I know for many people, high school is easily forgotten.
It’s not a time worth remembering due to bullying, perhaps the death of a friend or parent, maybe conflicts with teachers. I understand that.
But for me, and, apparently hundreds of others, judging by the throng that showed up for the public open house Nov. 22, Vernon Secondary (or Senior Secondary) School meant something to us.
The school hosted an open house to allow the public one last chance to walk through the hallowed halls, visit with former teachers and/or classmates, check out the classrooms and relive some fun times in our lives.
For me, the years 1979 to 1981 were two of the best years of my life, and those were the years I spent in Grades 11 and 12 at VSSS, when it was then the only high school in town.
The school system, at that time, had kids in Grades 8 to 10 going to either Fulton, Seaton or Kal Junior Secondary, then head “up the hill” to VSSS for Grades 11 and 12.
It meant the school on 18th Street was filled with close to 1,000 students. Grad classes consisted of 500 kids, maybe more.
But if hadn’t been for that system, I likely would never have met a lot of students who became my friends, and remain my friends to this day.
It was quite the trip to search out my old lockers (on Levels 2 and 5). The lockers look the same.
I was in the gym watching the current edition of the Vernon Panthers volleyball team prepare for provincials and I was immediately transported back to 1980, when I was captain of the Panthers volleyball squad and we were preparing for the B.C. finals in Comox.
One of my favourite classes was drama with Dave (Santa) Robertson, and it was one of my last stops at the open house, the room where I remember vividly performing scenes from Romeo and Juliet.
I never had him for a teacher, but I have long admired John Baumbrough, a member of the original faculty at VSSS. He was there with one of his daughters and it was great to talk with him.
“Roger, did I thrash you?” laughed John, the first thing he said to me.
“Once or twice,” I lied to him. We never got to talk about it but one of the big events of my Grade 12 year was the big boxing match between (and I think I have this right) chicken farmer Baumbrough and fellow faculty farmer, Dave Kerr, he of the pig farm.
Wayne Emde had old black and white photos that he had taken during this teaching years at VSS up for bid during the silent auction, where people had a chance to bid on photos, old band uniforms, old trophies.
Arguably one of the most famous photos in VSSS’ history was the aerial shot taken of my grad class (1981) painting Suicide Hill, once a VSSS tradition.
I posted that picture, and others that I took during the open house on our Grad 81 Facebook page, for those who were unable to attend. It was gratifying to see how many people checked out the photos and said thanks for the memories.
I ordered my brick – how can you be an alumni of VSSS and not want one of the bricks from the old building? – and, because I played two years for the Panthers’ volleyball team and one year for the rugby squad (we practised indoors in the winter), I ordered a piece of the gym floor.
Even 30-plus years after leaving VSSS, I’m still learning.
There have only been five principals in the school’s history. And I found out that 23 former VSSS (or VSS) grads are on staff. That includes principal Morris Vardabasso, who helped spearhead the open house.
While I’m sad to see the old VSS getting ready to close forever, I’m comforted by a lot of fabulous memories from the old brick building, all brought back to the forefront on one glorious evening.
—Roger Knox, VSSS Class of ’81, is a reporter for The Morning Star