By Wallis Rogin
Photo courtesy of the St. Mary's website
2021 is a special year for St. Mary’s as it has been 175 years since its founding. Although the school has changed since then, some beloved traditions have remained the same throughout the past 100 years.
Looking for stories about our community, I reached out to former Upper School Head of School Dr. Ray (‘65), Upper School English teacher Ms. Bielskis (‘89), and ninth grade history teacher Mrs. Umfress to find out what the school means to them and how it has changed through their years.
What is your funniest memory when you were a student or teacher?
Umfress: “This was a band and choir tour and we performed and got to go to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We had a couple hours and went to the beach to hang out. Ms. Evans and I decided to get beach chairs and an umbrella to stay in the shade. Then, a gust of wind caught our umbrella, it hopped over Ms. Evans and hit me in the eye. Luckily I was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, but the force of the glasses on my face gave me a black eye. But the next day was prom, so I had to go to prom with a black eye.”
Bielskis: “Everyday is funny though because working so closely with human beings, especially kids, you just never know what you’re going to encounter. You’re always open to the funny. The funny just happens all the time.”
Dr. Ray: “When I went on the freshman retreat, we were at Camp Bear Track, and a tick got on my jeans… and I was so unnerved by it all that I changed clothes and threw my jeans away.”
When you think of SMS, what are the first words that come to mind?
Umfress: “Excellence, academics, the arts, athletics, and community.”
Bielskis: “Community, support, and care.”
Dr. Ray: “Community and academics.”
Throughout your years at St. Marys, what was your fondest memory?
Umfress: “My very first class was the class that graduated in 2000 and I still see some of those girls today... that class is very special to me. [I love] the theater. There are certain things about the theater, certain plays that I’ve seen that have really moved me. The very first play that I saw here was “Godspell” and I was so impressed because Jesus was cast as a female student, and I went, “Wow, Jesus is a girl!” So I have fond memories of that. I have really fond memories of band and choir tours that I’ve taken… We've had great times there. I love love love going to Victory Ranch… I love seeing the freshman before school starts and outside of the classroom. That’s been very enjoyable.”
Bielskis: “I had a teacher, Mrs. Vaughan, and she was my second and fourth grade teacher. It was a time in my life where I really felt less than… she was instrumental in showing me how I wasn’t less than… she was instrumental in helping me find value within.”
Dr. Ray: “As principal, I had kind of a tough week… and then one morning I came into my office and sitting on my desk was a big smiley face cookie and a note from a student, ‘I hope you have a better day today.’ I thought, this just speaks to the sensitivity of the students, the awareness of the students, and the kindness of the students.”
How has SMS changed throughout the years that you have been here?
Umfress: “When I first came here, they were talking about a goal for every student to have her own computer. The headmaster at the time was Mr. Southard, and he envisioned a room ... that had outlets in the floor, so that the girls could charge their laptops or computers with that. In fact, we had computer classrooms; we don't even have computer classrooms anymore. They've been turned into regular classrooms or makerspaces. So I've watched the growth of computer technology expand over here. I have also seen a change in athletics. There are more sports that have been added. The Wellness Center is great because girls are actually conditioning and strengthening themselves.”
Bielskis: “St. Mary’s has tried to evolve as much as the world has, so I think it's doing a better job of trying to listen to students.”
Dr. Ray: “Physically, we’ve grown tremendously… when I was a student here, the whole school was in the Greenwood Building… There were fifteen [students] in my graduating class. The college prep curriculum has been altered, but certain elements have not changed… We have some of the same traditions that have been going on forever. [Such as] freshman initiation… Field day… Christmas Pageant. The emphasis on sports has changed a lot. We didn’t have many sports to play.”
How has St. Mary’s and the community influenced your life?
Umfress: “I really [enjoy] working with an Episcopal school. I like the openness and the way everyone is included … that influenced me and made it feel very welcoming.”
Bielskis: “St. Mary’s was always a soft place to fall when I was a kid, so I loved coming to school. I loved my classmates and my teachers, and I felt loved and supported. I also felt inspired in a lot of ways… there are those classes that made me really think, and I loved that experience. Not only did they make me think, they made me interested in a really kind of expansive way.”
Dr. Ray: “St. Mary’s teaches principles, ethics, the honor code… friendships. Academically, it prepared me for anything that I faced once I left here. The Episcopal nature instills a spiritual quality in all of us… St. Mary’s taught me how to study and how to write. If you know those two things, you can take on anything.”
For & By Students
Our website videos were made in partnership with St. Mary's video-making publication, Bella Vista.
Click on the author or artist's name to view more of her work!
HAVE AN ARTICLE IN MIND?