By Roderick W. Durrell
After the tribute to SHS teachers Bernie Couture, Bob Jones and Doug Tudhope, and Betty McDonald Dye’s family remembrance of her mother, Imelda McDonald, came a tribute to John E. McGee, Sr. and his wife Mary Elizabeth (Mareli) Foley McGee, both SHS teachers.
Probably no person was more synonymous with SHS than long time teacher and principal, John McGee, who was an integral part of SHS from 1939 to 1961. He and his wife Marilee, who returned to teaching at SHS after raising eight children, were a highly respected part of the Shelburne community and SHS. In fact, the National Honor Society chapter at Shelburne High was named in honor of John E. McGee, Sr. in 1962 after he left Shelburne High to return to full time teaching and head the mathematics department at South Burlington High School.
The McGees’ first daughter, Agnes McGee Vinton ‘61 made a special presentation about her parents, John and Marilee McGee. Agnes noted that her grandfather McGee was employed at the Webb Estate and a picture of him was included in the agricultural poster board on the wall of the Reunion room.
Agnes traced her parents’ background, courtship, and marriage. The family lived in a two bedroom, second floor apartment in Shelburne Falls until her parents built the house at “McGee’s Corner” as it was known then, which now is the intersection of Falls, Marsett, and Mt. Philo Roads.
Her presentation became participatory when people at the reunion started sharing their own stories, including a story about a group of boys that had been smoking tobacco in what they thought was a secretive room in the “basement” of the high school. However, on emerging, there stood Principal McGee. With just a hard stare and nary a word, he chastised them, punished them and sent them fleeing, never to do that again, well, at least not on school property.
Linda Towle (SHS/CVU Class of 1965, and valedictorian of the first graduating class of CVU) relayed parts of the correspondence she had with Mrs. McGee on her 90th birthday in 2007.
“Mrs. McGee, I want to share some memories of Shelburne High with you and tell you what a difference you made in my education, my career, and therefore, my life…you introduced us to the Greek alphabet. I remember being fascinated by those characters. Little did I know that this would lead to so many Classics courses at Tufts University, and ultimately to my entering archeology, my career for the last 30 years.”
“In 1980, I received my MA in Anthropology and prehistoric archeology. So I started a new career, and in 1992 I became the Chief Archeologist at Mesa Verde National Park, the quintessential place for cliff dwellings and Anasazi archeology in the Southwest.”
“I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you what an inspiration you were as a teacher and how this influenced my life.”
Mareli McGee had responded to Linda: “Thank you so much for your lovely, long and flattering letter. It is what keeps teachers going. We never know how much our contacts affect others.”
“Actually, you know, I was sick of Caesar and didn’t want to begin another book – and with that special class, you, Wendy Durrell and Leslie Kent, I had a very special group of bright girls, open to something new. By sticking with Latin when I went to South Burlington High School, I had a chance to teach that Greek alphabet several times, but you are the prize result.”
After the program of tribute to the teachers, Rick Norcross ‘63 performed. Rick sang some of his own songwriting, including the title song from the recently released album by Rick and the Ramblers, “Welcome to Our Vermont.” The audience quickly started to sing along with Rick on the refrain.
After the event, the desire to do this again next summer was summed up by Mr. Couture when he commented that “there is a special camaraderie and feeling at the SHS reunion events and we need to keep that spirit and tradition going.”