Bonsack Elementary joyously celebrates 20th anniversary

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DEBBIE ADAMS

Bonsack Elementary School celebrated its 20th anniversary on November 16. There were many hugs, much reminiscing, squeals of recognition, and even a few tears as faculty, staff, and students and families were reunited for the day.

Shown left to right are “The Original Five” who have worked at Bonsack Elementary since it opened in 1999: Secretary/bookkeeper Penny Slusher, fifth grade teacher Suzanne Witcher, librarian Rose McCarthy, IA Jody McKnight, and office assistant Jenny Stallard.

Principal Leanne Leftwich welcomed a large and enthusiastic crowd to the event. Students from the William Byrd High School and Middle School Choirs who had been students at Bonsack joined the current Bonsack Choir, under the direction of Katie Saunders, to perform the national anthem.

Members of the Williams Byrd Middle and High School Choirs who were Bonsack students, and the Bonsack Elementary Choir, under the direction of Katie Saunders, performed the National Anthem at the Bonsack Elementary 20th anniversary celebration.

Student SCA members led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a video of BES students doing the Bobcat growl and responding to questions about their favorite times at Bonsack.

Roanoke County School Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely spoke not just as the superintendent, but as a parent of former Bonsack students and a “third-grade homeroom dad.” His two sons and daughter attended Bonsack. He and his wife Teresa have a long history in the area and live there currently. He recalled taking his sons to school to register, and attending daddy/daughter dances, and so many programs his children were involved in.

Nicely named and thanked his children’s former teachers and former principal Dr. Deedie Kagey for providing “a joyful child-centered school” where teachers and staff “truly like kids and care about children.”

Nineteen members of the faculty and staff from its opening year of 1999 were able to attend the 20th anniversary celebration. Shown left to right front row are Tami Molnar, John Palmeroy, Rose McCarthy, Cathy Wilkinson, Debbie Lane, Jody McKnight, Jenny Stallard, Sandy Fifer, Linda Flowers, and Suzanne Witcher; back row, Louisa Perkins, Heather Lawrence, Penny Slusher, Dr. Deedie Kagey, Kathy Nester, Linda Hogan, Carl Anderson, Linda Wickstrom, and Nancy Long.

Former superintendent, Dr. Lorraine Lange, was also in attendance. Nicely joked that he was the first principal she appointed when she was named superintendent and told him “you’re the first principal I’ve named; don’t mess it up.”

Past and present Bonsack Elementary faculty and staff who attended the 20th anniversary celebration.

Former School Board member Jerry Canada, who represented the Hollins District where Bonsack Elementary is located, (although students feed in to William Byrd Middle and High Schools) talked about the decision to build the Bonsack school with a focus on bringing the project in on time and on budget. He wished they could have called back the decision to build just one wing on the school when they soon needed two.

He mentioned the controversy over school uniforms to level the playing field for students; it faced much opposition and was eventually abandoned.

Canada described Bonsack as a “high performing elementary school supported by the community, parents, and students, which always rises to the top.”

Current School Board member representing the district, David Linden, attended, along with Vinton’ representative on the School Board, Tim Greenway.

Leftwich welcomed Bonsack’s first principal, Dr. Kagey, who spoke lovingly of the Bonsack community and the BES staff she felt privileged to work with over the years. She had even written a poem for the occasion— about the opening days in 1999, when the building was filled with boxes to unpack, furniture to assemble, but a lack of carpet in the office on opening day.

Dr. Deedie Kagey (on left) was appointed as Bonsack Elementary’s first principal; Leanne Leftwich is the current principal.

“Boxes to the ceiling, furniture galore; just when we thought we’d finish, here comes plenty more … Bonsack staff and parents, and others on the scene, worked valiantly that summer, the bonding made a team. What a joy it was to open a school some years ago; new houses spread the landscape, new seeds that we would sow.”

Kagey said it was a “wonderful opportunity” to have been the principal at the oldest elementary school in Roanoke County– Roland E. Cook– and then the newest, Bonsack Elementary. She served as principal at Roland E. Cook in Vinton where Bonsack students attended and then was appointed to BES.

“I invested my life into this community and Bonsack Elementary,” said Kagey, who served the Roanoke County school system for 41 years as a teacher and administrator. “Fruit was born in the seeds of the children who have come here.”

She brought 17 members of the Roland E. Cook staff with her and said that many she hired still remain at Bonsack.

Kagey sang a poignant “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppets about the connection between people and their dreams, accompanied by puppets Kermit the Frog (Linda Carle) and Miss Piggy (Cathy Wilkinson).

Former Building Manager Carl Anderson was introduced next as one who “truly has a huge heart for Bonsack and is so much more than our building manager.” He often served as a student confidant; sometimes it was easier for a student to talk to him than to their teacher. He came to Bonsack from Roland E. Cook as well.

Former Bonsack Elementary School Building Manager Carl Anderson spoke at the 20th anniversary celebration about the incredible bonds that formed between the faculty, staff, community, and students at Bonsack.

Anderson received a rousing welcome from those attending the anniversary celebration and a standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks. He, too, shared memories of a student body, a faculty, and a community who were like family from the very first opening day of the school.

“You can’t build a school like you can’t build a church,” said Anderson. “A school happens when the teachers and students come into a building. This place is full of love. I see so many kids who touched my life and I touched theirs. They helped me grow and made me a better person.”

Assistant Principal Stephanie Burress recognized special guests in attendance, including the “Original Five,” members of faculty and staff, who started out with Bonsack and remain– fifth grade teacher Suzanne Witcher, secretary/bookkeeper Penny Slusher, librarian Rose McCarthy, instructional assistant Jody McKnight, and office assistant Jenny Stallard. She introduced all those in attendance who were on the faculty and staff when it opened in 1999, and then everyone in the crowd who had ever worked at Bonsack Elementary at any time.

The celebration continued in the gymnasium with free hot dogs grilled by Vinton Police Chief Tom Foster and Deputy Chief Captain Fabricio Drumond. Caldwell Mountain Copper and Kettle Corn supplied the kettle corn. There was an anniversary cake and tours of the building.

Vinton Deputy Police Chief Fabricio Drumond (on left) and Chief Tom Foster served up the hot dogs for Bonsack Elementary’s 20th anniversary celebration.

The gym was extensively decorated with children’s art featuring Bobcats, banners, balloons, Bonsack T-shirts from throughout the years, scrapbooks to page through, and yearbooks from days gone by.

Organizers say the highly successful 20th anniversary celebration was the result of a great team effort by faculty, staff, and the Bonsack PTA and they look forward to the next 20 years.

More photos from the Bonsack 20th anniversary celebration may be found on The Vinton Messenger Facebook page.