When Whitehall City Schools Superintendent Brian Hamler began to plan the final building dedication ceremony for the district, he knew the event would be full of notable guests, long speeches and a little pomp and circumstance -- naturally.
He also had a surprise planned.
"The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise," said Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu, a British-American anthropologist and humanist who popularized topics like race and humanity in the late 1950s and early '60s. "It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us."
Former superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy was seized by surprise and joy Sept. 29, when she learned the new high school media center would be named after her, with "Judyth Dobbert-Meloy Media Center" forever immortalized in a brushed steel plaque to hang inside the hallowed halls of Whitehall-Yearling High School.
Dobbert-Meloy was overcome with emotion upon hearing the surprise announcement at the building's dedication, which the district had kept cleverly under wraps for some time during preparation and planning.
The move seemed like such a natural one, Hamler said. It might have been his idea originally, but it was supported wholeheartedly by fellow board members and district personnel when he decided to get a little feedback on his inspiration.
"I wanted to make sure that Judy would always be remembered for what she did for our community," Hamler said prior to the dedication. "These buildings will be here for the next 50 years, and we probably wouldn't have taken this path if it weren't for Judy."
School board president Walter Armes agreed.
"In Judy's 13 years, she proved to be a very formidable superintendent," he said.
From the passage of the bond issue to the building of five new schools to the district's "Effective" rating last year, Armes said, Dobbert-Meloy was able to accomplish a lot in her tenure in Whitehall, leaving the groundwork for even further growth.
The journey began in early 2007, when the then Ohio School Facilities Commission approached the district with the news that it was on a short list of Ohio school districts eligible to receive state funding to either renovate or build new schools, providing the district could raise its portion of the total cost.
After months of community engagement in the form of coffees, lunches and informal meetings, district officials decided to accept the state's proposal to replace all five aging buildings with new ones.
District officials settled into preparing to put the combined bond issue and levy on the November ballot, launching a massive campaign to educate the public on their "buy two, get three free" deal.
Their persistence paid off in November, when nearly 63 percent of voters approved the tax increase.
With preparations already occurring in the background, the project soon took on a life of its own as district officials began the long and tedious process of planning for an entirely new school district -- all with as little disruption to students as possible.
The first groundbreaking was in late 2009, with the completion of the final structure last month -- four years after it began.
The permanent plaque, which is still on order, was designed by the high school's own art department and notes the academic progress Whitehall has made under Dobbert-Meloy's tenure.
She served as superintendent for some 13 years before retiring earlier this year and moving to South Carolina.