Former teachers continue to support youth
In August 1949, Ruth and Herman Koenig moved to Millville from West Winfield, N.Y., to be teachers at the Lord Baltimore School. The two had met in school and attended West Winfield High School together.
“He never paid any attention to me until high school,” said Ruth Koenig, with a laugh. “We played in the band. He played in the band, and so did I. We went on our first picnic when he was a junior and I was a freshman.”
Herman Koenig graduated from school in 1943 and was deferred from the draft so he could stay at home and work on his family’s dairy farm.
“It was wartime, and I got a call from my industrial-arts teacher,” he recalled. “There was a recruiter from the Oswego State Teachers College, and he was talking to the senior boys about going into teaching. He called me up and said he was coming, and would I be interested in sitting in with the seniors and hearing what the recruiter had to say? The recruiter said, any New York person who wanted to go to that school, tuition was free. That was a big statement.”
Two years later, Ruth Koenig graduated from West Winfield and decided to go to school to become a teacher, as well.
“I got a scholarship,” she said. “There was a neighbor who graduated from Ithaca College, and she knew the teachers there. I went and tried out and got a scholarship. He used to hitchhike down to see me about every three weeks,” she recalled of Herman. “We were about 100 miles apart.”
Following their respective graduations from college, the Koenigs joined the Southern Teacher’s Agency and, in May of 1949, traveled to Delaware and Virginia to visit potential schools with vacancies for both music and industrial-arts positions. The two toured Lord Baltimore and decided that they liked the school and would take the positions there.
“We were just lucky to get together in the same school,” acknowledged Ruth Koenig.
The two married on June 30, 1949, and moved to Delaware the first week of August, three weeks before the school year started.
“We came down here and stayed with the principal the first three nights,” Herman Koenig recalled. “He gave us the 50-cent tour. At that particular time, this was sort of like no-man’s land. We left a farming community and came down here to a farming community. In a way, the school was similar to the school we went to in the farming community. We watched it grow…”
Koenig was given a couple hundred dollars from the school to buy what was needed for the wood shop.
“It was quite a lot of work, getting things cleaned up,” he recalled. “Sharpening, painting, and organizing, making tool orders.”
There wasn’t a music room in the school when the Koenigs first began teaching there, so Ruth went from classroom to classroom to teach students.
“I’d have to go to their classroom, and I would have my pitch pipe, and I would teach them the songs and they’d sing.”
Even though there wasn’t a music room, the principal still requested that Koenig put on an operetta.
“The first year, Fred Graef, the principal, came to Ruth and said he wanted to have an operetta,” recalled Herman Koenig.
“The first year! And they didn’t even have a high school chorus! So practically the whole high school showed up,” Ruth Koenig recalled.
Koenig’s first operetta production was “Meet Arizona.” The operetta was so well received the Koenigs continued putting them on – one for the high school students and one for the elementary students.
“I put on operettas, and he and his boys would do all of the staging,” she said. “They painted the backgrounds.”
Eventually the school expanded and a new shop was constructed, and Ruth Koenig was able to have the old shop building as her music room.
“They gave me the old shop! Then I had a music room with a piano, so then the students came to me.”
Ruth Koenig retired after teaching for almost 29 years, and Herman Koenig retired after teaching for 38 years.
“We just felt like we taught during the better time,” he said.
“We did – we certainly did,” she agreed. “Discipline was never a problem. It’s changed… All the years were happy years.”
Since retiring, the Koenigs have continued to be active in the community and are still passionate about working with youth.
“We still like to work with young people,” she said.
As members of St. George’s United Methodist Church in Clarksville, the Koenigs ran the youth group there and Ruth directed the church choir for 55 years.
“We’ve always worked with youth and cared about them and encouraged them and listen to their problems,” she said.
The Koenigs are so committed to local youth and their church that they recently spearheaded the construction of a new youth center for the church, called SURGE (Service, Unite, Reach, Grow, Equip).
“You look at our church, and it’s like many of the churches here — little by little those people who were young mothers and fathers that were here are now almost in their 80s,” explained Herman Koenig. “They’re not being followed by their kids and grandkids in church. So we ended up with a very small number of kids that are in the church.”
Koenig said that, after he and other parishioners had visited a successful youth group at a Methodist church in Maryland, they brainstormed to see if they could create a place for local youth at Saint George’s.
“We came back home and were thinking, ‘Could we build a stage in our basement? Could we do something like they’re doing? Could we bring some kids in and get a start?’”
Koenig decided that he could set up a separate youth building behind the church, where the youth group could meet. With the help of friends, former students and parishioners, Koenig was able to move a garage from the former parsonage to the lot behind the church.
“We got a tremendous amount of extra help,” he said. “Once we got going and people saw what we were doing, they said they were interested in what we were doing and offered help. Some people donated money.”
Koenig and other volunteers expanded the garage and, with the help of donations and many volunteer hours, they were able to build a youth center that was equipped with a kitchenette, a booth, computer stations, a couch, ping-pong table and moveable stage.
Once the building was fully constructed, the youth-group kids were able to paint on the leftover pieces of plywood, which are now displayed on the walls of the center.
“It’s gotta look like kids – otherwise the kids won’t come,” said Herman Koenig. “Once we got this whole thing set up here, all professionally done, we started to think, ‘What can we do to more or less reflect the kids and their effort in this thing.”
As a sign of gratitude for their continued effort and handwork, Saint George’s dedicated the SURGE Center to the Koenigs in September. Koenig said at least 20 local kids have been using the SURGE building, and he hopes that it will grow to be a place where kids go to enjoy themselves.
“We’d like to see the center grow,” he said.
“We just liked children — their personalities and watching them grow,” added Ruth Koenig. “We’re very proud it.”