SCVTS Kicks Off A Year of 50th Anniversary Celebrations by Opening 1974 Time Capsule

By: Christian Oberly

It took SCVTS staff approximately three days to carefully remove the school’s cornerstone — which held the time capsule itself. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

MANNINGTON TWP. — On a sunny Wednesday morning, Salem County Vocational Technical Schools (SCVTS) staff gathered with guests from the community to kick off a year-long celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary. This event — the first of several planned by administrators — saw school officials opening a time capsule from the property’s inaugural year of 1974.

As guests arrived and took their seats on the lawn in front of the school’s main office, a nearby speaker played songs from a soundtrack assembled by Superintendent John R. Swain, featuring several nostalgic time-themed songs like Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.”

Superintendent Emeritus Dr. William Adams holds up a newspaper article retrieved from the time capsule as he addresses the crowd. (Photo courtesy of SCVTS)

Jason Helder, current principal of the Salem County Career and Technical High School, welcomed everyone to the August 2nd event. Helder noted several key figures in attendance, including the school’s first (and longest-serving) superintendent, Dr. William Adams.

Dr. Adams took the podium so that he could talk a little about the history of the “Vo-Tech,” while showing off all the things that were put into the time capsule back in 1974. Among them were a list of the members of the 1974 Board for Vocational Education, a list of the 1974 staff and instructors, a list of the student body, newspaper articles of the groundbreaking for the school, an invitation to the first open house, and a copy of their first “Student Guidebook To Success.” (See the photo gallery at the bottom of this article for a few examples.)

The capsule itself had lain hidden for half a century. Tucked inside of the school’s cornerstone, it took staff (many of whom were unaware of its existence until recently) three days to carefully pull it out.

In an anecdote shared with the crowd, Dr. Adams spoke about working with Dr. Peter Contini (the school’s first principal) over Labor Day weekend in 1974, putting together chairs and other furniture in the new SCVTS building so that the school could open on time for the school year.

A newspaper clipping from Today’s Sunbeam c. October 1974 about the school’s opening dedication. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

When the time capsule was originally sealed, Dr. Adams played a pivotal role in memorializing the event and choosing the documents that would be included. When he stepped away from the podium, he turned the mic over to current superintendent, John R. Swain.

Superintendent John R. Swain speaking at the event. (Photo courtesy of SCVTS)

Just as Dr. Adams established the foundations (literally and figuratively) for SCVTS over his 35-year tenure, Swain has spent the last 10 years as Superintendent of Schools laying the groundwork for the next 50 years of career and technical education in Salem County. Since he started with the school in 2013, Swain has overseen the addition of multiple new academic programs, the hiring of a full-time safety and security specialist, two building expansions (which also included a greenhouse and chicken coop), and a re-roof. Even the guests at the August 2nd ceremony had to enter the SCVTS campus from Cheney Road due to a complete repaving currently ongoing in the school’s main parking lot.

Swain has also resurrected sports at SCVTS (go Chargers!) and brought the school to its highest enrollment to-date, serving over 800 students per day across every program and service, including shared-time and full-time. Speaking to the crowd, Swain was adamant that his 10 years at SCVTS have been the most rewarding of his 34-year career in education so far.

“Our time to make a difference should be cherished…because we only get so much of it,” Swain said, summing up his remarks at the event.

Other notable speakers stepped up to the podium before the event had wrapped up — including Salem County Commissioner Director, Benjamin H. Laury and Board of Education President Linwood Donelson III. Donelson, an alumnus who was originally sworn in as a board member in 2013 only four years after graduation, tried to keep his remarks short saying, “I can’t say enough about how great this school has been to me.”

Assistant Superintendents Frank H. Maurer and Dr. Jennifer Bates addressed the crowd as well.

Twenty-four years’ worth of yearbooks on display in SCVTS after the ceremony. Guests were invited inside to take a closer look at the materials that were in the original 1974 time capsule, and to peruse the items that will be added to the capsule before it is sealed up. One of these yearbooks (from 2023) will go into the capsule. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

“Our mission has never faded,” Dr. Bates said, referring to the school’s mission to prepare students for employment, for further education leading to employment, and for lifelong learning. She also lauded staff for bringing over $13mil in extra funding to the school through grants and other sources. Another update Dr. Bates shared concerned expansion plans for both the welding and HVAC programs that will start in October of this year.

Members of the school district staff, Board of Education, and other community stakeholders gather for a photograph at the conclusion of the event. (Photo courtesy of SCVTS)

To close out the ceremony, Helder returned to the podium to show off some of the documents and items that will be placed inside the time capsule before it is re-inserted back into the brick wall of the school’s façade. Those included: a photo and messages from the current board of education and the senior staff of the district; a list of the students enrolled for the 2023-2034 school year; a copy of the 2023 yearbook; a varsity letter with pins from the sports offered at the school; a school brochure listing programs, clubs, and sports offered; and a letter from the current superintendent to the superintendent who will be serving in 2074 when the capsule is opened for the 100th anniversary.

For his own part, Helder has seen the school transform and grow considerably since he was first hired — at the time as a recruiter — in August 2001. Back then, SCVTS was mostly a shared-time vocational training school. Students from other schools came for a few hours each day to attend shop class before returning to their sending districts, a far cry from today’s comprehensive Career and Technical High School with nearly 500 full-time students on the Salem Tech campus. Over time, extra-curricular activities and athletics were added, which have given SCVTS a true high school identity.

SCVTS unveiled their 50th anniversary logo. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

“In the short term, SCVTS will continue to evaluate programs to ensure what we are offering meets not only the interests of students, but meets the needs of regional labor demand while also preparing students for higher education,” Helder said when discussing the school’s future. “In the long term, it’s my hope SCVTS can physically expand the building and classroom space so we can enroll additional students, giving more opportunities to the students of Salem County.”

The school has planned several other observances, activities, and ceremonies throughout the upcoming school year to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Included will be multiple alumni events — and starting in September, a successful alumnus will be highlighted on their website and social media outlets each month. The school’s Educational Foundation will also host a 50th Anniversary dinner early in March 2024 to raise funds for scholarships.

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