Deborah Todd wasn’t that much older than her students when she first arrived in Spotsylvania County with her newly minted library of science degree from Madison College.
A Northern Virginia girl, she knew next to nothing about the rural Spotsylvania when she met then-Superintendent John D. Neely for an interview.
That was a Thursday.
When he asked her when she could start work, she answered, “Monday.”
She had the job.
Todd gladly canceled an upcoming job interview at a state penitentiary. She made hurried arrangements to stay at an uncle’s house in Spotsylvania until she found a place of her own. That weekend, she bought a car.
That Monday she began a career that’s going on 40 years; she’s worked in all three of the buildings that have housed Spotsylvania County High School.
Indeed, she’s become one of the keepers of Spotsylvania County High School lore. Years of yearbooks are stored in her school library. She worked on an alumni directory in 2013. Most recently, she and colleagues have been pulling together Spotsylvania County High School’s 75th-year reunion. The 75th tailgate event precedes the homecoming football game Friday, Oct. 2; the reunion brunch is Saturday, Oct. 3.
Students from any year starting with 1940 have been lending keepsakes for a reunion “memory walk.”
“We have gathered a lot of physical memorabilia—letter jackets, crowns from homecoming queens, gym bags,” Todd said in a recent conversation. A 1980s gym bag comes from Justin Williams, a graduate who is now minister at Hillcrest United Methodist Church in Spotsylvania County. He and his wife, Anita, first met as Spotsylvania High students.
“We have gotten Rubbermaid totes full of things,” Todd said of the reunion effort. “We found that classes of the 1940s and ’50s seem to have saved more things than classes from the ’60s and ’70s. We’ve really had to beat the bushes to get some more recent things.”
School athletes donated mementos from the heydays of Spotsylvania High football—three championships won in the 1990s.
Reunion organizers are also creating posters of photos through the years.
And not every donation is tangible.
“A couple of ladies from the classes of the late 40s and early 50s have told us tales about things that went on at school. It’s been great fun,” Todd said.
Spotsylvania High was the county’s first consolidated high school for students who had previously attended much smaller schools in tiny rural communities including Marye and Margo. Spotsylvania High, on Courthouse Road, was considered state of the art when it opened; when numbers of students grew, the next Spotsylvania High School was built across the street in 1967. Black students from segregated John J. Wright High School began attending Spotsylvania High when schools became fully integrated in 1968. The third and current Spotsylvania High opened in 1994.
Commercial development had yet to take off when Todd first arrived in fall 1976.
“The school was a place everyone had a common interest,” she recalled. “Even when I came to the county in the late 1970s, Friday night football games were a big social event. People who hadn’t had kids in school for years still came; it was the big ticket in town.”
She’s anticipating an enthusiastic crowd this weekend.
Friday homecoming festivities take place at the newest of the three high schools; the alumni brunch will take place the next day at the second high school, now Spotsylvania Middle School.
The oldest high school building maintains an important role in county life, housing the C. Melvin Snow Library, a branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library system.
Todd is pleased that the former school building still houses a library in the exact room where she first went to work, during the period the building housed a junior high school.
When the junior high closed, she moved across the street to the newer high school, and then again to the newest high school, when that opened in 1994.
Remembering that first quick career decision after graduation from Madison College (now James Madison University), she said, “I thought, well, I’ll work long enough to pay back my student loan and then I’ll move on. I never found anything else I liked enough to move on.”
She’s seen students grow up and become parents and even grandparents, but to her, they’ll always be kids, always high school students.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids go through those doors,” she said.
This June, she’ll see a lot more go through as graduates.
“This year they decided to go retro,” she said.
In recent years, graduating students wore school colors—red and blue—for graduation ceremonies.
In 2016, they will wear black caps and gowns just as their early predecessors did.
Todd always loves the moment when the announcer at football games enthusiastically welcomes the crowd “to the one, the only, the original Spotsylvania High School!”
She explained, “We’re the granddaddy of all the schools in the county. Even though things have changed, we like to think the school spirit has stayed the same.”
Alumni, past faculty and staff members are all welcome to participate in the weekend festivities. Call the school at 540/582-3882 for information about tickets and other details.