Ross Lee Rountree was born on Oct. 18, 1916, as the sixth of eight children to Virgil Payne Rountree and Isabel Durden Rountree. He grew up on his parents’ farm in Twin City, going on to graduate from Emmanuel County Institute.
Ross went to the University of Georgia to play freshman football but left after a back injury and returned home to farm for a year. After discovering that farming was not for him, he enlisted in the Marine Corps with a little help from his father; he was actually too young to enlist, so his father forged his birth date.
After serving a term of enlistment in the USMC, Ross enrolled in Georgia Teacher’s College in the fall of 1939. It was while at GTC that he met his future wife, Lorene. In a story he thoroughly enjoyed telling, he would tell how Lorene was working with another sophomore on the steps of her dorm hall on a Sunday evening assisting incoming freshmen when Ross and another young man walked over to introduce themselves. Ross said to the young ladies, “We are just two lonely old men. We’re not looking for love, just companionship.” That introduction was the beginning of their courtship and almost 50 years of marriage.
Ross and Lorene were married June 5, 1942. Ross was unable to complete his degree from Georgia Teacher’s College due to the beginning of World War II, for which he was re-activated into the Marine Corps. While stationed at Parris Island, S.C., Ross served the Corps as a drill instructor. It was at Parris Island that Lorene gave birth to their first child, Meredith Ione Rountree, on Dec. 19, 1943. In April 1945, Ross was sent overseas to serve in the Pacific Theater and returned to his family February 1946. A second child, Sophie Janette Rountree, was born to Ross and Lorene on Nov. 15, 1947. In 1948 Ross graduated from Georgia Teachers’ College with a degree in Industrial Arts Education.
Mr. Rountree taught industrial arts education in Soperton as well as in Hazlehurst. He also coached football and some basketball during this time.
It was during this time that their family was made complete on Feb. 7, 1953, when Lorene gave birth to Carey Anthony Rountree.
In the summer of 1954 Ross and Lorene moved their family to Springfield so that he could serve as the principal of Effingham Academy in Springfield. When the local schools were consolidated into one high school, opening in the fall of 1956, Mr. Rountree was selected to serve as the first principal of Effingham County High School.
While serving as principal of ECHS, Mr. Rountree was instrumental in starting both the football team and the band. During his 18-year tenure as principal, he was known as a firm but fair man who loved his school. Former students tell many fond stories about Mr. Rountree, including stories of the many times he would wrestle with the high school boys and how he always won. It was a way to have fun with them but to also make sure they knew he was a strong man in many ways.
One of his former students tells of a time when he was skipping school and his car broke down on the traffic circle in Savannah. Who should ride along but his principal, Mr. Rountree? Mr. Rountree took the student and his friend home without a word of the skipping; however, at school the next day, he called them into his office and gave them a choice of writing an essay or taking three licks. The boys opted for the three licks.
Unfortunately, the three licks were spread out with a great deal of lecturing and anticipation in between. The students say they still remember how hard those licks were, but they aren’t sure which was worse — the licks or the lecture they received.
When the Effingham County School System integrated in 1970, Mr. Rountree led the school through the peaceful transition. In May 1974, he retired after 18 years as principal of ECHS. He went on to serve a term on the Effingham County Board of Education from January 1977-December 1980. In his retirement he also worked at Springfield Feed and Seed and spent a lot of time playing cards with his friends.
There were many things in his life that were important to Ross Rountree. He was very proud to have served his country in the United States Marine Corps. He was awarded the Bronze Star during World War II, and attained the rank of gunnery sergeant before his discharge. He was honored to have been the Marine selected to hold the United States flag aboard the USS Missouri during the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II.
Mr. Rountree was a faithful member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for many years serving as a Sunday school teacher and church councilman, acting as vice-chairman several times. He had a vast knowledge of the Bible, and he impressed upon his family his strong faith and belief in God. The church and God have always played a very important part in his and his families’ lives.
Mr. Rountree served in the Effingham County Civil Defense and was serving as its head during the time of the Meldrim train disaster. He was a member of the organizing committee for the Boy Scouts of America in Effingham County and a member of the Coastal Empire Council, as well as a member of American Legion Post 209 in Springfield and a member, and president, of the Lions Club in Springfield. As an educator, he was a member of the Georgia Association of Education and the National Association of Educators. During his free time, Mr. Rountree was an avid hunter and fisherman.
Mr. Rountree had a tremendous love for the game of football. After his brief stint at Georgia, he played football for the Marines and for Georgia Teachers’ College. While in the Marines and stationed in San Diego, Stanford University attempted to draft Ross to play football, but he chose to return home instead. Due to World War II, Ross played on the last football team fielded at Georgia Teachers’ College, traveling during this last season to Havana, Cuba, to play the University of Havana.
Mr. Rountree loved coaching football and dearly loved the Effingham County High School Rebels. Even during the later years of his life when his health was failing, at a time when he claimed his nerves couldn’t handle actually going to the Rebels’ football games, he would sit at home on Friday nights in his den with his little white dial radio cheering on the Rebels.
Most important to Mr. Rountree was family. He always insisted that there be a big celebration for every holiday, birthday, anniversary, or weekend fish fry. He was very close to his four brothers and three sisters all of his life, traveling many miles over the years to Twin City from wherever he was living at the time. To his children and grandchildren he always stressed the importance of family. To them, he will always be remembered as a fun-loving man who loved to laugh, loved his church, and loved his family.
Many of his family have followed his footsteps into the field of education. His daughter, Meredith, was an elementary school teacher and principal at Rincon Elementary and recently retired as assistant superintendent of the Effingham County Schools. His daughter, Sophie, also taught fourth, sixth and seventh grades in Effingham County and recently retired after 29 years in education. Five of his 10 grandchildren have gone on to be teachers. Marci Arnsdorff Burnsed is a PE teacher at Blandford Elementary, Tara Freyermuth Aiken and Greta Freyermuth Coleman are math teachers at Effingham County High School, Serena Freyermuth Harden teaches second grade at Springfield Elementary, and Erica Rountree Cassini has taught first grade in Marietta. Five of his 10 grandchildren, as well as all three children, also graduated from Mr. Rountree’s alma mater, Georgia Southern. I would be remiss to not mention Ross’s other five grandchildren as family was always the number one thing in his life. They are Jake Arnsdorff, Robin Arnsdorff Turner, Kelly Rountree Marshall, Scott Rountree, and Kristy Rountree Hartzell. Having learned the importance of education from their grandparents and parents, all 10 of Mr. Rountree’s grandchildren graduated college.
Mr. Rountree was very proud of his family and his military service and very dedicated in his faith in God. Today, especially, we must not fail to remember how proud he always was of his work at Effingham County High School. He was proud of his many accomplishments, both big and small, while serving as principal. He loved his students and staff and the many good times he, and they, had at ECHS. If he could be here with us today as they dedicate this room in his memory, he would be both humbled and honored to receive this recognition. I am certain that, in addition to saying thank you, he would say, “Go Rebels!”
This article was written by Ross Rountree’s granddaughter Tara Freyermuth Aiken for the recent dedication of the room named in his memory at Effingham County High School and was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have comments, photos or information to share contact Susan at 754-6681 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.