Former West Grove Principal George Broyer Talks Community, Love for Education
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Tom Britt
As a young lad finishing up his teaching degree at Indiana University back in the mid-1960s, George Broyer was highly sought-after by elementary school administrators who were eager to hire male teachers. Upon graduation, he fielded job offers from all over the state. One offer came from Ft. Wayne, another from Center Grove, but since Broyer lived just south of Martinsville, the latter offer had the geographic appeal.
In the fall of 1965, Broyer began teaching sixth-grade science and health at the old Center Grove Elementary (which later became Maple Grove) for an annual salary of $4,900. Two years later, West Grove Elementary was built and Broyer, along with several other instructors, moved to that school.
Once Broyer had five years of teaching experience under his belt, he earned his principal certification. Soon thereafter, he was invited to take the helm as West Grove’s principal. Hired at the tender age of 26, Broyer calls himself “the youngest and cheapest principal” of all time. But he was hungry to make a difference in the lives of his 800 students.
One of the first suggestions he made to the Johnson County Principals Association was that they ask the school board to let them take groups of students camping at Bradford Woods (located in Morgan County) for three days and two nights.
“My brother had built a lot of things out at Bradford Woods,” Broyer says. As a result, he was aware of the great learning potential that existed in nature. Not everyone shared his vision, however. Though the superintendent was all for it, one of the board members asked, “Why would you possibly take students out of school to go into the woods for education?”
Broyer responded, “If you come follow us on a trail, you’ll find out.”
The Bradford Woods program, which lasted for 25 years, turned out to be highly successful. Not only did students learn about wildlife, the environment, exercise and exploration, but for many it was a first chance at practicing autonomy by spending a couple of nights away from home.
As a child, Broyer recalls praying for snowstorms so that school would be cancelled. Once he became an administrator, he was intent on creating an environment that enticed children to school.
“I wanted kids to want to be here,” says Broyer, who worked hard at incorporating special activities into their schooling experience. Perhaps the most memorable activity occurred in 1976 when the entire student body buried a time capsule in front of the building. In it was a collection of papers, letters and drawings as well as an audio recording of every student in West Grove Elementary.
The day they buried it, the students and staff gathered on the playground and sung songs prior to burying the capsule. The plan was to dig it up on July 4, 2000, but unfortunately, nobody thought to place a marker in the burial spot. As a result, 24 years later, no one could locate it. And since they didn’t include coins or anything with metal in it, metal detectors were of no help.
Broyer, who retired in 2002, lost hope that the capsule would ever be found. On November 6, 2017, however, Center Grove Magazine publisher and West Grove alum Tom Britt led an effort to locate and excavate the time capsule at Southland Community Church, formerly West Grove Elementary (the school was sold in 2010).
Former teachers and students showed up, as did church and community members.
“It was nice to see the people of West Grove come together like they always have,” Broyer says. “West Grove was always a lighthouse for the community.”
Broyer recalls a time when a student and his family lacked water at his house. The church, the school and other parents came together to remedy the problem.
“You don’t see that kind of thing today,” says Broyer, speaking of the overwhelming sense of unity. “That’s how I want West Grove to be remembered — as a community of people helping one another.”
When the time capsule was finally unearthed last fall, one of the items they retrieved was a letter written by a 37-year teaching veteran who wrote, “When this capsule is dug up, I won’t be around to see it, but maybe I’ll be remembered by someone in the audience who I had in the first grade. I’ve taught 17 years in the Center Grove system and have enjoyed every minute as well as every child.”
Broyer smiles warmly as he reads the letter. Clearly, he enjoyed every minute, too.