Gerald Ford has been called an accidental president. Ray Walch was an accidental principal.
In July 1965, longtime Staples principal Stan Lorenzen resigned. At 55, he was eager to tackle something new: Weston High. The school — as yet unbuilt — was scheduled to open in 1968.
Two months later — the day before school began — Westport’s Board of Education announced Mr. Lorenzen’s replacement. Raymond Walch, 41, had been a teacher in the system since 1952. For the past 6 years he’d been townwide director of math. He was also a nationally known consultant and math textbook author.
Mr. Walch inherited one of the most accomplished, robust senior classes in Staples history. There were 14 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Staples Players used the exact dimensions of the Globe Theater thrust stage. The Orphenians and orchestra took their 1st-ever tour: a week in the Virgin Islands.
The Beau Brummels and Animals headlined concerts in the auditorium. The Blues Project played for the junior prom in the cafeteria.
Mr. Walch announced that cigarettes could now be smoked in the parking lot before and after school. But he also made it illegal to leave campus before the end of the day. (Too many students were driving to Port Chester and Vista for “liquid lunches.”)
In late April — after less than a year — Mr. Walch resigned. He asked to return to his previous job as townwide director of math. He also began work on his doctorate at Columbia University, and continued textbook writing and consulting.
In 2004 I interviewed Mr. Walch for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. Referring to his predecessor as principal, he said:
Stan ran a very tight ship. Everything had to be done his way. He did more than he should have – he even handled every student’s application to college. He spent every day and night at Staples. He didn’t delegate anything. There were 9 guidance counselors when I got there, and I told (department chairman) Mary Barre that college applications were her job.
Mr. Walch added:
The biggest change during my year as principal was moving graduation outdoors, to the football field. There were too many students to have it indoors. (Athletic director) Frank Dornfeld said I’d ruin the soccer field with all those cars parking on it, but there was no problem at all.
(Superintendent of schools) Dr. Gordon Peterkin didn’t like all the delegating I was doing. We had some real donnybrooks. He’d have meetings at 9, 10 p.m. – that was his style. Things got to the point where we brought in a group from Columbia for sensitivity training.
Maddie Burks, my secretary, saved my life. She was wonderful. I would not have survived without her. She told me everything to do. And Mike Deer, the custodian — if he didn’t open the doors, we wouldn’t have a school. But Paul Gambaccini and Dick Sandhaus – they were students involved in everything – they really ran the school.
I fought broken pipes all year. I never sat behind my desk. And all that time I was writing books, tutoring and bringing up 5 kids.
Mr. Walch died on October 21 in Florida, at 88. But his obituary only reached Westport yesterday.
He leaves behind his wife and 5 children, their spouses, and 10 grandchildren.
Along with fading memories of his 1 short year as Staples’ accidental principal.