Editor’s note: The following article was written by Harry V. Turner. Mr. Turner spent 13 years as principal of McClain High School, following six years as assistant principal and many years before that as a teacher. He reflects on McClain High School as it celebrates 100 years.
What is it like to be principal of Edward Lee McClain High School? This is a period commentary from 1952 to 1979.
Dreams are important in the lives of people who have achieved success and to share with others in a community of birth. Such was the case of Edward Lee McClain, who made his fortune making collar pads to fit under the horse collar to prevent a sore neck of horses needed to work primarily as beasts of burden for American farmers.
Such was my lot as an American farm boy who was raised in a farm life setting. Draft horses were harnessed almost daily to do the chores required in an agricultural setting. Many times I pulled on the spring steel hook to fasten a collar pad to the leather collar preparing a team for work. Never did I dream that I would work in a life’s work at a place that was built from the making of a horse collar pad.
So what is it like to go into the Edward Lee McClain High School? I always felt I was in a museum. Pictures, paintings, statues, tablets, murals, and traditions were evident as you meander through the halls. I could hardly believe I was working in a place where education of young people was exhibited in a pictorial way. The inner sanctum of the building had items screened by Prof. F.R. Harris and others. The guidelines from Edward and Lulu McClain were that the items selected must tell a story. I did become a personal friend of Prof. Harris.
Many times I felt an inner pride as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in such a magnificent structure. After all, I came from a small school at Marshall, Ohio, in Highland County. My graduating class had eight people, five girls and three boys.
Students at McClain could receive diplomas knowing they had completed a curriculum of choice, participated in a variety of sports, and had the chance to enjoy being in musical and theatrical productions.
Inscriptions over the entrances let one know what was being taught inside the building. Quality education imparted to students the basic things needed for a successful life. Pride was emphasized to give a lasting memory of one’s roots.
Where in the United States of America do you find a secondary school with a detailed description in an art catalog? There are 122 framed pictures, 37 sculptures, 15 photographs, five tablets and three murals. These adorn the three floors, classrooms, and hallways of the high school building.
As you walk into the building you stand in awe seeing all the trimmings lining the walls and hallways. For pleasure I’ve sat on the second floor bench with an art catalog in hand reading and studying about the great talent exhibited by artists in the building. It was if I could feel a gripping sensation about me by the many skilled artisans.
Yes there is more to the school, including a vocational building housing a natatorium, commercial classes, wood and metal shops, vocational agriculture department and cafeteria. Behind this building is an athletic field for football and track and field. Adjacent to this field is a school bus garage for maintaining buses to transport primarily rural students. Completing the campus is a three floor elementary structure adding to the beauty.
Returning to the school, the famed marble stairway only used for fire drills and used by graduating seniors the last week of school has a lasting memory for those about to enter the world of work. On each side of the stairway are portraits of Edward and Lulu McClain, donors of the school. At the top of stairs is a painting by commissioned artist Vesper Lincoln George, entitled “Where There Is No Vision People Perish.” This quotation from Deuteronomy is fully worth stopping and pondering the quest of the young man in the center.
There is the beautiful library and study hall on the third floor surrounded by master artisans, writers, and statesmen. There are two more of Mr. George’s large paintings, “The Melting Pot,” and “The Pageant of Prosperity,” depicting life in America.
Lining the wall on the second floor are the beautiful 15 panels showing “Sir Galahads Quest for the Holy Grail” by Edwin Austin Abbey. The originals are located in the Boston Public Library but McClain has the only known copies of the 15 panels. Burnt umber was used to highlight the friezes, statues, and busts to add realism.
The highlighting of the statues and friezes was to provide one with a lifelike appearance along with antiquing.
Ginevra on the first floor was donated to the school by a former superintendent in memory of his wife. It was sculpted by Hiram Powers, an Ohio native. The detail is amazing with the hair and lace dress.
The Cantoria frieze graces the walls of the beautiful auditorium and is entitled “Singing Gallery” of children. Just imagine a school using a campus style planned and completed in 1915 for the express purpose to educate children in many endeavors leading to a purposeful life. As Edward Lee McClain said at the dedication, it was for “PROMISING THE MOST GOOD FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER FOR THE LONGEST TIME.”
The historical marker in front of the high school inscribed by someone who asked, “What is there in Greenfield?” The response was “There is the school,” and what a school it has been for the last 100 years. One of my joys was supplying a homegrown evergreen from our farm for over 30 years as part of Christmas celebration. Students from Mrs. Baldwin’s classes decorated the tree and located it at the front entrance. Along with the music department we “celebrated the season with a reason.” The renditions from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Silent Night” were fitting ways to begin holiday celebrations for Christmas vacation.
We must not forget the old bell used in the Greenfield Seminary. Later it was moved to Old Central School located where the present Greenfield Elementary School now stands. It is now located in a bell tower built by a donation from Prof. F.R. Harris, noted educator and writer who had much to do in the development of education for the future of Greenfield students. The bell is rung at the opening and closing of the school, athletic events, and commencements.
May traditions and pride be exhibited in the future. The Dragons record much of the year to year activities at McClain HIgh School. There are so many graduates who have made their mark in the world and become good citizens. This year I have heard from many throughout the country.
I met a McClain graduate, Betty Sollars, who became my wife and we had four children, Sally Jenny, Jerry and Larry graduating from McClain. We settled in the community and gave our lives of service in community affairs. Having spent 27 years working at McClain was always a sense of pride. Also there were so many teachers and support staff that gave much of themselves to accommodate students. Having been retired for many years there is always a sense of pride as I pass the school building.
Hopefully the next 100 years will be just as exciting as the first. Go McClain!