When John E. Yingling, who died last week, took over as head of Howard County schools in 1949, the only system for making purchases was for the superintendent to reach into his drawer, pull out a check and sign it. The county's rural quality and the handful of schools that existed at the time made such informal procedures possible.
By the time Mr. Yingling retired 19 years later, the student population had more than tripled from about 4,000 to 14,000 at a dozen schools.
There have been only two superintendents since -- one reason for Howard's steady success -- and explosive growth has increased the student population nearly three-fold again, to 36,000 students. In many ways, the Yingling era successfully laid the foundation for what is today one of Maryland's best school systems.
Like many administrators of the time, Mr. Yingling was supreme captain of the system he ran. During World War II, in fact, he captained the local Minutemen volunteers. He rose to the rank of superintendent the traditional way, first as a teacher, then a principal.
Mr. Yingling also witnessed tremendous flux while superintendent. He moved slowly to desegregate county schools, but was the first superintendent to hire a black administrator and supervisor. Among his legacies was the creation of the sixth-grade through eighth-grade middle school, an innovation that continues today. He was also instrumental in ensuring that the then-fledgling planned city of Columbia would have enough land set aside for new schools.
Today, the evidence of Mr. Yingling's hard work can be seen throughout Howard County's 57 schools. The consistently high test scores, the dedication of teachers and staff, and the support that comes from the community have their roots in a jurisdiction that was once much smaller, less citified. Mr. Yingling built the bridge that helped the county schools pass from then to now. Today, purchase procedures are tighter, but the insistence on excellence that has attracted many people to the county continues.
Mr. Yingling died last week at 93, having lived in Ellicott City for 60 years. His vision and skill as an administrator left an indelible mark on the education system, and the residents of today's Howard County owe him thanks.