Love affair with colleges lasts 50 years for Western Md. grad SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

To Vernon R. "Ray" Simpson, his years at Western Maryland College provide the foundation of what he eventually became.

As a teacher and administrator in Montgomery County schools, and his service in the Army and Army Reserves, Mr. Simpson credited his college education for his successes.


"I've had a love affair with Western Maryland College for more than half a century," said the 77-year-old Mount Airy resident, who received the 1992 Alumnus of the Year award at the college Saturday.

"It prepared me well to be a teacher and my ROTC training was the basis of a long career in the military."


That adoration of his future alma mater began when he was a teen-ager and his family would attend Methodist religious conferences on the campus.

"We would go up in the summers and live in the dorms," said Mr. Simpson. "I just loved it. I didn't ever think of going anywhere else."

After graduating from City College in Baltimore in 1932, he began his studies as a history major with a minor in math.

A boarding student, he worked off his $150 per year tuition bill by waiting tables in the dining room.

"These were the Depression days," he said. "It was $350 for room and board, and my father managed to pay that."

He spent summers working at campus jobs, such as the Civil Conservation Corps project building the tennis courts and tearing down a building for a new dorm. Or he worked at jobs set up by his family.

"I was always able to find a job," Mr. Simpson said. "My sophomore year, my grandfather, who was a bay pilot, got me a job on a tanker ship to Cuba. After a while, I was steering the ship because the first mate took a shine to me and taught me how to do it."

He initially spent his recreation time in athletics. But after falling behind on the football and boxing teams, he joined the debate team for his junior and senior years.


"We were the district champions, which covered about three states," Mr. Simpson said. "We went around and debated what was happening in Europe and the fight that was coming up."

And then there were the women to distract him.

"Of course, I liked girls," he said, with a laugh. "A little too much, I think. I went to an all-boys school, so Western Maryland was where I had my first date."

In fact, the college is where Mr. Simpson met his wife, Helen, a 1938 graduate. The couple was introduced at one of the weekend dances there.

"She was a day student [living in Mount Airy], and I was over there [at the college], and of course I didn't have a car," he recalled. "But one of her cousins brought her to a dance when I was a freshman. She'd have one of them bring her over and I'd always sign her up for at least one dance."

Mr. Simpson also fondly remembers the religious aspect of his education.


"I especially liked the Sunday night chapel services," he said.

Services were mandatory, so all 600 some of the students crowded into alumni hall once a week.

Even students who left for the weekend were required to return for chapel services, Mr. Simpson said.

"It's not like I was any great religious person," he said. "But I think it had a marked effect on all of us. You realize later, as you grow older, the effect it did have on you."

Mr. Simpson said that the college's affiliation with the Methodist church added something special to the campus.

"Most of the professors had a beautiful Christian character, and I think that had a lot to do with keeping us straight," he said.


After graduation in 1936, Mr. Simpson began teaching history and math at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring. But a commitment to duty drew him into active military service four years later.

"That was when Hitler was on a rampage all over Europe," he said. "I thought, 'What am I doing here teaching little kids?' "

So, Mr. Simpson took his Reserve Officers Training Corps commission from Western Maryland and signed up for a year of active duty at Fort Meade. When that year was over, he re-enlisted and was caught up in the military activity after Pearl Harbor, including the D-Day invasion.

"That's why I was in for six years, rather than the usual four," he said.

Returning home to Mount Airy, Mr. Simpson finished the school year at Poolesville High and began his career at Damascus High. He rose from history teacher to assistant principal in 1952.

"It was nice and close, and I wasn't interested in going down county," he said.


By being an assistant principal, he could serve in the Army Reserves during the summers and take and additional week of training during the winter.

"I could still hold on to my military service," said Mr. Simpson, who recently retired as a colonel from the reserves. "It worked out very well."

Meanwhile, his dedication to Western Maryland has remained.

In addition to writing letters to classmates asking for contributions and conducting phone-a-thons, he has served as class president since 1984 and reporter for the class notes in the college magazine since early this year.

"I still love the place," he said.