An inspiration: Students present special gift to principal

by Sonja J. Keith

Conway Christian High School seniors were so inspired by their principal’s dedication and faith that they raised money to purchase him a very special gift. But Fred Ramsey will tell you that he is the one inspired by his students.

Ramsey, who is finishing his third year as principal at Conway Christian, makes the 30-minute drive to the school from his home at Romance. When Ramsey joined the staff at Conway Christian, he had worked in four public schools – Beebe, Greenbrier, Shirley and Rose Bud. “When I came here, I made the statement that my life in education was like a four-layer cake, and Conway Christian was the icing on the cake. Three years later and it still is. It is a blessing to be a part of this school.”

Surrounded by the senior class, Fred Ramsey accepts a special gift during the honors chapel at Conway Christian High School.

Originally from Vilonia, Ramsey attended first grade at Liberty school on Highway 36. Students attended through the eighth grade, with two grades in each classroom. Oren Heffington was the principal.

“The bell stood out in front of the home economics building,” he said. “That’s the bell we used to change classes.” Ramsey is not sure if he had an opportunity to ring the bell as a first grader. “My older siblings went to school there, and I’m sure they rang the bell.”

The cafeteria and gym are all that remain of the school buildings, and a flea market has opened on the property. Ramsey stopped in several years ago and noticed the school bell in a back room in the gym. The price tag read $1,250, an amount he could not justify spending.

During a visit with senior Sarah Hill, Ramsey shared his Liberty school experience. “I told her that’s where I started school and about seeing the bell.”

Touched by his story and his genuine concern for his students, Sarah decided to approach the senior class about raising the money to purchase the bell. The class raised $200 and donations were solicited for the remaining amount.

“He has laughed with us, cried with us, prayed for us and prayed with us. Truly, he has been a great example for us in how to live our lives with complete faith in God,” wrote Sarah in a letter asking for donations.

“As this year has quickly been racing to a close, our class has decided to do something for Mr. Ramsey to show him how grateful we are for him.”

At the honors chapel for seniors at the end of the school year, students brought out a table with an object draped in red cloth. A gift from the seniors and others at the school, it was for Ramsey – the Liberty School bell. “It was supposed to be a day about them, and they did something special for me.

“I was overwhelmed and very humbled. That was just the neatest thing for them to think of that and do it. They surprised me totally,” he said, getting teary-eyed. “‘Thank you’ was all I could come up with.”

Ramsey was pleased that his wife, Brenda, was in attendance for the presentation. The gift was a surprise to her as well. “I rang it before everybody got out of the gym.”

Students, staff and faculty have been inspired by Ramsey’s faith during his battle with cancer. Ramsey was diagnosed with melanoma in 2009 and with liver cancer in August 2010. He has undergone experimental treatment, and his last two scans showed the tumors in his liver have shrunk and spots on his lung are also shrinking. “It’s all God’s goodness and God’s blessing. I give God the glory.”

After his diagnosis, Ramsey led a chapel service at the school and at the end, shared with the students his health issue. “At the end, the student body president came down and invited the kids who wanted to pray for me to come down to the floor,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “They emptied the bleachers.”

Ramsey asked the students to pray for God’s will with his health situation, not healing. “It was amazing. That is probably the highlight of my time here. The bell would be second.”

While he has inspired those around him, Ramsey argues that the students are the ones who have touched him. “I see them being an inspiration to me. They’ve taken me in as part of their family.”

Ramsey plans to work one more year at Conway Christian, which will mark 40 years in education. In the meantime, the school bell will have a place of honor at his home. “When I retire, I’ll go out every day and ring that bell.”