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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

Robey: Education is a lifetime commitment
Sontag principal retiring after 40 years
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Courtesy Photo: Sontag Principal Denny Robey said he is most content working with children. Robey will retire in July after 40 years of service.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


After 40 years of service to children and their families, Sontag Elementary Principal William Denny Robey will retire on July 1.

Robey actually began his teaching career on the opposite side of the country at a military school in California.

"I was in a music group and had the opportunity to go to California, so my wife and I moved there," said Robey. "I taught second through ninth grade science and she was teaching pre-K."

When the Robeys were ready to leave the Los Angeles area, they began applying to a number of places.

Robey said Cy Dillon, superintendent of Franklin County public schools at the time, gave both him and his wife jobs in Franklin County.

"We are so grateful that Mr. Dillon offered us both jobs," Robey said. "We wanted to settle down here, buy a small farm, raise a family and teach."

Robey went to work as a science teacher at the old junior high school, now known as Law Building at the high school. His wife, Fair, who is also retiring, began teaching kindergarten at Sontag Elementary.

"Sontag had the county's first outdoor mobile unit, and it's still there to this day," Robey said.

Robey said teaching at the junior high was some of the best years ever, and when the county's middle school opened in the late 70s, he transferred there.

Soon after, Dillon asked Robey to help form an alternative education program for the high school, and Robey worked that program for three years. The next hat Robey donned was principal at Snow Creek Elementary for three years.

"I was happy at Snow Creek, but in 1985, then Superintendent Leonard Gereau made a number of changes and I got moved to Sontag," said Robey. "Early on, I realized what an incredible staff of people existed there. I realized what a special place Sontag was -- a community school that had principles."

In the early 2000s, Robey was given the opportunity to work at the school division's central office.

"A lot of important work is done at the central office and I appreciate the people who work there. But I had spent some 30 years surrounded by children," Robey said. "My talents are better placed with the kids."

The new principal at Sontag had moved on, and in 2003, Robey was given the chance to return to Sontag where he has been ever since.

"The current Sontag staff is an incredibly dedicated  group, consisting of some veterans of over 20 years and some new teachers who are all committed to the success of Sontag students," said Robey. "We are proud that, for the past 11 years, Sontag students have met or exceeded every federal and state benchmark for student achievement."

Robey praised retired teachers, such as Nancy Hamblin, Debbie LaPrade and Betty Hodges, who still substitute and volunteer their time to the students at Sontag.

"It's a lifetime commitment," said Robey. "They have a genuine commitment to serve these kids. They are veterans with worlds of experience. They are just three examples of a quality staff of many of the kinds of teachers we've had here. School needs to be a center point of the community, a palace, a place everyone wants to go to and feels comfortable."

Robey said he has enjoyed working with all the students and watching some of them return to the school with kids of their own.

"It's hard to put into words how richly rewarding it's been," he said. "They come into my office with smiles on their faces because they know they can spend time with me and reminisce about old times like two adults."

Robey is grateful to Franklin County public schools for the opportunity he and his wife, who is primarily an elementary music teacher, has been given.

"Fair has influenced many children in her work as an elementary music teacher, choir director of the Singing Panthers, organizer of Franklin County Children's Choir, the Elementary Violin program and serving as accompanist for the high school choir," Robey said. "Franklin County public schools gave us both the opportunity to teach, raise a farm and buy a little piece of land. Our kids had great educations here. We are very grateful for the time we've had here and what we've been allowed to do."

The Robeys have plans to take trips, grow more vegetables and do a little work on their house in Ferrum.

"We also want to visit family," said Robey. "Our children are all musically inclined and sometimes we like to play music together as a family. I hope to get the opportunity to do that more often."

Robey said he would also like to continue his work with the English as a Second Language (ESL) program and the Donna Sink Pediatric Fund to help local children with medical expenses.

"Once the new principal is well established and when the opportunity is right, I can see myself coming back to Sontag to tutor math," said Robey.

Robey has a bachelor's degree in biology from Gilford College, a teaching certification from the University of Maryland and a master's degree from Hollins University.

The Robeys have been married 40 years and have three children -- daughter, Emily, and sons, Gabe and Austin. They also have two granddaughters.

"Denny Robey possesses a unique humble power that influences others positively, solely by the way he leads life through his daily words and actions," said Assistant Superintendent Sue Rogers during a recent school board meeting, honoring retirees of Franklin County public schools.

"It is the power that gives respect to others and influences colleagues and students to keep moving forward," Rogers added. "It is the power to speak out for those who can't speak for themselves. And, it is the power that always puts others first. I've been truly blessed by the opportunity to work with him and to be influenced by him."

During the meeting, Rogers also quoted an email signature that, she says, has stuck with her throughout the years: "You don't have to be a person of influence to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they taught me." -- Denny Robey.

Also retiring this year are:

•Mary Jane Lynch, kindergarten teacher at Ferrum Elementary, 36 years of service.

•Patricia G. Newcombe, cafeteria manager at Ferrum Elementary, 24 years of service.

•Mary Alice Brown, cafeteria staff member at Glade Hill Elementary, 27 years of service.

•Brenda S. Strickland, pre-K teacher at Glade Hill Elementary, 33 years of service.

•V. Elaine Arbogast, guidance counselor at Lee M. Waid Elementary, 25 years of service.

•Linda S. Barnhart, kindergarten teacher at Sontag Elementary, 28 years of service.

•George O. Hopkins Jr., health and P.E. teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, 33 years of service.

•Ann Drew Gibbons, English teacher at Franklin County High School, 42 years of service.

•J. Keith Hubbard, social studies teacher at Franklin County High School, 40 years of service.

•Nancy S. Hodges, secretary at The Franklin Center, 13 years of service.

•Barbara W. Ruska, secretary at FCPS technology services department, 13 years of service.

•James Paul Holland Jr., bus driver, 54 years of service.

•Joe L. Holland, custodian at Franklin County High School, 13 years of service.

•John L. Jamison, FCPS maintenance, 32 years of service.

•Robert Reynolds, custodian at Dudley Elementary, 11 years of service.

•Charles L. Hutto Jr., director of school food services, 39 years of service.

•Nancy Hurdle, science teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, 40 years of service.

•Eric Lawson, head librarian at Franklin County High School, 23 years of service.

•Deborah Crockett, a health and P.E. teacher at Franklin County High School, 30 years of service.

•Susan Hudson, fine arts teacher at Franklin County High School, 10 years of service.

•MaDonna Minor, adult education instructor at The Franklin Center, 12 years of service.

•Catherine McGinnis, special education coordinator at Rocky Mount Elementary, 31 years of service.

•Sally Moore, special education teacher at Henry Elementary, 16 years of service.

•Donnie Ayers, custodian at Franklin County High School.

•Elizabeth Gregory, paraprofessional at Sontag Elementary.

•Judy Furrow, cafeteria staff member at Burnt Chimney Elementary, and

•Barbara Carter, bus driver.

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