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Should auditorium be named for Tom Orr?

Tom Orr taught English and directed the senior play at Hendersonville High School for 32 years. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO] Tom Orr taught English and directed the senior play at Hendersonville High School for 32 years. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

After Tom Orr died, Ashley Orr Self began to hear more stories about her uncle than she had ever imagined.

The students he taught in English class and directed in the senior play at Hendersonville High School praised his influence and the lessons that lasted a lifetime. When she hatched the idea of naming the auditorium for Orr, support poured in.
“We got about 80 letters,” she said. “There’s people that want to come and speak.”
She has written to the School Board and talked to administrators about the idea, hoping to get the board’s endorsement.
“The response has been positively overwhelming,” she told board members. “He changed people’s lives and people want to share their stories.”
A 1957 graduate of Hendersonville High School, Orr came home to a teaching job at his alma mater after graduating from UNC at Chapel Hill. Besides his career in the classroom and on the stage, he served on the Henderson County School Board and on numerous nonprofit boards, including the Flat Rock Playhouse, Blue Ridge Community College and the Boys & Girls Club. He was a founder of the Henderson County Education Hall of Fame, chaired the Historic Courthouse Centennial Committee and conceived and created the Walk of Fame, which honors notable county leaders in education, medicine, business and civic affairs. His Sunday Times-News column on local history sustained a devoted following until his death.
“I believe it should be done to honor him in a way he would not believe,” said Self, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Advance, west of Winston-Salem. “These letters (of support) are personal. People are sharing things they learned from him that they have carried on throughout their lives. He didn’t stop touching people’s lives at the high school — that’s where it all started. He continued to help people in the community even after he retired from teaching — educating them in history and starting all these committees that he did. He continued to give. Even up until he died he was still giving, he was still writing.”
Self found a quote from her uncle from 1976 that captures his passion for teaching and sense of community.
“I want to teach in a school system where the superintendent has a vision, where the administrators are dreamers, and doers too, but basically can dream great dreams,” he wrote. “I want to teach in a community where the citizens enthusiastically support the school program. I want to teach where the faculty dreams of ways they can help young people really become significant, really contribute to the world, really grow in knowledge. I want to teach in a school, in a system that has a dream. I daily thank God that I do.”
Because of all that, Self and Orr’s former students and others see the Thomas E. Orr Auditorium as a fitting tribute.
“The high school auditorium is where it all started,” she said. “That’s where relationships began and that’s where they grew and they continued to grow even after that. His hand is on that auditorium, every nook and cranny.”

Two schools named for people

Henderson County has two schools named for people — Glenn C. Marlow and Bruce Drysdale — and stadiums and gyms have traditionally been named for coaches, principals and a superintendent, Marlow. Over the past 20 years, the School Board has named the HHS gym for longtime coach Jim Pardue and the Innovative High Schools building for Dr. Molly A. Parkhill, who was president of Blue Ridge Community College when the Early College and Career Academy were built on the BRCC campus.
The School Board also recently named the new classroom building at HHS the Boyd Building, for L. Campbell “Cam” Boyd, who sold the old Chevrolet dealership property to the School Board for a price that was several million dollars below market value.
“I think that makes it a whole less sticky” when a large donation drives the naming discussion, said Amy Lynn Holt, vice chair of the School Board.
“I’ve gotten the emails and I have read them all,” she said of the tributes to Tom Orr. “We typically have not been in the naming business just because, how do you pick one when we’ve had so many outstanding educators? That would be very difficult.”

‘Where does that stop … or start?’

Hendersonville High School principal Bobby Wilkins knew Tom Orr well. Orr was his sophomore English teacher and senior play director and the two were co-faculty members for 11 years.
It’s hard to single out one teacher in one era “when you’ve got a school that’s over a hundred years old,” Wilkins said. “You’ve got people that are wanting something (today) that are really passionate about what they want but those people that went to the same school and had the great teachers back in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s are no longer with us, so they’re not there to raise their voice (and say), they wish it would be named for this, they wish it would be named for that.
“It’s a tough one for me because I know everybody has people that they want to name stuff after but if we started doing that the whole building would be named after somebody,” he said. “It’s hard to justify naming it for one person just because everybody’s on that bandwagon as we speak. In the long run I’m not the one that decides. That’s my opinion and I’ve told everybody that.”
Wilkins is nothing if not consistent, rigid even, on the point. He opposed naming the gym for Coach Pardue, on the grounds that other coaches had had as much success over the years.
“I screamed at them,” he said. “I went to the board meeting and told them not to do it. Coach Pardue was my second father. I loved the man. He carried me around the high school when I was a newborn baby. He was my coach, he was my mentor and I took his job. You can’t find anybody that’s more passionate about Coach Pardue but it’s wrong to name the gym after him.”
For similar reasons, School Board Chair Blair Craven said he and his colleagues are unlikely to take up Self’s request.
“Mr. Orr was an extraordinary man,” he said. “He gave a lot to this community, to the HHS community, the North High community,” where Orr finished his teaching career. “I think the thing is at Central Office we have a whole wall full of deserving folks that were former teachers and at this time we just don’t think it’s appropriate for us to go about that.
“We have so many teachers that we can honestly name something after, where does that stop or where does that start?” Craven said. “I didn’t see support from everyone I’ve talked to so we decided not to take that up at this time.”
Charlie Cranford, a 2005 HHS graduate and current Alumni Association president, said graduates are skittish about taking sides.
“We’ve kind of had some discussions over email about supporting Ashley in her effort,” he said. “She’s done a tremendous job with scholarships through the Thomas Orr Foundation. We’re really happy and grateful for what she’s done. I think right now we’re kind of taking the position of staying impartial. Our goal is to raise scholarships for graduating seniors. We really don’t like to get involved in the renaming of buildings because we don’t have much of a say in that.”