Vividly, fondly remembering ‘Mr. V’ from school days
Anyone who grew up in the mid-seventies until 1991 and went to Lake Linden-Hubbell High School knew “Mr. and Mrs. V”. Mrs. VerBerkmoes was our school librarian, that to this day I credit with teaching me respect for books, libraries, and other people’s privacy. She didn’t have to shush us to keep us quiet all she had to do was lower her head, slide her glasses down her nose, and stare at us; we shut up or went to a whisper only those with excellent hearing could hear. In all the years since my graduation in 1987, when I’d drive by the school, it wasn’t sports, the “Lakes” mascot, or any extra curricular activity, it was the people; Mrs. V, Donna in the office, Ray driving bus and smiling at us when we were good and when we were bad, and then, of course, Mr. V.
I honestly never thought he had a first name other then Mr. Growing up and seeing this towering figure of a man, well over six feet tall, roaming the halls of LLHS with a warm smile and an intimidating scowl when you were out of line was a big part of life as a student. Always in a suit and tie and always present. Every time you were running in the halls or swearing in the halls; he was there. I must admit I didn’t spend too much time in his office but, on occasion, I would be sent there and never once did I leave his office without understanding how to be a better person. I’d like to share a couple of my memories of Mr. Henry VerBerkmoes Jr., our principal and then superintendent.
Every Christmas, or at least seemed like every Christmas, we’d get to put on a show of sorts. One of the highlights for us underclassmen at the time were the twelve days of Christmas. We all know that that on the first day of Christmas there was a partridge in a pear tree, but “Dave,” (his real name), would do the Bob and Doug Mackenzie version, “and a Beer.” Mr. V. allowed this for a couple rounds and then simply stared and frowned enough that eventually it stopped, or we simply ran out of days of Christmas, but either way it was funny and deep down, I think he laughed too. See the thing I didn’t know until reading his obituary is just how cool this man was. The long version of his obit lists playing in jazz bands and his overall love of music which is why I’m guessing he supported our band’s efforts each year.
Another example of this man’s heart that I remember to this day is one awards day. This is an annual event where academic awards are handed out. This particular year one individual was taking in a lot of awards and everyone cheered, clapped, and hooted his name as he walked to the front of the auditorium for each award. Mr. V. had a wide smile on his face that day; but not so much the next day. A special assembly was held because those cheers were in jest, many were making fun of this young man, who earned every single award, Mr. V. showed his disappointment and discussed how inappropriate it was and how disappointed he was. You could have heard a pin drop and I hope that those who cheered in jest went to the student and apologized.
Lastly, I’ve shared many times about being bullied in school. Some of my visits to Mr. V.’s office were because of this, not to be yelled at, but to be protected. I never told him who was doing it, and he never pushed to know, but he assured me that all I needed to do was to get within five feet of him and I’d be safe. Mr. V. died on Jan. 15, his long shadow no longer looming the halls but his memory of lessons he taught us without saying a word will remain with me forever.
Brian Foreman can be contacted by email at email@example.com.