O’Neal celebrates 50 years

On Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1971, the Wallace O’Neal Day School opened its doors at the Campbell House — its temporary location for three weeks. Thirty-five students in grades four-six, three teachers, one headmaster and the administrative assistant were the nucleus for fifty years of serving youth in the Sandhills with the option of a college preparatory education in an independent school setting.

Today, O’Neal has grown to a five-building campus on 40 acres of land and an enrollment of 550 students.

On Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, O’Neal celebrated its 50 years with many activities. First was the formation of a giant “50” on the soccer field by students, teachers and staff. As the airplane rode by, everyone donning navy waved white poms poms in the air producing a perfect aerial photo.

Afterward, pep rallies were held for trivia contests on O’Neal’s history, along with games, cheers and singing the school fight song.

In the early evening, a reception and dedication ceremony was held honoring O’Neal’s first headmaster, Robert (Bob) Haarlow. A bronze statue of Bob sitting on a bench by renowned sculptor Gary Lee Price was presented. It will be located in the school’s future central campus now under construction. Remarks from former students in person and by video as well as reflections from his two sons Chris and Jeff were part of the program.

Bob Haarlow, O’Neal’s first headmaster, sits next to a bronze statue of himself on a bench dedicated in his honor with O’Neal’s current Head of School John Elmore, standing.

A Princeton graduate and college basketball athlete, who was headed to Cornell’s program for hotel and restaurant management, was abruptly detoured with a teaching opportunity in Honolulu. Only after two weeks in class, Bob Haarlow claimed, “This is what I want to do.” After two years in Hawaii, Haarlow returned to the mainland to teach at Pembroke Country Day School in Kansas City. The last candidate to be interviewed, in April of 1971 Haarlow was hired as the headmaster of Wallace O’Neal Day School and five months later, the school officially opened its doors. His annual salary was $12,200 — more than twice what he was making in Kansas City.

As the fledgling school had its struggles, Bob Haarlow managed to navigate the rough seas and establish a reputable, college preparatory independent school that has made a lasting impact on the community. He served as O’Neal’s headmaster for 14 years. Though his job was to oversee a school, moreover, he served as a mentor for many students as they encountered life’s lessons.

Suzanne Stinson McNeill ’81 remarked, “Bob and I share an alma mater whose informal motto is “In the Nation’s Service.” When you spend your career and by extension, your life, guiding and educating with distinction a couple of generations of children, you have served your nation. You and the team of educators you assembled are classic examples of servant leaders in the country and we thank you, well done.”

Richard Joyner ’77 recalled, “During high school he helped me to see a horizon that was further out and much bigger than I had ever envisioned or imagined. He encouraged me to go beyond what I thought I could do.”

Bob’s son Chris Haarlow commented, “I know this is about a dad and this is about this wonderful statue and there’s a bench and it’s awesome. Everybody here is near and dear to him. Everybody who has helped to ignite what this place is; everybody who had the smallest piece or the biggest piece in making O’Neal what it is today … he would want everybody to have a seat at that table and to be on the bench and beside him, because that is who he is.”

Head of School John Elmore concluded by launching O’Neal’s “Growing Strong at 50 Years” Capital Campaign for campus revitalization and for O’Neal’s Endowment Fund directed to the School’s teachers.

He comments, “We are all privileged to be a part of this school community. We share in the benefits of what its founders launched five decades ago. Others have seen the vision for the School through its current stability, complete campus and strong reputation. Now we all have an obligation to honor the school our founders started, sustain its current presence and provide support needed for the next 50 years.”

Feature photo: O’Neal students and faculty formed a giant 50 on the soccer field for an aerial photo.

Courtesy photos/Contributed.

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