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High school celebrates centennial, invites former employees

Posted September 4

— Teachers and administrators, both current and past, gathered this past Monday at Parkersburg High School to reminisce and celebrate the school's 100th birthday.

The school began its centennial celebration the previous Friday with the first home football game and several social events and tours of the school over the weekend. Tonight a time capsule will be buried on the campus at 6 p.m. and a dedication ceremony held with officials and dignitaries at 7 p.m. in the same style as the school's opening ceremony 100 years ago. Parking in the horseshoe will be reserved for handicapped guests.

The Alumni A Cappella Choir provided a concert in the fieldhouse at 7:30 p.m. this past Tuesday.

The school Monday invited past teachers, administrators and staff members to gather and socialize in the school library.

"It's quite a feat, the 100 years," said Dave Burton, a former band director and assistant principal at PHS. "This has been wonderful. We get to see a lot of people we haven't seen since we left and get to talk about 'old times' again."

Bill Niday, who was principal at PHS from 1999 until 2003 and then served as superintendent of Wood County Schools from 2003 until 2010, said the centennial celebration has been magnificent. "It's really been a wonderful experience," he said.

"There is a lot of pride among all the faculty and staff and community."

Niday said the fact that a school can celebrate a centennial is a major accomplishment.

"This is a very rare occasion that you find a school that's been in the same building for 100 years," he said.

"I am in awe of the foresight the architect, the school board and the administration had with PHS. This building has served this community so well for 100 years. It's amazing."

Nici Kunze, who teaches family consumer science and is a department chair at PHS, said the event was a way to honor past faculty and staff and to give students a chance to give back.

"My advanced food preparation kids volunteered to make cookies for this," she said. "We talked about the importance of the centennial and how PHS is steeped in tradition. It has been wonderful. We're very excited."

Monday's event also featured a presentation by teacher and historian Brian Kesterson about the history of the school and its significance in West Virginia.

"Parkersburg High School is truly a school of champions, not just in sports, but also academics and the arts," he said. "Parkersburg High School has set the standard for many other schools."

Kesterson spoke about how the first Parkersburg High School was founded in 1867, but quickly outgrew the small Washington School building. Officials made plans for a new school location, then on the outskirts of the city, but faced severe opposition from residents who did not want a huge school built on a plot of land primarily known for its sand and swamp.

In 1915, officials broke ground on the site, digging a one- to two-story deep pit and driving massive pylons into the earth. A large concrete platform was built atop the pylons, some of which were simply giant trees, which then became the base of the school.

"People would say 'A building to house 1,200 students that will never be filled,'" Kesterson said, eliciting laughter from listeners.

The school has averaged about 1,200 students a year and at times has exceeded that amount. Fifty years ago a second high school, Parkersburg South High School, was opened because of the city's growing students population, and it now houses nearly as many students as PHS.

Kesterson said PHS to this day is "one of the oldest school buildings in the state and remains the largest high school campus in the state."

Even though Parkersburg High is well known for the excellence of its sports, academics and student activities, Kesterson said, the school provides an even greater benefit to its students: Hope.

"Without hope, none of these other things would come to fruition," he said.

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