Current Effingham County High School Principal Yancy Ford declared Aug. 4 as Ross Rountree Day in honor of the school’s first principal.
Hundreds came out to the ECHS cafeteria to honor Mr. Rountree including friends, family, former students and local officials, remembering his life, values and many contributions to the Effingham County school system during his 18-year tenure as principal and three-year term on the Effingham County Board of Education.
Rountree’s three children, Meredith Arnsdorff, Sophie Freyerman and Carey Rountree, accepted a dedication plaque on his behalf from members of the Springfield City Council, ECHS and the county commission, and Principal Ford named the conference room next to his office the Ross Rountree Principal’s Conference Room.
State Rep. Jon Burns also presented a plaque honoring Rountree from the class of 1970.
Born in 1916 in Twin City as the fifth of eight children, Ross Rountree was raised on his parents’ farm. He played football for the University of Georgia until a back injury sent him back to Twin City to work a year on the farm.
Deciding he was not cut out for farming, Rountree enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, after his father forged his birth date. He served his enlistment term and began college at Georgia Teachers College in 1939, where he met his wife of nearly 50 years, Loraine.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Rountree was reactivated with the Marine Corps and worked as a drill sergeant at Parris Island where their first child, now Meredith Arnsdorff, was born, three years later adding Sophie, now Sophie Freyerman. Rountree received a Bronze Star for his service during the war and was proud to have been selected to hold the flag on the U.S.S. Missouri in Japan as the war ended.
Rountree graduated from GTC in 1948 with a degree in industrial education and taught in Soperton and Hazlehurst. The Rountree family was completed in 1953 with the birth of Carey Rountree. A year later, they moved to Springfield where he became principal of Springfield Academy, and when the schools merged in 1956, Ross Rountree became the first principal of Effingham County High School.
He was essential to the establishment of the Rebel football and band programs. He dearly loved the game of football and coaching it, and even in his old age, Rountree would sit by his white dial radio in his den cheering on the Rebels.
“During his 18-year tenure, (Rountree) was known as a firm, but fair man who loved his school,” Ford said.
His former students recalled how he would wrestle with the high school boys to show them that he was a strong man and that he could have fun with them. Students who chose the punishment of three licks over writing an essay after bad behavior remember the long lectures and anticipation in between being more painful than the smacks.
In 1970, Rountree led the school through a peaceful integration.
“We didn’t have a lot of problems, and I credit Mr. Rountree with that because Mr. Rountree provided leadership,” said former school superintendent Dr. Michael Moore. “He provided caring for all children, and he tried to see that everybody got a fair shake, that everybody got a good education.”
He was also a member of many other community organizations such as the Lions Club of Springfield and American Legion Post 209, and he served on the Effingham County Civil Defense during the Meldrim train disaster.
He was a longtime active member in the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and many speakers recalled how important family, faith and education were to him.
“To them, he will always be remembered as a fun-loving man who loved to laugh, loved his church and loved his family,” Ford said in his opening remarks, noting that every birthday or anniversary was greeted with a big celebration.
Superintendent Randy Shearouse recognized how rare it is for an individual to be a principal for more than three or four years, much less 18 years, as Rountree was.
“What I think about as we honor Mr. Rountree today is the legacy he left with his family because they continue giving back to our school system each and every day,” Shearouse said.
Both of his daughters had careers in the Effingham School System —Arnsdorff retired as assistant superintendent in May and Freyerman taught for 29 years. All of Rountree’s grandchildren graduated from college, and five of them work in education.
“You could always count on him,” Moore said. “He was a patriot. He could be hard as nails when he had to. He just had a big heart for the people that he served.”