Voices In The Hall

Bob Houghtaling

Credit: EG Patch
Credit: EG Patch

To live in the present, it is important to recognize the past. To look towards the future, recognizing the present is essential. The contributions of those who have preceded us have tilled the soil for the advances to come. No need to extoll the present. Those who came before us met the moment with the tools of the day.  The same can be said of the present. This story is a simple reminder. Here’s to those of yesterday. Thanks for your contributions.

I was a bit nervous. My new job as the East Greenwich drug counselor had just started and learning the "lay of the land" was essential. One of my first goals was to meet folks at the high school to introduce myself. Lou Lepry, the assistant principal, was the first person I met. To this day I can recall Lou’s first words uttered my way. After I introduced myself, he responded with, “Houghtaling, is that your real name?” The ice had been broken.

Mr. Lepry proceeded to give me a tour of the school, which included meeting teachers, coaches and a few kids. It wound up being a fruitful visit. Thanks, Mr. Lepry.

Every once in a while I will walk by a classroom and think, that is Mr. Alfano’s room, or that is where Mrs. McNulty used to teach. Most folks entering the high school (and other schools in the district) have little knowledge of those who preceded them. Cal Ellis, Teddy Davis, Doris Roderick, Paul Wragg, Vin Mattera, Jim Etchells, Pat Carlson, Leo Barbary, Roger Allard, Paula Allard, Leslie Mehlman, George Gravelin, etc., are but a few who once instructed the town’s youth. They were there when East Greenwich High School was first designated a top-notch educational school. More than that, they all committed decades of their lives building a learning environment.

It should be noted that those listed above were quite human. They used the tools at hand. The East Greenwich High School of their time had its share of accomplishments. It also struggled with a myriad of challenges as well. What is to be gained by their efforts is that they served as stewards – caring for the children and the system, then handing it off for betterment. When you come to think about it, being a steward is a pretty important thing.

With all respect to Haley Joel Osment, I see ghosts all the time. I see the ghosts (figuratively) of those who have passed away. I also sense the spirits of those still alive (but retired). They once lived, thrived, won, lost, taught and fought for kids in this place (the high school). They created a part of the building’s soul. Then they gracefully moved on so that others could offer new perspectives.

I can still see the Gravelins performing at the school’s Talent Show. From time to time I will smile at the way Mr. Etchells challenged students, or how Art Kershaw got kids from a small wealthy district to win state football titles. I will also think of Mr. Lepry’s kindness, Roger Allard’s enthusiasm, Doris Roderick’s class, Pat Carlson’s caring and the thoughtful patience of Richard Brenner, Leo Barbary, Bonnie Dimeo and others.

It should be noted that my efforts drove many of them nuts from time to time. While they were busy teaching and connecting, I was busy counseling and connecting. Sometimes I had to take students out of class. Sometimes stuff that was happening outside of school for young people made it difficult for them to succeed inside. In the end, we all wanted to help the kids. I often wonder if they know of how important their contributions were. I certainly hope so.

The world continues to spin and the future beckons. New folks will always come in the door. They will carry with them enthusiasm, new ideas and a desire to make changes. That is all good. That is the way of the world. They will be the stewards of tomorrow.

I easily could have included my experiences at Cole and the elementary schools. All of these have legacies that include many wonderful people. These perhaps will be detailed in future articles.

The high school’s front entrance has changed. The guidance area, library and some rooms have received upgrades. On top of this, there are new fields for our athletes, a relatively new gym and all kinds of technology. All of this goes hand in hand with teacher’s carrying on (and expanding upon) success. There are always challenges. There are always new moments. Change is always with us and most times good. Someday, an old counselor will write of the present days. Till then, it is forward. The torch must always be passed.





Jim Halsband January 13, 2014 at 09:41 AM
Yes, thank you Mr. Lou Lepry! And that was his real name which is inextricably linked to the 'Lepry Chop', by no means to be confused with anything culinary! An iron fist in a velvet glove, not really, but rather the firm strong hand of a man of extraordinary magnanimity, charisma, exemplary leadership, truly the model for teachers and educators! Just as Jerry West's image is the trademark graphic for the NBA, Mr. Lepry's image should be adopted for the NEA! We were fortunate indeed to have him anchoring our school system. ...so, Bob, what is your real name?
Mark Thompson January 13, 2014 at 10:16 AM
When the EGHS Class of '71 held its 40th reunion a couple of years ago, we were delighted to have Mrs. Carlson, Mr. Lepry and Mr. Wragg as our guests (along with Mrs. Marsella and Mr. Parente). These teachers touched our future, and we were grateful they showed up. Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Houghtaling.
Meredith January 14, 2014 at 07:17 AM
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Bob. Yours is one of the names that belongs right up there with Mr. Ellis, Mrs. McNulty, Mr. Mattera and Mrs. Roderick in creating the EGHS of yesterday that has led to the school we have today. Thanks for being here then and now. I will be telling my future EGHS students a couple of Mr. Houhhtaling stories this morning!
Carl I. Hoyer January 14, 2014 at 09:05 AM
As a former 12 year School Committee member (as well as being the father of 4 children who had these teachers) , I remember with affection and respect all of the names to whom Bob Houghtaling gives tribute (and, some others as well). One of my girls was so motivated by them, she become a teacher, which endeavor she loves ! How fortunate we have all been to ha had these dedicated men and women shape our children's lives. I'm reminded of that phrase "Well done, oh good and faithful servant" , which is so appropriate in recognizing these wonderful people !! 'nuff said !


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