This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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more than a principal
1940's - 1980's
by: Russ Lancaster
"Who is that", I asked Donald Harris. I was referring to a man walking the halls of Hamlet Avenue School early in 1948 as we were nearing the end of our first year in school. I had begun first grade in Southern Pines in the fall of 1947 in a one-room school house and transferred to Hamlet shortly after New Year’s Day 1948.
"That’s Prong", he answered. "Watch yourself around him".
Donald later explained that was Mr. Haltiwanger and that he was the "Principal" which meant he was in charge of the whole school. Hamlet Avenue School housed grades 1 through 12 back then and Mr. Haltiwanger answered only to school superintendent H.M. Kyzer who answered to the school board.
My first impression of Mr. Haltiwanger way back then was of apprehension. He seemed to a young child of six like the first real authority figure I knew outside my family, the preacher and Sunday school teacher. I could interact one on one with any of them but the school Principal was another matter. I noticed he seemed to have his eye on all of us as he moved about the halls and playgrounds area. I knew where his office was and having seen a couple of kids come out of their not looking so happy, I didn’t want to have to go there.
Mr. Haltiwanger looked a bit menacing and walked with purpose. He appeared to have something on his mind at all times. He had a secretary of some sort that buffered his office from the rest of the school.
My first trip to his office came after I got into a scuffle with another boy around the drinking fountains out on the Spring Street side playground. We weren’t big enough to hurt each other. The fight was about my dog and I got the best of the other kid.
I had seen fights before and they always followed the same order. A group of kids would surround the two fighters and shield them from teacher’s views as they went at each other. The cheering (a circle member always had to have a favorite) would usually defeat the purpose by gaining a teacher’s attention who would quickly break up the fight.
After the scuffle, both of us were marched off to Mr. Haltiwanger’s office. I don’t know about the other boy, but it was my first visit there. He kept his eye on both of us as the teacher told what we had been up to. It was a penetrating stare and one that could be felt even if you looked away. He said not a word at first, listening only to the teacher’s account. He never asked us a question that first time and finally a smile crept across his face. That was my first clue ever that a smile from Mr. Haltiwanger was NOT a good sign.
We were quickly introduced to his "board of education" and given a few slaps across the buttocks with it. He didn’t smack us hard enough to make us cry, but hard enough to know we didn’t want to deal with it again. We were also made to "stay-in" after school for one hour cleaning blackboards or whatever that day. Our parents were also called and more punishment awaited when we got home.
For the next 10 years or so, every time I got sent to Mr. Haltiwanger’s office it was much the same. Except, as I grew older, the board of education wasn’t used and he would engage me in conversation to hear my side of the story. The punishments for those infractions (mostly fighting or cutting up in class) were usually "stay-ins" after school to do some chores and still the call to my mom or dad.
The most punishment he ever dealt me had to do with skipping school. That can be read in my story "Skipping School" elsewhere on this site. That time too, he smiled before dealing out my punishment. It was true. A smile from Mr. Haltiwanger meant trouble, at least as far as students went.
After graduating high school in 1959 I had to list references for the FBI to check my background because of the job I was to hold in the Air Force. I never hesitated in listing Mr. Haltiwanger as my first reference. He was stern but I also considered him fair and felt outside my family he would give as honest an opinion of me as anyone in town. It was a good decision but I would not know how good until five years later.
In 1964 I found myself in Lexington, NC working as assistant manager at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. It was long hours and little pay ($70 per week before taxes). I needed a change and answered an ad in the local newspaper for a job as an assistant manager for a finance company.
I had no background in finance and was a young 23 year old with a wife and two children. I needed to make a change to make life a little better for my family and myself. I was shocked at all the applicants, there must have been hundreds. I didn’t even have a resume . I did list references though and Mr. Haltiwanger was again at the top of my list.
A week went by before I heard from the finance company. They called to tell me I was the one selected for the job. I began a new career learning from the ground up.
After about a month on the job, I asked my new boss and manager why had he picked me over all the other applicants. He smiled and answered, "Your principal, Mr. Haltiwanger recommended you and stated that you had finished at the top of your class".
I hope the shock I felt didn’t show on my face. I knew I didn’t finish at the top of my class. I wondered why Mr. Haltiwanger had said so. I kept my mouth shut just happy that I had found a better job. The thought, however, remained with me for many years until I found the answer.
I didn’t have any contact with Mr. Haltiwanger after 1964 except at the class reunions. He always found time to come to them and he was a different man with us as adults. He was comfortable with us and us with him. It was a pleasure to hear him speak at these functions.
In the early 1980’s I ran into Mr. Haltiwanger at Loch Haven Golf Course one afternoon. He was looking for someone to play a round of golf with. My buddy wasn’t with me and I agreed to play a round with him. It was a good decision.
After that, we played together often and he was a real competitor. He carried on many a good conversation with me as we walked up and down those hills of Loch Haven. His smile was no longer a menace but a smile of enjoyment and not threatening in the least.
I finally asked him one day while playing golf why he had once made the statement to a prospective employer of mine that I had graduated at the top of my class. I explained to him that it was his statement that got me the job.
He smiled at me and said, "I always answered those letters the same way…. Everyone graduated at the top of their class".
At first I was disappointed, then I realized what he meant and I understood fully. I was just one of thousands he had probably helped in getting the edge over the competition in getting a job.
And I’ll be willing to bet that no one would ever know he had done such a thing, not unless they did as I did and asked him that question. Did he ever help you? If you ever bothered to list him as a reference and your employer wrote or called him, I’ll bet he did and you never knew.
I have worked for the railroad for over 33 years now and haven’t needed a letter of reference in a long time. If I did, I would be hard pressed for a more deciding answer of, "He finished at the top of his class".
So, I remember Mr. Haltiwanger as being a big influence on my life. I remember how afraid I was of him as a kid and how grateful I was to him as an adult. I remember the days we walked the course of Loch Haven and the pleasure of his company. He is no longer around to write letters of recommendation, but he wrote the one that counted most for me.
I thanked him in person for that act of kindness and want to pass along my memory of him to you in this short story that allows me to say yet one more time… I remember Hamlet.
I only remember talking with Mr. Haltiwanger, but once and that was not in school but on the way back from a baseball game on Park St. with Jimmie Cox Jim lived on Madison Ave. back then and we were walking to his house. We saw him just ahead of us and walked up to him and spoke. He was so nice that we didn't stop at Jim's house but walked beside him all the way to his house talking with this man we both were afraid of in school
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