TOWNSEND — On Thursday, March 19, the Townsend Historical Society hosted a potluck supper and the general public was invited. The admission fee was to bring a dish to share.
Following the supper there was a special program, with guest speaker Norman May, a former Spaulding Memorial School principal. He shared his “Memories of SMS” with everyone.
Among the familiar friendly faces were Mrs. Kerry Thrasher (former third-grade SMS teacher), Mrs. Debbie Bossidy Kondig (former SMS kindergarten teacher), Gene Rauhala (former SMS student), and Anne Foresman (former SMS reading specialist, curriculum coordinator and assistant principal).
Rauhala, a member of the Townsend Historical Society, introduced the evening’s presentation and speaker.
“Norman May was a ‘principal’ character in Townsend,” Rauhala joked. He gave a brief biography of May and outlined how life has changed from 1966, when May began as principal, to the present.
“Gas was 32 cents, milk was $1.11 a gallon, movies were $1.25. It was the television debut for the Monkees, Mission Impossible, Petticoat Junction and Star Trek,” Rauhala said, “and you’re able to still see these programs on TV today, in reruns.” He added that there were 3,900 people living in Townsend and houses cost an average of $16,500.
“I had the privilege of serving as principal from 1966 to 1986,” May stated. “Spaulding Memorial School had a warm, welcoming feel about it. The interior of the school, the lobby entrance, all was welcoming. And the people the teachers, staff, school nurse, custodians, specialists, teachers aides, cafeteria ladies you couldn’t run the school without them.”
May spoke about the history of the Spaulding family, about the planning and building of SMS, and various aspects of the school. He started by showing a piece of leatherboard, since the Spaulding family was in the leatherboard business, which earned them millions, he said.
“The Spaulding family generosity is likened to the Fessenden family and the Stone family,” May said. “Huntley and Rolland Spaulding got involved in the family leatherboard business.”
Huntley N. Spaulding eventually became the governor in New Hampshire, “and was a very good governor,” May said.
He noted that the Spaulding brothers, Rolland and Huntley, donated approximately a half million dollars to build a school in Rochester, N.H.
“This school is still in use today,” May stated. “It sits on 33 acres and the building was dedicated to their, brother Leon, who had died years before. May indicated the photo of the school on the display board, noting how the school looks very similar to the Spaulding Memorial School.
The Spaulding brothers heard there was a need for a new school in Townsend and offered a sum of $250,000. It was their wish that the new school would be located where it is today, and dedicated to their mother and father. The Fessenden family gave another $15,000 toward the construction of the school.
May informed the audience that Spaulding Street was named in place of Brookline Street, in honor of the Spaulding family.
The construction of Spaulding Memorial School began in April 1931. There were houses that had to be torn down, and wells to be filled in.
“I was always afraid that someone was going to walk on the (school) lawn and fall through one of those wells,” May joked.
Spaulding Memorial School was dedicated to the town of Townsend on its 200th anniversary, June 29, 1932, and there was a big parade.
The school began by housing grades one through 12, in 1932. The school’s first principal was Hamilton Bailey.
When May took over as principal in 1966, SMS housed grades one through six.
May reminded everyone of the renovation and addition to Spaulding Memorial School, which had to be closed for repairs.
“It cost about $7 million dollars, for the construction of the addition, renovations, and removal of the asbestos,” May said. The renovations were completed in 1993 and the historical exterior of SMS was maintained.
Upon reopening, SMS housed and still houses preschool through second grade. “although that is soon to change,” May stated. Due to the closing of Squannacook Elementary School, May said, next year the Spaulding Memorial School will hold grades kindergarten through fourth grade, with the preschool moving to the North Middlesex Regional High School.
May took a walk down memory lane, so to speak. He spoke of the old coal bin, that used to hold 100 tons of coal.
“This is before the school converted to heating oil,” he said. He also spoke of the cots and the first aid kits that Civil Defense used to store at the school.
May picked up two shirts off the display table, and talked about their history.
“The yellow T-shirt was the first T-shirt that was designed,” May said. “There was a contest. One of the kid’s drawing was selected as the winner of the contest, and the Spaulding Memorial logo began. It was supposed to be a drawing of an eagle, but it looked more like a chicken.” The yellow shirts evolved into blue ones, which the PTO sold.
Taking a blue and yellow beanie from the table, May asked if anyone remembered the beanies. Mrs. Kerry Thrasher burst into laughter and replied, “He would always make the teachers wear them on the first day of school!”
May proudly held up the wooden model of the school.
“I received this model of the Spaulding Memorial School when I retired,” May said, recalling how teachers used to receive a miniature model of the school on a necklace when they left. He learned that the practice continues.
May called his time at SMS “the best years of my whole career.”
Anne Foresman, a former teacher and assistant principal, spoke as well. She fondly remembered the “bat” on top of the school. “It was a friendly, familiar sight every morning.”
Foresman also fondly remembered the tremendous view from the school’s attic, and agreed wholeheartedly with May about their feelings for the school.
“It is a feeling of family,” Foresman said. “And in some schools, teachers aren’t so ready to share ideas with each other. In SMS, the teachers and staff readily shared and exchanged ideas and solutions. We had a newsletter that went to all of the staff, with everyone’s input.”
The evening itself was an evening to remember and served as a reunion of sorts for many people.