Plaques honoring five distinguished graduates are on display in the hallway of Waterloo High School, meant to reflect a great academic history while also inspiring future greatness.
The recently formed WHS Legacy Society has set out to preserve the school’s rich history while highlighting the importance the school has played in the community.
As part of this effort, a “legacy wall” has been created at WHS. It is the society’s twice-a-year plan to highlight five alumni, faculty or other important persons involved with the school district.
“We have put up large frames and put a picture with a biography in each one,” WHS Legacy Society leader Kelly Lerch said. “We plan to change the wall every six months with new honorees.”
The first five honorees on this new WHS Legacy Wall are former Waterloo superintendent Walter J. Zahnow (1926 to 1967), recently recognized special graduate Roy J. May, and past graduates Dr. Olga Hartman (Class of 1918), Scott Alspach (Class of 1984) and Dr. Chad Stiening (Class of 1995).
Zahnow is considered by many to be the father of Waterloo schools. When he started as superintendent in 1926, the school district consisted of fewer than 300 students in first grade through high school housed in a three-story building on East Fourth Street. In addition to serving as superintendent, Zahnow was principal and even taught economics, world history and American history.
Upon his retirement 41 years later, the school district had grown by leaps and bounds with nearly 1,600 students.
May was a senior at Waterloo High School during the 1943-44 school year. He made the decision to enlist in the military and serve his country — even though it would mean he would not be able to graduate with his classmates. May served in the Army Air Corps from Jan. 29, 1944, at age 18, until Feb. 1, 1945. He was an aviation cadet and took his pilot training in San Antonio.
With three military casualties affecting his family — one brother injured, one brother a prisoner of war, and one brother killed on Normandy Beach — May was discharged from the military. He went on to become a successful State Farm insurance representative for 68 years and counting.
During a Veteran’s Day service at WHS last month, May was honored with the graduation ceremony he had missed many years prior, and was presented with his cap, gown and diploma.
Hartman was a noted scientist in the field of marine biology. She graduated from University of Illinois with a biology degree and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in marine biology from Columbia University.
She was hired by the Allan Hancock Foundation at the University of Southern California, where she began research to find and identify polychaetes in the Eastern Pacific.
By the time she retired in 1969, Dr. Hartman was the world’s most recognized authority on polychaete annelids. She published, co-authored or was referenced on dozens of papers and books and received several awards.
Alspach (who changed his last name to Spock) is a Grammy nominated member of a pop music songwriting and production team known as The Matrix. He has received seven Grammy nominations for song of the year or producer of the year, and songs written and produced by his team have sold more than 35 million records worldwide.
Alspach, who was valedictorian of his class, has had his songs performed by such pop music artists as Avril Lavigne, Brittany Spears and Rihanna.
Stiening, also a valedictorian of his class, has been a researcher, business development executive and entrepreneur in his time since gracing the halls of WHS. He is CEO of Kypha, a medical diagnostics company that develops point-of-care tests for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.
Stiening was named 2013 Governor’s Entrepreneur of the Year for Missouri.
Lerch said the wall is already making its mark at the school. Students walking in the halls have paused to read the information on these honorees.
“That’s what this is all about,” she said. “It is really wonderful for our students to see the history that came from the legacy of WHS.”
Waterloo school superintendent Jim Helton praised the formation of the WHS Legacy Society and this new legacy wall during the most recent school board meeting.
This is really powerful,” Helton said. “There’s a lot of good feeling and good will behind it.”