Bob Meyer walks down the hallway of South Ripley High School calling each of the 400 students by name. Not only does he know their name, he knows their story.
He'll greet them with a "Happy birthday," "Good game! "or "How's your grandma?" keeping up the strong student rapport he has developed. That's what 35 years in the community, and 34 years at the same school, will do for you. "I love hallways in between classes, seeing the kids in a different light than in the classroom," the principal said, noting he's on his third generation for some of those students.
Meyer is retiring in June. He has been the S. Ripley principal for six years, and assistant principal was for seven years, but taught US History, Health and PE at South Ripley for the other years. (His first year was at Jac-Cen-Del, but the rest has been at S. Ripley.) Meyer doesn't stay behind his principal's desk much, but is active in the community, seen at most school events, and has his name published in the phone book. Being transparent and available is important to this educator. He is South Ripley and bleeds green.
A native of Aurora, and a self-professed "high school jock" he went to college and played baseball, even had a stint in the minor leagues in Cleveland, until he decided he wanted to teach. "I wanted to go into education. I've always liked kids. I had a couple of coaches I greatly admired, and I liked the lives they lead. I thought it would be a good career," he said. He was not wrong. In 1978, he got his degree from Ball State University and he and wife Roxanne moved to the area. The rest is history--Bob Meyer history.
He was an above average student himself, but that's not what defined him. "I guess the one word to describe me, even in non-sports, is 'competitive.' My wife, Roxanne, will say she sees it come out even when I drive! I don't like people to pass me. Well, I don't know about that," he says and laughs.
Supt. Rob Moorhead sees the competitive spirit as a positive. "He has always been extremely competitive and that competitive fire motivated him to push others to excel. He always wanted South Ripley to finish at the top in any competitive activity."
Moorhead was in Meyer's first class at S. Ripley. "He runs a tight ship and has high expectations for student behavior. Although his approach may appear gruff at times, he also has a great sense of humor and has great rapport with the students, even leading a congo line at the prom this year!" His education philosophy? "Gus Moorhead (former South Ripley principal) used the saying 'if it's good for kids, it's good for South Ripley and that's how I view things...And I also follow 'do unto others as you do unto yourself.' "
Meyer is also compassionate, admitting he has a soft heart for the students struggling with circumstances at home, be it a divorce, a sick mother, etc. "I've learned not all kids are equal, and I think you have to pay attention to those more needy." Teaching and education is not black and white, as his predecessor Bill Snyder, told him when he started in administration.
Meyer is respected among students and staff. Sandy Howard who has worked with him at the high school office for six years, says "he's very easy to work with." She also describes him as "detail oriented" "punctual" and "straight up." He tells it likes it is, she says. And she knows what he won't tolerate: "lying" she said, which is exactly what he said when asked. "The punishment will be much worse if I learn you lied. And I don't like talking back. That's how I was brought up," Meyer says of his late father, Millard. His mother, Isabelle is 85 and lives in Manchester, close enough for him to check in on her.
Kids do make poor choices, "because they are kids and they are young" and he will give them a break, but is not so sympathetic when it's a repeated pattern.He recognizes the four years of high school are critical in the development of a young person's life, and the role the school has, "We have them for seven hours of the day to make sure they grow up to be productive citizens." Meyer acknowledges there is more accountability in teaching - he's spent this past year implementing the RISE teacher evaluations - but is concerned few are entering the teaching field today. Only one graduating senior has expressed an intent to do so this year.
"It's a very rewarding job, but also the hardest job you could have. You put 30 kids in a classroom, with 30 different backgrounds and styles, and you have to teach them for an hour." He added, "A lot of people will blame us when something goes wrong, but we are not the parents. That is not our role." That's probably the biggest difference he's noticed in his three decades, that parents doubt the school when little Johnny or Susie does something wrong, rather than support it.
A principal's nightmare
Meyer won't miss "the unexpected things" that can happen in a school day. Meyer went through a principal's worst nightmare: the fatal loss of students. There were three this past March from a two vehicle accident, another with the death of Matt Willman, and last May, an ATV accident took the life of Emily Mathes. Two years ago student Tanner Tucker died from an automobile accident. He also lost a staff member, Michelle Riggle four years ago.
The March accident is still fresh in his mind. He went to the crash scene that morning, and met with staff to discuss their approach, leaving the duties of talking to the student body to two other principals. "Students came in upset the next morning because I didn't talk to them. They trusted me because I had been through it before with some." So he met with them the following morning."I don't think you can be afraid to let them know you are hurting, and that you are compassionate…I think at times like these they should see me more as a human being than an administrator."
Besides working part-time in the insurance field, Meyer plans to pick up that competitive nature of his, and improve his golf game to a 4 handicap instead of 8, with a trip to Pebble Beach with son Doug soon. He had a scary bout with West Nile Virus last fall, and that helped lead to his decision to retire this year. The doctor at the time told him he was his third case, and the only one he could talk to (because the others had died). "Life is too short," the principal realized. He'll spend time in Greenwood, since both son Doug and daughter Rachel Woodall live there, and have blessed them with three grandchildren.
He has no regrets since his decision 40 years ago to become a teacher. "I'd do it again." Meyer will be missed by student and staff alike, for his organization, honesty, compassion, and pride in his school. As Moorhead said, "I think Bob Meyer will be remembered as someone who was a true South Ripley person. He has always wanted what was best for South Ripley and the students, teachers and staff members who make up the South Ripley family. I am pretty sure that he bleeds SR green, and I know he will be deeply missed at SRHS. "
The public is invited to a reception for Meyer Sunday, May 19 at the high school auditeria from 1 to 4 p.m.