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SH honors Harry Rooksby

SH honors Harry Rooksby
SH honors Harry Rooksby
With her family and friends behind her, Ruby Rooksby remembers her late husband, Harry (Buck) Rooksby, at a program Sunday at South Central Elementary School. (Photo by Randy West)

The South Harrison Community School Corp. honored the memory of late educator Harry Rooksby Sunday with a tree planting and reception for the family at newly-remodeled South Central Elementary School.
Rooksby was a well-loved principal at the old Elizabeth Grade School before he retired in 1981 after a 40-year career in education. He died Sept. 13, 1999, at age 84.
A dogwood, planted earlier because of the intense cold Sunday afternoon, will grow near the entrance to the school and symbolize Harry Rooksby’s place in the tradition of public school education in that area ‘forever,’ said Supt. Neyland Clark, who presided at the program after his introduction by school board president Mike McGraw.
Jim Wolfe, 68, a teacher and principal at South Central, Laconia and New Middletown during a 34-year career, knew Rooksby well. Wolfe told several stories that reflected Rooksby’s amiable, easy-going personality, his love of children, and his seemingly effortless abilities as a school administrator.
Rooksby grew up in the Laconia area and had a farm there until he died. He went to school in Laconia, studied at Central Normal College and later earned a master’s degree at Ball State University. He first taught school, all eight grades, at the one-room Greenbrier School in Posey Township for two years. He moved to Avon, and then Peru, in northern Indiana, where he was a principal at a large junior high. It was a stressful job, and he did it for 17 years. Rooksby probably got homesick and he moved back to Harrison County, to be principal at Elizabeth Grade School, grades one through five.
Wolfe said Rooksby figured it would be a ‘semi-retirement’ type of job, but in the mid-1960s, education was forced to change as America was enveloped in war, revolution on the college campus and an emerging drug-induced counter-culture.
And then Wolfe had to have emergency surgery, and Rooksby was asked to also keep an eye on Wolfe’s school, South Central High School.
Rooksby ‘came out of semi-retirement in a hurry,’ Wolfe said.
Wolfe said when Rooksby came to his house each Friday to fill him in on what was going on at his school, he always had time to talk to Jim and Phyllis Wolfe’s daughter, Teresa, who was three. Each day, she asked her dad, ‘Is that funny man coming today?’
Wolfe said he and Rooksby used to talk frequently about school matters on the phone. They were on a party line with eight or nine families. Two women on the line kept each other up to date on the daily TV soap opera developments. Apparently Wolfe and Rooksby kept up, too.
Whenever Supt. Ed Schneider tried to call one of his principals and the line was invariable busy, he would later ask them what was so important that he could never get through. ‘Oh, Title One, Title Two,’ Wolfe fibbed, in reference to new education law.
Wolfe said the planting of the dogwood tree at the school means three things to him. It will flower each spring and brings smiles to children’s faces, as Rooksby himself did. The wood is unusually firm, strong and doesn’t decay. Children felt safe around Rooksby. And the constant growth of the tree symbolizes the positive effects of education as it improves one’s intellect.
Wolfe said Rooksby was friendly, trustful, trustworthy and accommodating, and his good friend. ‘His No. 1 concern was for the student. He never forgot the student.’
Ruby Rooksby, Harry’s widow, thanked Dr. Clark, the school board and the other South Harrison officials and volunteers for the ceremony and for the tributes. She said her husband of 27 years loved his work and was dedicated to his profession. Each fall, she said, he looked forward to the start of school. Retirement for him was tough.
Ruby said that whenever Harry learned that one of his students had graduated from college or found a good job, he always felt good. He’d feel like ‘I had a little part in the shaping of his life,’ she said.
Harry loved the outdoors, worked weekly at their small farm, and liked to make trails in the woods where they walked daily. His favorite tree was the dogwood.
Diana Grant Graves, Rooksby’s stepdaughter who lives in Bloomington, said she occasionally meets people here and there who had ‘Mr. Rooksby’ as their grade school principal. Their comments, she said, are invariably the same. ‘I loved Mr. Rooksby,’ ‘I just respected him so much,’ and ‘When Mr. Rooksby was there, I always felt safe.’
She said Harry Rooksby’s legacy for her is summed up in three words: acceptance, respect and kindness.
Dr. Clark said Rooksby’s legacy lives on in the South Harrison schools. ‘It permeates our corporation,’ he said. ‘We treat people with respect, smiles and kindness.’
After the talks and before the refreshments, everyone went outside and tossed dirt around the tree, where a stone plaque bears Rooksby’s name. In addition to Ruby’s family, Rooksby’s sister, Betty Byrum, and her son, Scott, also attended the program.