New statue donated to RHS

RHS administration and alumni honor retired teacher

Mr. Lawson, Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaner, and retired RCS Superintendent Dr. John Schultz stand in front of the 250 pound, bronze statue. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Russell.

Alex Glaspie, Staff Writer

Early in the month of October, Lawson the Falcon, a bronze statue donated to Rochester High School by alumni, was placed and named by the school’s administrators.

The Falcon, which is displayed above the mall on the balcony at Rochester High, was built in Italy throughout the last year. The superintendent, Dr. Robert Shaner, and the principal of RHS, Mr. Neil DeLuca, placed the 250 pound falcon into its handmade stand on Oct. 2, 2018.

“So, one year ago, I was on a plane back from China with Dr. Shaner. While we were in China, I was seeing all of these monuments they had and I thought, ‘This is really cool!’” said Mr. DeLuca. “I saw this old brass thing of their mascot or their school founder and I thought, ‘We need something similar to that, that we can have and it can be apart of our school forever.’”

Mr. DeLuca wasn’t the only one to oversee the building of this statue. Rochester High School’s assistant principals and a few teachers helped him develop the concept.

“Mr. Wrinkle and Mr. Wescott helped me out with this a lot, with looking at it and designing it,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Most notably, Mr. Lewis, our woodshop teacher [helped]. He built the stand that it sits on and he measured the falcon and how it slides into the stand, which was all his idea. So, hats off to him for doing that.”

Although the falcon may seem like a random add-on to Rochester High, the beautifully crafted bird has a special  reason for being placed in the school. It is dedicated to a retired RHS teacher, Mr. Ray Lawson, who worked here for almost 60 years.

“The falcon has a very special reason for being here,” said Mr. DeLuca. “The significance of it is…to add one more tradition to Rochester High and to keep a teacher’s history alive.”

Mr. Lawson started working at Rochester High as an English teacher in 1946, over 70 years ago. He headed the English department for the majority of his career until he retired in 2004, finishing his teaching career off with a total of 58 years under his belt.

“As an educator, it gives me hope,” said Mr. DeLuca. “If he can do it for 58 years and teach for that long and witness so many changes from technology to how we teach, it gives me hope that everything is going to be okay. That I can go through these different cycles of teaching during the rest of my career, my, say, 15 years left, which is nothing compared to him, with hope.”

There are a select few educators at Rochester today who worked with Mr. Lawson. Among these teachers is Spanish teacher Ms. Beth East, who recalls many moments she shared with Mr. Lawson while they taught together.

“[I met Ray Lawson] in 1994 when I was a new hire. I was hired to teach English and Spanish, and he was going to be my mentor, so he contacted me and asked me to meet him at Hamlin Pub,” said Ms. East. “He then ordered me a beer and started to tell me about RHS and his time there and the English department. It was clear that he was highly intelligent, very experienced and well read. I thought he was pretty cool!”

Since Mr. Lawson dedicated so much of his time to RHS, Mr. DeLuca decided to commemorate him. The Rochester High mall, collaboration spaces and media center have now been renamed “The Ray Lawson Learning Commons.” The statue and the newly named spaces were revealed to Mr. Lawson and his family, along with the entirety of the RHS staff, on Oct. 2.

“Mr. Lawson was in tears and was dabbing his eyes with a tissue. I had tried to stifle my tears, but it was all over at that point,” said Ms. East. “To witness a man receiving such a high compliment and tribute that will live on for many years was incredible. RHS was his livelihood for over half of his life.  His dedication to high standards of teaching and learning were truly recognized and honored.”

Although Mr. Lawson did teach at RHS for almost 60 years, he also accomplished many other things during his life, including serving the United States during WWII.

“We do an employee veterans luncheon where it’s just veterans and he’s a WWII Vet,” Dr. Shaner said. “My first impression of him was that he’s just a rock solid guy. He’s a cool human being. He’s one of those people who you’d love to sit and talk to for hours. And he’s very unassuming, you know there’s not many WWII vets left, right? So, when you’re like ‘Wow, you’re a WWII Vet!’ He’ll say to you, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t do much, you know…’”

According to Ms. East, Mr. Lawson was a friendly coworker and many teachers in the building looked forward to spending time with him. Many were sad to see him leave.

“Ray made his famous coffee cake for the English department on many Fridays,” Ms. East said. “Everyone looked forward to those days. However, I was sad to see him go, but happy that he was finally going to enjoy some free time. It was a huge deal- we had a great retirement party and he was even on the news.”

Lawson the Falcon became a reality after the school built up enough money from senior advisor funds. DeLuca hopes the story of the bronze falcon will live on as each new generation of students cycle through the halls of Rochester High School.

“In ten years from now, if I’m gone from Rochester and all of us are gone and someone wanted to move that [the statue], it would be a big deal,” Mr. Deluca said. “Anyone can take down a banner, anyone can paint a wall a different color but you can’t move that now, it’s stuck there. And that’s what I wanted for our school.”

Mr. Lawson, Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaner, and retired RCS Superintendent Dr. John Schultz stand in front of the 250 pound, bronze statue. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Russell.
Principal Mr. Neil DeLuca and Assistant Pincipals Mr. Casey Wescott and Mr. Joshua Wrinkle, along with Superintendent Dr. Shaner, lift the falcon statue onto its handmade base. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Russell.