OCEAN PINES — Willit the Sandpiper, once the mascot of Showell Elementary School, could return to his (or her) former glory if the Worcester County Board of Education proceeds with his creator’s wishes.
That creator would be Wilda Stroh, who opened Showell Elementary School in 1976 as its first principal. The new school, of course, was a blank slate from a cultural standpoint and what Stroh wanted was something to connect the children to the school.
For Stroh, who had taught at Ocean City Elementary School after moving to Ocean Pines from Anne Arundel County, the answer was a school mascot, Willit the Sandpiper.
She enlisted a neighbor and local artist Barbara Zane (Zane provided the illustrations at the Ocean City restaurant “The Hobbit”) to do some drawings of Willit and compiled them into a book she titled, “The Tale of Willit.”
Any child who attended Showell Elementary between 1976 and 1992 is familiar with “The Tale of Willit.” For 16 years, Stroh introduced new students to Willit, just as she explained to these students what she expected from them.
Stroh had a Willit statue on her desk that the children touched as part of the annual welcoming ritual. The kids could talk to Willit or just take comfort in his presence. He became the lynchpin for all that followed and was even the subject of a book in which the school children did the illustrations to accompany Stroh’s text. Each student also received a birthday card from Willit every year Stroh was the principal.
“I did it as much for my grandchildren and the teachers as anyone else,” Stroh said. “Eight of my grandchildren went to Showell.”
The last of the children to visit the principal’s office and hear the story of Willit did so nearly 20 years ago. Since then, both the school and the school population have undergone significant change, as has its first principal. Stroh has remarried and been widowed in the intervening years, going now by Streat personally and Stroh Streat professionally.
Stroh Streat has also helped compile a book on the life of her husband, Cliff Streat, documenting his service, capture and return in WWII.
After completing that book, Stroh Streat began to consider whether “The Tale of Willit” could be mass published. The books the students did all those years ago cost more than $30 each to produce.
By adopting a smaller, soft-cover version, “The Tale of Willit” can be printed at a more reasonable cost and it is Stroh Streat’s desire to donate the books to the school. With the principal’s consent and the help and endorsement of the PTA, the proceeds from the sale would support the school library.
Stroh Streat has already presented a copy of the book to Bob Hulburd, president of the Worcester County board of Education, as well as to Dr. Jon Andes, the school superintendent. She said they both indicated to her that the book would be accepted and endorsed by the board and passed on to the school for sale and distribution.
Although family commitments will keep her from starting her next project this summer — Stroh Streat is working on a history of Showell Elementary — she said she hopes not only to complete the new book but also to survive to see the school’s demolition and rebuilding.
When the cornerstone was laid at Showell Elementary, a time capsule was included within and she hopes some of its contents are included in the cornerstone of the new school.
In the meantime, seeing Willit made available not only to the schools current students, but also to those grownups who were among the first children to hear the story, is a pretty satisfying cap to a successful and varied career.