EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series leading up to the Highland County Historical Society inducting five more into its Hall of Fame on May 27. This week, the late Wesley Roush is profiled.
A little more than four decades ago, an elementary school principal and longtime educator was getting ready to retire. He had spent roughly four decades in education. He began his career during the Great Depression in a one-room schoolhouse, and as his final day as principal neared, a newspaperman decided to write a story on the retiring administrator.
The journalist took a photo of the smiling principal atop a playground slide, holding a smiling kindergartener. And as the reporter sat down to conduct his interview, he noticed something.
The story began, “Wesley Roush kept a scrapbook over the years while he was principal of Washington School, preserving some of the notes and letters that he received from parents and teachers and a few of those forbidden notes that kids can’t resist passing to each other, but that sharp-eyed teachers intercepted. Some of the latter are surprisingly bawdy for having been written by grade school youngsters, but some are delightful.”
Roush told the reporter his favorite letter was written about two decades earlier by a little boy “who either missed the point of the lesson in proper punctuation or who was reading or being influenced by the stream-of-consciousness-technique writers.”
The reporter wrote, “The spontaneity of (the letter) is enchanting. It reads: ‘I love you Zella yes I do I love you Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes good by Robt.’ That’s worthy of Faulkner or James Joyce.”
The reporter noted that “some of the letters from parents are funny, too, but most are sad, like the following: ‘Dear Mr. Roush, would you please get Raymond some shoes as his are very bad and we are not able. He might get sick and then it would be worse.’”
The reporter saw notes on every kind of paper imaginable – scraps from tablets of every description, the back of a bank deposit slip, even the margins of a truancy notice to a parent. He also noticed that Roush wrote notes to himself on some of the letters, like “write back,” “call” or “get coats,” and the author wrote in his story, “So many of the notes and letters are requests for shoes, coats, pants, underwear, boots and free lunches that you’re left with the impression that Mr. Roush ran a department store with a lunch counter. But, no, he ran a school, and ran it well, and liked his job a lot.
“And in the whole collection there is only one thank-you note.”
Roush passed away more than a decade ago at the age of 95, but on May 27, he will receive a second thank-you note as he is enshrined in the Highland County Historical Society Hall of Fame.
As principal and longtime educator, Roush was known as a positive influence on countless students who came through the Hillsboro City Schools. Many still recall the impact he had on their lives and talk about the fond memories they have of him.
Some remember how he once carried their big stack of books on their walk home after school, or how he took youngsters with toothaches to the dentist and paid the bill, how he was one of their favorite teachers, how he was a great leader, or that he was a wonderful man and educator.
While he certainly wasn’t a big man as far as physical stature, he definitely had a big heart.
Harriet Fenner, a former Highland County commissioner, told another journalist earlier this year that, “In my opinion, there are few people more worthy of being so honored by being elected to the Highland County Historical Society Hall of Fame. I doubt that he ever knew what an impact his life had on me and countless others.”
Fenner said, “My earliest encounter with Mr. Roush was my first day of school at Washington. The first adult I saw was this well-dressed young man on the playground, wearing a suit, tie, hat and dress shoes. I don’t think I’d ever seen a man so dressed up before. Mr. Roush was always one to set an example. How to dress, how to speak to others … you know … all the social graces. He had it all going on. Mr. Roush was pretty much a mentor to all the kids he came to know. I transitioned to junior high school, and from then on, I only saw Mr. Roush when we passed each other on the uptown streets. He always called me by name. He was always Mr. Roush to me. How I loved that man! He taught me to be respectful to others and their feelings.”
Byron Wisecup, who took over for Roush as principal at Washington in the 1970s and later became superintendent of Hillsboro City Schools, said that Roush “loved the children, was very well thought of by the teachers and he was very dedicated to his job.”
Roush was born near Russell Station on Nov. 26, 1910, graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1928, and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1932 from Miami University. He received his master’s degree in education and administration in 1940 from Ohio State University. When he retired after 39 years with the Hillsboro City Schools, he told the reporter “39 years seems like a long time, but it has been surprisingly short.”
In addition to Roush, on May 27, the Highland County Historical Society will induct Judge Richard Davis, along with the late Edwin Billingham Ayres, Moses Carothers and Helen Hoover into its hall of fame. In addition, the Lincoln Mothers will be recognized as a group during the ceremony, which will be held at the First Presbyterian Church on May 27 at 2 p.m., with a reception and social hour immediately following at the Highland House Museum. The Highland County Historical Society invites the public to attend and honor this outstanding group.
For more information on the Highland County Historical Society or the upcoming hall of fame ceremony, call 937-393-3392 or email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees.