When Ray Oppel arrived in Salem in 1969, he never dreamed he would spend his entire career here. However, on Thursday, May 25, he said goodbye to Salem Middle School students and sent the buses on their way for the last time as the school’s principal.
A Harrison County native, he spent his first year of teaching at North Central and then was hired at Bradie Shrum Elementary School. He taught physical education for one year before moving to the high school for three years. He went on to earn his master’s degree in counseling and was hired as a counselor by Charlie Hunt, which lead him to the middle school where he would spend the remainder of his career.
The counseling position merged into a counselor/assistant principal position and then into an assistant principal position and then for the last 23 years he has been principal at SMS.
When asked if he had a position he enjoyed most, he shook his head.
“I’ve enjoyed what I’ve been doing all along,” he said. “There are good days and then some are better than others.”
When asked about role models or people who influenced his career, Oppel said Charlie Hunt was right at the top.
“I was with him forever!” he said.
He also referenced Glen Stackhouse, who was his high school basketball coach and cross country coach.
“And of course Morris Rosenbaum and Max Bedwell had a great influence on me,” he said, recalling his years at the high school. “I’ve also always been surrounded by a great staff.”
He said when he became principal, he started the endeavor off with a great assistant principal, Anne Terrell. The two spent 10 years together as principal and assistant principal at the middle school, but their work relationship didn’t start there. Terrell also came to Salem in 1969 and the two worked for the corporation together from the beginning.
“We worked together for a long time!” said Terrell, who retired in 2004. “We got to know Salem together from a very good teacher, Charlie Hunt.”
She said Oppel has always been supportive of the students and wanting to help them succeed. “Ray Oppel is one of the most truthful people you will ever meet,” she said. “You can’t help but like him. He is a hardworking, generous person.”
Hunt said one quote comes to mind when he thinks of Oppel. It’s by Grantland Rice, a sportswriter from the early 1900s. “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”
“Ray played the game with dignity, devotion and love,” said Hunt.
Read the full story in the Tuesday, June 13, edition of The Salem Leader.