VERGENNES — A happy accident in a Vergennes Union High School hallway led to a gathering in the school library that on Nov. 2 united and honored dozens of current and former long-term VUHS staff members.
All, from food service workers to foreign language teachers, had worked at VUHS for at least 15 years, under the terms set out on the Ray E. Davison Tribute plaque — which school librarian and media specialist Chris Brady recently found by chance.
Brady came across the plaque, intended to honor school employees with 15 years of service but forgotten since 1985, when VUHS athletic director Peter Maneen was working in one of the school trophy cases.
“He was just sort of rearranging things, and I just sort of spotted it in the back,” Brady said.
The plaque carries the name of the late, much-admired Davison, who spent 35 years in public education, much of it locally, as teacher, guidance counselor and administrator. He also served as the longtime deputy chief of the Vergennes Fire Department.
Although VUHS does have ways to recognize long-term employees, the Davison plaque struck Brady as a good extra way to do so — and to reconnect former staff members with the current school community.
He soon hatched a plan to gather as many as possible of the employees who have amassed 15 years of service to VUHS since 1985.
“The plaque just got me thinking,” said Brady. “The Davison tribute seemed to be the only physical artifact in the school that recorded, displayed and honored the service and commitment of longtime VUHS staffers.”
The school administration agreed to set aside an hour on Nov. 2, which was an in-service day at VUHS, to recognize the group, and Brady enlisted guidance counselor Angela Gilbeau to track down and invite those who had retired.
“She really put things together, the outreach,” Brady said.
At 9:30 a.m., the entire school community packed the library to recognize their long-serving current and former co-workers, some of them posthumously.
One who attended was former English teacher and department head Ann Sullivan, a Panton resident whose fulltime career at VUHS ended a half-dozen years ago after 38 years.
Sullivan said she was thrilled by the event.
“I think it was one of the nicest things to ever happen to me professionally and personally,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan described a “feeling of euphoria” among her former colleagues, almost all of whom in the area attended.
“I think to a person, the teachers that were there … felt the same way,” she said. “It was a treat to see all those people who were there 10, 20, 30 years on every day.”
Sullivan said she was thrilled to see secretaries, bus drivers and kitchen workers who would “slip me a cookie” or a cup of coffee in the morning.
“They were all part of the family,” she said. “That was the best part, that it was everyone.”
Brady had a message for the gathering that morning.
“We … are responsible for nurturing thousands of students who have gone on to be successful productive members of our society,” he said.
“Our efforts over the years have contributed to the dreams and aspirations of nurses, teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, mechanics, plumbers, builders, planners, managers, musicians, artists, sculptors, scientists, parents, firefighters, soldiers, sailors, pilots, police officers and hundreds of other positions that span the spectrum of occupational pursuits. The work done here, by us, is unquestionably noble, altruistic and worthy of praise and recognition.”
Those honored on that Friday had their names inscribed on a second plaque. Both plaques as of late last week were still in the library, and Brady said they will not be forgotten this time around.
Brady said Sullivan provided a perfect example of something else he hoped to accomplish. He noted Sullivan was a member of the school’s first graduating class, in 1960, and that her children and grandchildren attended VUHS.
Brady said like many community schools, multiple generations of families — including those of teachers such as Sullivan — attend VUHS.
“I think it is important for the people working here now to get a sense of the history,” he said.
Brady also took advantage of the occasion to announce a significant donation by one of the former employees, library aide Lenore Morse. Morse will donate her collection of thousands of books — mostly “contemporary fiction, non-fiction and biographies,” Brady said — to the library. The books will be embossed with her initials.
Also, Brady said the remarks the honorees made when each was introduced in turn alphabetically made it clear they appreciated the event.
“People were as pleased as can be to be invited back,” he said. “They were just pleased to be remembered.”
Sullivan said she felt reconnected to the school, although she remains in touch with many of her former colleagues and classmates.
And she said the event added to her sense of pride in a school that has increasingly been recognized in Vermont for its quality.
“Our reputation has increased tremendously as a school,” she said. “To be part of that has been great.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.