Remembering and honoring a beloved principal


September 25, 2008|By JANENE HOLZBERG

The image that sticks with Scott Ruehl is the principal smoking a pipe while mowing the grass at the high school.

Val Salvato McNeely recalls receiving the principal's strong support of her effort to form a drill team with classmates.

And Frank Aiello remembers graduation ceremonies on the football field as the sun set in the trees, a tradition the principal started.

These are among the memories of James R. McCrumb Sr. that will be shared Saturday, when former students, staff members past and present, and others from the area gather at Mount Hebron High School to pay tribute to the man whom they credit with shaping a high school community.

McCrumb, who died June 21 at age 74, led Mount Hebron from 1967 to 1987, one of the county's longest-serving principals at one school, according to the school system's Office of Teacher Recruitment and Retention.

Jim McCrumb arrived in 1967 from Glenelg High to help guide Mount Hebron Middle School through a four-year metamorphosis into a high school, his widow, Joan, recalled recently. Students who would have attended Howard High were not happy about going to the Ellicott City school, she said.

"Jim somehow had to help these youngsters develop their own school identity and create a Mount Hebron esprit de corps," Joan McCrumb said. "He was always a hands-on principal who was involved in every aspect of the school's operation."

Ruehl, who became principal at Mount Hebron this summer, said it was McCrumb's unwavering dedication to ensuring that the campus ran smoothly that prompted him to cut the grass if he thought it necessary.

"Mr. McCrumb was such a respected person and a true leader in the school and community," said Ruehl, who was a member of the last graduating class during McCrumb's tenure. "We students felt it was an honor to be in his last class, and so we asked him to be our commencement speaker - something that doesn't happen very often, I would guess."

Lee Noel is a retired administrator who took over as vice principal of Glenelg High when McCrumb left that position to go to Mount Hebron. He said McCrumb's first priority was the well-being of the students.

"Jim was a students' principal," said Noel, a longtime friend. "He really cared about the kids - more than any other principal I ever knew."

Changing schools in the county system benefits some principals, Noel said, because after a period of time "people figure you out."

"Jim let the Board of Education know that he never wanted to leave Mount Hebron," said Noel, who will be one of six speakers at the memorial service. "He really bought into the institution."

Aiello said that McCrumb was a man of simple tastes, wearing Vikings' football jerseys to school, or a flannel shirt and John Deere hat in cooler weather, he said.

"Jim had no pretensions himself, and he ran the school that way," said Aiello, who has taught math at Mount Hebron since 1974. "He was a very smart man with a great moral compass."

One of McCrumb's greatest gifts was his ability to "reach kids that were basically unreachable," Aiello said.

"His professional life was marked by redemption," he said. "I can't tell you how many people have said to me, 'If it weren't for Jim McCrumb ...' and then they would finish the rest of that sentence with a personal story."

McCrumb also invested himself in the development of teachers and staff, said Sue Ann Tabler, an English teacher who worked with McCrumb at Mount Hebron for seven years.

"Jim encouraged all of us to think outside the box and do creative things in the classroom," said Tabler, who went on to become principal at Oakland Mills High. "He never micromanaged us, and [he] gave us a lot of freedom. When I worked for him, I did some of the best teaching of my career."

McCrumb is credited for helping choose the school colors (black and gold) and the mascot (the Viking). He established the Viking Backers, the Viking Hall of Fame, and Black and Gold Night, all of which exist today.

"We all loved and respected Mr. McCrumb," said McNeely, who has taught physical education at Mount Hebron for 32 years. "He had black and gold pumping through his veins, and it was obvious that this school was his baby."

Even more than his length of tenure, McCrumb's impact will be hard to match, Aiello said.

"When we lose people like Jim, we lose a small piece of the school," Aiello said. "New people try to reinvent the wheel, but there will never be another principal that can match his accomplishments at Mount Hebron."

Anyone wishing to join in celebrating Jim McCrumb's life with the Mount Hebron community is invited to the service to be held from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the school, at St. Johns Lane and Route 99 in Ellicott City.


Is there a noteworthy person or event in your neighborhood? Contact Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg at or 410-461-4150.

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