game in and game out to work his butt off.”
Vardabasso was presented with his framed No. 21 jersey from 1974 along with a team photo.
He was given another standing ovation by students and staff before addressing them one last time.
“I want to thank you,” he said to the student body. “You’re my inspiration, students. You’re why I do what I do. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.”
Vardabasso also praised his wife, Julie, “for allowing me to spend evenings away from home at sporting events or theatre productions, I couldn’t have done it without your support.”
Dolinar and former VSS vice-principal Andy Gilbert have been named interim principals at VSS through to the end of June.
A permanent replacement for Vardabasso will be in place in September.