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Hugh C. Spalding Sr., the longest serving superintendent for Marion County Public Schools, died April 20 at Sacred Heart Village in Louisville. He was 101 years old.
Spalding served as the school superintendent from 1937 until 1975, excluding two years when he was serving in the military during World War II.
“None of them that took his place could compare to him as far as I’m concerned,” said Marcus Clark, who was a teacher while Spalding was the superintendent.
Clark said Spalding and Cyrill Mudd ran the central office for the school district.
“They didn’t have 15 or 20 like they do now,” Clark said.
And Clark really liked Spalding.
“He told it like it was and what he expected you to do,” Clark said.
Spalding was born in the St. Joseph community in 1912. After completing his own high school education, he started his career as an educator. At 18 years old, he was hired to teach at the Hagan School, a one-room schoolhouse.
During the summers, he continued his own education at the Western Kentucky State Teachers College (now Western Kentucky University). He later completed a master’s degree at the University of Kentucky.
At 21 years old, Spalding became the supervisor of the Marion County Public Schools. At 25, he was named superintendent, which was the minimum age requirement to serve in that position.
During his tenure as superintendent, Spalding oversaw the integration of the school district, a merger with the Lebanon school system, the consolidation of the county’s high schools, and the opening of Marion County High School in 1970.
“His proudest achievement was building Marion County High School,” said Betsy Delmonico, one of his five children.
His children all agreed that Spalding always wanted all children to have the best education they could, and he was dedicated to his job.
“He would come home and eat dinner and go back to work,” his daughter Catherine Spalding said.
Delmonico wrote in an email that she remembered the truant officer, Thomas Whitehouse, would tell Spalding when a family did not think their child needed to go to school.
“The two of them would drive out to visit the family. It didn’t always work, but it often did — and those days made my father really proud,” Delmonico wrote.
His tenure as superintendent also included some controversial decisions. Spalding oversaw the closure of the Bradfordsville High School, which did not sit well with that community at the time.
Spalding also defended hiring Ursuline nuns to teach in the public school system, said Hugh Spalding Jr.
“[Spalding] felt that it was a civil rights issue and the highly qualified and skilled Ursuline sisters deserved the right to teach in the public schools as much as any other teacher,” his son, Hugh Spalding Jr., wrote in an email.
At home, Spalding encouraged his children to educate themselves by memorizing poetry and assigning them books to read in the summer. They even recalled a vacation trip during which they stopped to visit one-room schoolhouses.
Spalding was also active in the St. Vincent De Paul Society and was a member of the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. His children said he had the energy of several people.
Delmonico recalled coming home one time when Spalding was in his 80s.
“He was up on the roof with Albert Purdy, the next door neighbor, holding the ladder,” she said.
As she recalled, the roof had been repaired and Spalding wanted to make sure they’d done a good job.
Catherine Spalding said their father was an honorable man.
Hugh Spalding Jr. agreed.
“He always tried to be fair and compassionate in his decisions and he always dearly loved Marion County and all of its people,” Hugh Spalding Jr. said.
Spalding is survived by his four daughters and one son, 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. He was preceded in death by his wife of 68 years, Sara Bernadette Hill Spalding.