The Story of Bonsack Elementary as told by its first principal Dr. Deedie Kagey in her book “From Bonsack to Blue Ridge.”
Bonsack Elementary School opened in eastern Roanoke County in the fall of 1999. On November 16, 2019, the school celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Acclaimed author Dr. Deedie Kagey, who served as the first principal at Bonsack, has included a history of the school in her volume “From Bonsack to Blue Ridge,” published in 2016.
The following information comes from her book.
According to Kagey, Bonsack Elementary was built on land that was known as Crumpacker Orchards. In 1970, Fralin and Waldron Inc. bought over 550 acres of the land which once provided farmers with their daily needs– beef and dairy cattle, hogs, vegetables and fruit. Since 1914, the Crumpacker farmland (where the school is located) was primarily cultivated for apple and peach orchards.
The area soon filled up with new homes, apartments, and condominiums. Retail development followed.
For several years prior to 1999, the county school board was aware of the burgeoning growth in this area and began planning for the construction of a new elementary school.
At one point, due to the proximity of the Botetourt County line, a joint elementary school was discussed. It was finally decided that it was best to remain a Roanoke County school.
At a special meeting of the school board on June 23, 1998, a joint resolution addressed the construction of Bonsack Elementary. On June 30,1983, the school board purchased 19.659 acres from the Crumpacker family for $127,783.50. Kagey says the site was chosen by Superintendent Bayes Wilson and School Board member Wayne Taliaferro.
In June, the school board also appointed Dr. Kagey, who was then serving as principal of Roland E. Cook Elementary in Vinton, as the first Bonsack Elementary principal.
Members of the school board voted to officially name the school Bonsack Elementary in keeping with the historical nature of the community with the same name. The name was derived from the Bonsack family, who settled in the area beginning in 1816.
The school was projected to cost $7.5 million. The School Board approved several changes in the original plans for the school, reducing the price by $130,000, as a result of the county’s policy of “value engineering.” Financing included Virginia State Literary Fund loans and Roanoke County bonds issued without a referendum.
Roland E. Cook Elementary in Vinton, the oldest school in Roanoke County (built in 1915), was slated to close when Bonsack Elementary opened.
There was a reassignment of some children in the Vinton area after the opening. Roland E. Cook students would attend Herman L. Horn Elementary and some students who attended Horn would be shifted to Bonsack Elementary. Kagey was able to bring 17 staff members from Roland E. Cook along with her to Bonsack.
Kagey says the residents of the Bonsack community, who had been transported to Vinton for school since 1940, were happy to have an elementary school return to their community.
She describes the features of Bonsack Elementary as a single-story brick building with sloped roofs, facing Read Mountain, and occupying an area of 57,500 square feet, with an initial student capacity of 400 students.
The building contained core spaces, such as the library and the cafeteria, sized for 600 students and designed to have future classrooms added when increased capacity was needed.
Every space was wired to meet computer and communication needs. All classrooms had natural light and operable windows. The building was located adjacent to an existent ball field and playground at Bonsack Park with a walking track for community use.
One parent presented a proposal for adopting uniforms for the school, which was dropped after opposition ensued.
Kagey says that with the opening of the school scheduled for fall 1999, parents were excited and were on hand to help unload trucks and unpack and assemble every piece of furniture.
Her specific memories of those days include:
- Boxes to the ceiling, which were broken down and laid flat
- Carpet being laid in the office the day before school opened
- Furniture being put together in the library until the wee hours of the morning
- Library opening delays due to the late arrival of library furniture and the cataloging of books and stocking of shelves
- A walking track being installed behind the building on the grounds, requested by the community
- A regulation sized gym, which parents and citizens also desired
- An Open House for the community right before the first day, which brought hundreds of people to the building with boxes being discarded right before people entered the building
- The installation of a composite playground at the foot of the hill behind the school
Three hundred sixty students reported in grades K-5 the first day of school with three classroom teachers per grade level.
Many dignitaries attended the dedication of the school on October 10, 1999, along with members of the community.
Vela Crumpacker, from the Crumpacker Orchards family, stated, “It is fitting that this school has been built on this piece of property. Many years ago, my father-in-law, John S. Crumpacker, and his brother Emory, prepared this land to grow fruit trees. The young trees were planted, and as they grew, they were pruned into the shape they needed to be. The land was cultivated and kept in good shape to give the trees every opportunity to grow to be healthy and sturdy enough to produce fine fruit. For many years delicious fruit was picked from them, first peaches then later on apples.
“This beautiful building has now been completed and equipped with all necessary tools to prepare young minds to produce fruit of a different kind,” Crumpacker continued. “You have dedicated teachers to teach, train and motivate their students to attain their highest potential. Some years down the road you’ll see fruits that are far superior to the fruit that was grown on this land. The Crumpacker men, who planted the first trees, and their sons Raymond and Morris who later went into business with them and finally took it over, would be pleased to see the land used in this way.”
Kagey says historical facts and major families were recognized that day, in addition to the students singing patriotic music, and a key to the school presented to Dr. Deanna Gordon, superintendent, and Dr. Kagey by architect Ed Mulreaney of the Moseley, Harris, and McClintock architectural firm of Richmond. The general contractors for the construction project were J.M. Turner and Company of Roanoke.
As the Bonsack area continued to grow, a new addition to the school was begun in October 2005 due to the increasing enrollment. An assistant principal was added in the 2004-2005 school year.
The new addition was completed in the fall/winter of 2006 and included nine classrooms, two workrooms, and two resource rooms, one with a divider. It became the music room due to its central placement to all classrooms.
The computer technology changed from MAC (Apple) to PCs. The square footage increased by approximately 20,000 square feet.
Kagey notes that enrollment climbed to 496 at its highest point.
She recalls that Bonsack Elementary raised over $120,000 over a period of four years by participating in a Mathathon for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. This amount was higher than any other school in the United States. The funds were used to add another composite playground to the site. A second composite playground was completed in 2007-2008 through the grant writing by Kagey. The St. Jude’s playground was constructed in 2011.
There have been just three principals appointed to Bonsack Elementary since the school opened— Kagey, Melissa Jones, and Leanne Leftwich, who is in her second year. Kagey retired in 2009 after 41 years of service to Roanoke County schools as an educator and administrator.
Kagey concludes in her book that “Bonsack continues to be a testament to academic excellence and will serve this community for many years to come.”