In 1935, Louis Spilman was Waynesboro’s vice mayor, and he went to Washington D.C. to encourage the Public Works Administration to give the city of Waynesboro $300,000 toward the construction of a new high school.
The city’s growth was ahead of its public school system and the PWA spent $6 billion funding large projects during the Great Depression in order to spur economic activity.
PWA complied, and the cost of Waynesboro High School came in at approximately $275,000.
“So, he was actually very crucial in securing the money for the school,” said Elizabeth Massie, Spilman’s granddaughter.
He had founded The News Virginian in Waynesboro in 1929, and served as the newspaper’s first president and publisher until 1974. The high school’s auditorium was therefore named The Louis Spilman Auditorium.
Spilman was also instrumental in the creation of the high school’s mascot.
Massie, who graduated Waynesboro High in 1971 and still lives in the city, said the mascot at her grandfather’s alma mater of Wabash College in Indiana was, and still is, the Little Giants.
“So he christened the mascot of Waynesboro High School: Little Giants,” she said.
The city’s old high school was on the hill at the intersection of Pine Tree Avenue and 11th Street, which now houses Waynesboro Public Schools’ administrative offices.
The new high school opened in 1937 at 1200 W. Main Street.
The News Virginian was at the top of the hill on Main Street in downtown, and the Spilman grandchildren often played at the office while their grandfather worked.
“And they let us explore,” Massie said. “It felt like a family paper.”
Massie and her younger sister, Barbara Spilman Lawson, who graduated Waynesboro High in 1973, would later see many programs performed in the auditorium named after their grandfather.
Lawson also performed herself in the auditorium as an actor with The Waynesboro Players.
The sisters’ father was the late William Spilman, who was one of Louis Spilman’s six children.
Massie and Lawson have a brother, William “Butch” Spilman, who lives in Stuarts Draft. Their sister, Rebecca “Becky” Spilman Bruce, died in 1999.
Their late mother, Patricia Spilman, was an art teacher in Stuarts Draft.
“They both lived very good lives,” Massie said of her parents.
A grassroots movement to rename the auditorium or new theater classrooms after Daryl Brooks, a Waynesboro High graduate who continues to contribute to the school’s theater program, began over the summer.
Massie said that she and Lawson both want the auditorium to remain named after their grandfather.
“But, we also think it would be awesome for Daryl Brooks’ name to be on the space,” Massie said.
If a chair or theater room at the high school were named after Brooks, Massie said that would be “well deserved.”
“Pretty well,” Massie said of how well she knew her grandfather. He died in 1986, when she was in her early 30s.
Massie and her siblings were lucky enough to grow up in the same city where he lived, so the family got together for holidays and for every day events.
“He was very family and community-oriented,” Massie said of her grandfather.
She added that he “loved to have everyone together.”
“He also adored the fact that he had a very large family,” Massie said.
She said she believes having a large family is why Louis Spilman “felt so strongly for his community” and worked to secure funding for a new high school.
When he secured the funding, he was probably thinking about his six children attending the school some day.
“He very well might have been thinking of the future,” she said.
His efforts were successful, and ground was broken in late 1936 for Waynesboro High School at 1200 W. Main Street.
According to Waynesboro Schools policy, the school board takes the responsibility of naming public school facilities, and will direct the superintendent in establishing a committee to gather input from the public.
“In the event of considering recommendations of names of individuals, the committee will take into account if the individual has made exceptional or outstanding contributions through longevity of service, exemplary leadership, philanthropic contributions or other significant means to the school or the school division,” the policy states.
The policy’s intent is not to name facility areas or school grounds after an individual, however, the school board has the discretion to do so in memory or honor of individuals living or dead. The board also has the discretion to rename school facilities or parts of facilities.
While the school board will collect public input, the naming or renaming of school facilities or parts of school facilities is the official responsibility of the school board.
The general policy of the Waynesboro School Board is not to name schools or facilities after living individuals “except under special circumstances.”
“Throughout the facility study process and the facility planning process for the renovation and additions at Waynesboro High School, the school board has never expressed any intentions or had any discussions about naming any part of the facility,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell.
Marsha Howard, a 1960 graduate of Waynesboro High, worked for Spilman for 11 years as his private secretary after he retired from The News Virginian.
But, before then, she all ready knew him as Uncle Louis.
“His generosity was incredible,” said Howard, who lives in Waynesboro.
As his private secretary, Howard typed up documents and kept Spilman’s checkbook.
“So, yes, I do know what a generous man he was,” Howard said.
Spilman helped send a young man to Ferrum College, and he donated money to the cardiac center at the hospital. He also donated funds for the construction of the high school’s auditorium.
Howard said she thinks it is wonderful that Brooks returns to Waynesboro and continues to support the school.
“He’s not a legacy, but Louis Spilman was,” Howard said.
Spilman shared his wealth with the community.
After retiring from the newspaper, Howard said that Spilman kept an office across Main Street near The Wayne Theatre.
“It was wonderful for me,” Howard said of working for her uncle.
As a child, she said she knew her uncle well. She and the other children in the family knew that they could get candy from his desk at the newspaper if they wanted any.
“He could not have been more gracious. He was a lovely man to work for,” she said.
Howard said she enjoyed working for him.
“It makes me sad to think that a person can die, and be wiped off the face of the Earth,” Howard said in reference to if the high school auditorium were ever renamed.