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High school dining room dedicated to Herb Custer
With two granddaughters at his side and surrounded by family, friends, and education colleagues, Herb Custer received recognition as the first vocational director at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) in a ceremony on Tuesday. A plaque dedicating the culinary arts dining room in his name now hangs at its entrance in tribute to his work in creating, starting up, and running the high school's vocational program from 1972 to 1991.
From right, Herb Custer with granddaughters Amelia McCabe and Isabelle Custer as school committee member Bob Tankard, Principal Peg Regan, and Administrative Assistant Margaret Serpa recall his accomplishments. Photos by Ben Scott
"I must confess I'm very uncomfortable in accepting this honor," Mr. Custer said, with what his friends and family describe as characteristic modesty. He took a few moments to pay tribute to several former colleagues, including Pierre Hebert, the culinary arts program's chef instructor for over 10 years. "He was the heart, soul, conscience, and spirit of vocational education," Mr. Custer said of his friend, who died in 1995.
On a lighter note, Mr. Custer told everyone that he checked his pulse when he heard about the dedication ceremony, because he thought it was school policy that someone had to die before they were honored. Actually, the MVRHS committee changed the dedication policy just a few months ago at the suggestion of member Robert Tankard. "Why wait until someone dies before we honor them? We want to celebrate with them while they're alive," Mr. Tankard said at the meeting.
Reflecting on his career in a phone interview last week, Mr. Custer said, "There was never a day I didn't want to go to work." His road to becoming the vocational director began in 1969, when he started teaching math and science at the high school.
At that time, with the high school's curriculum geared towards college prep, Mr. Custer realized that many students in his classroom were unmotivated by the academic program and not interested in going to college.
Herb Custer, at right, receives a congratulatory handshake from Martha's Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss, as school committee members Robert Tankard and Susan Parker look on.
After brainstorming with then Superintendent Charlie Downs and MVRHS Principal Charlie Davis, Mr. Custer helped create and start up a program called Cooperative Occupation Related Education (CORE), recruiting Island tradesmen and businessmen to employ students. The students alternated a week of school with a week of work. However, the state department of education said the program did not meet the required number of classroom hours.
The MVRHS Vocational Program
Since its start-up by Mr. Custer, the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) vocational program has grown immensely. Today, freshmen can start with an entry-level exploratory program, which allows them to rotate through all of the areas and then choose one to concentrate on for the remainder of the semester.
Mr. Custer then took a leave of absence from the high school to complete a doctoral program at UMass. While there, he made some good contacts in the department of education and with Congressman Silvio Conti. After returning to MVRHS, Mr. Custer wrote grant applications to fund the vocational program's start-up. As he describes it, "We got some money, and away we went!"
Mr. Custer and the vocational program teachers built the greenhouse for the horticulture program. He spent Thanksgiving morning grouting in the window sills.
The plaque dedicating the culinary arts dining room in Mr. Custer's name.
His son John, a social studies teacher at Tisbury School, said he has met several former vocational students who told him they would have dropped out of school if not for his father. He and his wife Amy attended the ceremony with their children Maggie and Isabelle, ages 2 and 5. Mr. Custer's daughter, Jennifer McCabe, her husband Luke, and their children, Noah, Will, Amelia, and Abby, ages 10 months, 2, 5 and 7, traveled to the event from their home in Raynham.