Items sought for Rehoboth High School history room

Alumni gathering yearbooks, photos, uniforms to showcase in elementary building
August 18, 2022

It may have been in existence for only 30 years, but the importance of Rehoboth High School to its graduates cannot be measured.

So much so, that when plans called for the old school to be demolished in 2019 to make way for the construction of Rehoboth Elementary School on its grounds, alumni held a final homecoming in the school gym.

When Rehoboth Elementary opened to students in 2019, Cape district leaders dedicated a history room within its walls to house artifacts and memorabilia documenting Rehoboth High, and the students and staff who attended and worked in the school from 1939-69.

Heavy wooden doors from the former school hang in the new history room, which also features bookshelves from the library, glass cases from the main lobby, and the wooden floor of the old gym.

Now that the social distancing and occupancy limits of the pandemic are no longer in force, three local alumni – Hope Wilson Lavachia, Class of 1963; Jackie Johnson Shockley, Class of 1968; and Gail Nowakowski Stenger, Class of 1969 – have been tasked with filling those shelves and cases with trophies, yearbooks, photos, newspaper clippings, uniforms and other memorabilia to ensure the history of Rehoboth High School does not fade away.

“We appreciate this room and what they [district leaders] did,” Lavachia said. 

The three alumni have been sorting through documents dating to the 1930s, including meeting minutes from 1938 detailing construction of the new school, and even discovered why the main entrance of the old school faced Silver Lake and not the parking lot or the road leading to it. A proposed road to the school’s main entrance through Rehoboth Beach Country Club, which was then located across Silver Lake from the school, was voted down by the club, alumni said.

“We never knew why the main entrance was at the back of the school,” Shockley laughed.

Records from the 1940s document a tuberculosis epidemic; in precautionary actions similar to those taken during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, students then were X-rayed before they were allowed to attend school. Because Lewes High School didn’t mandate the X-rays, some area parents transferred their children to that school, alumni said.

Several seniors left school during World War II to fight and received an honorary certificate rather than a diploma, said Shockley, noting the group is interested in learning more about how the war years affected Rehoboth High students and staff. 

Consolidating local school districts arose as a consideration as early as 1955, alumni said, when records show 400 people attended a school board meeting to protest the possibility. Rehoboth, Lewes and Milton school districts eventually consolidated as the Cape Henlopen School District in 1969; its first class graduated in 1970.

Rehoboth School District was once designated Rehoboth Special School District, which allowed it to hold referenda and get local funding rather than state funding. At the time, alumni said, Rehoboth didn’t receive as much state funding as larger surrounding districts.

Local schools were racially desegregated in the mid-1960s. Alumni said the room will detail history of the integration, and they hope to receive donations of newspaper articles, documents and other artifacts from the era. 

Classes were small back then, and everyone knew each other, said Lavachia, whose senior class comprised only 33 students. When students wanted to ice skate on neighboring Silver Lake during lunch, gym and recess, Stenger said then-Superintendent Dr. Van Sant would walk out onto the ice and jump up and down in order to determine if it was safe.

“Everyone ran to the window to watch him,” she said. “He never fell through!”

Stenger said it was particularly touching to see her mother’s handwriting among the documents. Stenger’s mother, Janet Nowakowski, taught and coached at Rehoboth High; she is a district coaching Legend whose likeness and history are displayed at Cape High’s Legends Stadium.

Donations received to date include a varsity letter sweater worn by Rehoboth High alumna and Cape Legend Ruth Sponaugle Skoglund, a letterman jacket from alumnus Chuck Mowll, various trophies, and photos of sports teams dating to the 1940s. Alumni hope to collect a full set of yearbooks.

The alumni say they welcome every bit of memorabilia, photos and records the public would like to donate, or even to loan on a temporary basis, for possible inclusion in the room. The group said they also hope to meet with other alumni who are willing to share their memories of Rehoboth High School, and they are set to visit Delaware Public Archives to further research the school’s history.

District officials are working on a plan to open the history room to the public so everyone can explore its holdings, said Cape Public Relations Coordinator Steph DeMalto, and more information will be shared when it is available.

The group would like to have all donated and loaned items on hand by Oct. 15; to contribute, email or call DeMalto at 302-645-6686.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter