February 18, 1971 – Fifty years ago today, the articles of incorporation for Sandhills Independent School Corporation were signed and later filed on February 22nd. Endorsed by three representatives of the 14-member Board of Trustees, it was full steam ahead to have Wallace O’Neal Day School up and running by the fall. The initial Board of Trustees as listed in the articles of incorporation were: Edward T. “Ted” Taws, Jr, Robert C. Fisher, A.B. Hardee, Mrs. William P. Davis, Warwick Fay Neville, Mrs. Mary Toerge, Mrs. William R. Bonsal, III, Dr. Charles W. Lowry, Mrs. Robert S. Ewing, William Durward P. Grady, Mrs. Robert L. Huffines, Jr., Capt. Asbury Coward, III, Dr. Cecil H. Neville, Jr., and Earl Hubbard.
It was an interesting time. The Sandhills had a history of serving as a vacation spot for families who resided in states from the Midwest to New England. Just like today where families own a cottage at the beach or a cabin in the mountains, families then owned vacation homes in the “Land of the Pines”. It was literally an oasis of golf courses and hunt country in the middle of nowhere. Many of these tourists slowly decided to make Southern Pines / Pinehurst their year-round residence and they were accustomed to a prep school or boarding school education. This prompted Rev. Dr. Charles Lowry, minister of the Village Chapel in Pinehurst, to assemble a group of interested parents and organize a college preparatory day school. The first meeting was in December of 1970. There was a great mixture of homemakers, bankers, industry owners, physicians, retired military, and others who came together to brainstorm the perfect fit for private education in the Sandhills.
By April of that year, the Board of Trustees had settled in. Taws was named chair and James VanCamp, Elijah “Pete” Peterson, and Neal Satterwhite replaced Mr. Fisher, Mr. Hardee, Mrs. Davis, and Mr. Neville.
Mary Elaine Meyer O’Neal donated 20 acres of land along Airport Road to the School with the request to name the School after her recently deceased husband, Wallace O’Neal. Wallace Wheelous O’Neal was vice president of Gouger O’Neal Realty and Insurance Company in Pinehurst. He was also a strong community civic leader. O’Neal died at the early age of 43. The Meyer Family donated land earlier for the construction of Sandhills Community College. Mary Elaine, a Meyer daughter, thought her land contribution would “close the parenthesis” and make the education statement complete. The organization and place of business were established. Next was to find the right person to manage it.
The last candidate to be interviewed, in April of 1971 Robert “Bob” Haarlow, a teacher from Kansas City was hired as the headmaster of Wallace O’Neal Day School. He came under recommendation of Calvin Atwood, headmaster of Pembroke Country Day School where Bob taught. Atwood and Trustee Mary Toerge were acquaintances and Mrs. Toerge called on Atwood’s consultation to help start the School. “Calvin Atwood was very instrumental in getting Bob to come to us,” says Taws.
Haarlow picked up his family and moved to the East Coast to take a job as headmaster for a school that existed only on paper. His annual salary was $12,200 – more than twice what he was making in Kansas City. It was a gamble and though the job was a challenge, it all worked in his favor for the long run.
There was a balance of prep/boarding school and public school exposure among the founders. Haarlow had curriculum ideas, but there was more to running a school than just curriculum. “I remember sitting in Ted Taws’ living room to put together a budget,” says Haarlow. “There were many assumptions.”
“None of us really knew what we were supposed to do,” says Taws. “We just went along resolving one crisis after another and we succeeded. We learned a lot in a short period of time.”
Though there was much support for the School, the group was advised to wait a year to have time to plan and organize, but the founders thought differently and were determined to open in September.
On May 14, 1971, the Board of Trustees hosted a reception for the public to meet Mr. Haarlow and to discuss their vision for the Wallace O’Neal Day School. Over 200 people attended the reception. Stated in a brochure … “the objectives are to develop a firm understanding of the basic disciplines, especially the area of reading and arithmetic; to provide an environment in which learning and involvement can be experienced as enjoyable, worthwhile, and challenging; to offer each child an opportunity to pursue and grow in areas of special interest and to foster a cooperative spirit and concern for fellow human beings.”
First Union National Bank in Southern Pines offered office space for the summer while the School readied to open its doors. Starting in June, student applicants in grades 4-6 went through enrollment testing and teachers were hired for the first independent private school in the area.
September was approaching fast.
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388