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  1. Education

East Bay High recognizes inaugural Wall of Legends members

GIBSONTON — Some served the students at East Bay High School for decades. Others gave their money and time. And, some are simply perfect examples of people who shined after graduation.

At East Bay, they call them legends.

The school recently honored its first Wall of Legends recipients with a ceremony and plaques. The plaques will be mounted on a wall by the main office.

East Bay recognized five contributors: Marge Davis, a former student and retired secretary; Dr. Richard Gaspar, a former student and teacher; Dr. Earl Lennard, a former teacher and former Hillsborough County Schools superintendent; Jason Hillman, a former student who is involved in youth sports in the community; and Dr. Hal Ott, a local veterinarian.

Davis, a 1965 East Bay graduate, was stunned to be chosen. She worked at the school for 45 years, primarily as the secretary to the principal. She retired in 2012.

"I'm not an Earl Lennard," she said. "I'm not a faculty member. I didn't do any of these fabulous things. I'm just a secretary."

But, Davis said, she ultimately realized she did have an impact on the lives of thousands of students and hundreds of staff members. Davis said she stayed for so many years because she adored East Bay.

"My job was to make their job easy," she said.

Principal Maria Gsell praised Davis and the others for their service to East Bay and the community. She had seen Wall of Legends at other schools and thought it would be a nice way to honor exceptional staff members, alumni and community members.

She said the school on Old Big Bend Road, which dates to 1957, is stocked with beloved former staff members, successful alumni and generous community supporters.

"With its rich history and tradition, we do need to do that here," Gsell said.

She said East Bay will add plaques to the Wall of Legends every year.

Several months ago, Gsell tapped alumni, staff and community members for a committee to review applicants and select the top candidates for the Wall of Legends.

Rick Hilliard, East Bay Class of 1978 and a committee member, said it was not easy to narrow the field to five because every nominee had top-notch credentials.

But, Hilliard said, Gaspar, Lennard, Hillman, Davis and Ott stood out because of their dedication and passion.

"It's because of what they've done for East Bay High School," he said. "How they've represented East Bay High School."

Every recipient spoke of how proud they were to be named a legend. They also praised East Bay.

"It's a wonderful honor," said Gaspar. "It's a wonderful school."

Lennard, who has received many honors over the years, choked up as he held his plaque. He said he loves the field of education and was grateful many of his early teaching years were spent at East Bay. He said student and staff support proved to him that he had picked the right profession.

"Thank you East Bay High School for what you have done for me," he said.

Ott, the only candidate to not have a link to the school as a student or employee, was thrilled by the honor. He has volunteered and donated money to the school. His two children are East Bay graduates.

He said he hopes his spirit of giving has inspired the teens at East Bay.

"I don't know any other way to live than to help other people," Ott said.

Hillman also said he is shocked to be among the group. But, he is thankful.

"It's humbling," he said.

Gsell praised the inaugural class. She said kind words and pats on the back are special. But nothing is as meaningful as the plaques that will be forever displayed at the school.

"It immortalizes them," she said.

Contact Monica Bennett at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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