The final month: Class of ’68 soul-food restaurateur says GHS closing ‘saddens my heart’

 Today marks the start of Germantown High School's final week of operation. (Photo courtesy of Germantown Historic Society)

Today marks the start of Germantown High School's final week of operation. (Photo courtesy of Germantown Historic Society)

Delilah Winder moved to Germantown from Richmond, Va. as a child when her father, a government employee, was relocated.

The 1968 alum fell in love with the city and eventually became a well-known soul-food restaurateur. She currently directs the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center of Culinary Enterprises.

Winder said her experience at GHS helped mold who she is today. She shared her recollections from a “very postitive experience” at GHS, and her reaction to the fact that this is the school’s final week of educating youths.

Her time at GHS

“At that particular time, it was a very healthy environment,” she said. “When I say healthy, I’m speaking to all a young person looks for in your high-school time. You’re getting a great education, you have great instructors who are supportive and really put a lot of value into your education as far as supporting you and counseling you.

“When I went to school, our instructors and teachers were like our parents. There was a very fine line between the two because you knew that whatever carried on in your home carried on through to school and whatever carried in school, carried through to your home. So, if you’re out of order, the instructor, or my teacher would say, ‘Don’t let me call your mother or your father.’ And you knew that they were serious and that they’d do that. Or they could reprimand you themselves because your parents consented that.

“[Principal Charles] Highsmith seemed to know all of our names for whatever reason, and there were like 3,000 students in that school at one time. He would walk that hall and he would call you out.

“The whole social aspect was there. The neighborhood stores that everybody would go to before or after school as our little community place, and we all kind of jumped into the booth to see who could get a milkshake or a steak sandwich. Germantown was all of that.

“That spirit, that discipline, the support, the reaching out, that’s kind of how I’ve continued to live my life in supporting young people. Being that mentor to young people, trying to teach them the importance of following the rules. They kind of taught us to follow the rules and in following the rules, this is the kind of life you had.”

On the closure

“I understand [the closure] only because I’ve been into the school … within the last few years. I remember what that school was. But, it’s not so much Germantown, it’s the entire system.

“How do you operate a school financially that, at one point, housed anywhere between 3,000 and 3,500 students and now you have a student body of 400? You have a building that’s huge to heat, to clean, to maintain. How do you do that with an enrollment of that size?

“When I attended Germantown High School, it was the only high school in Germantown. So it pulled from Germantown proper — east and west — the lower side of Germantown, and then Mt. Airy.

“Unless you went to Girls High or Central, everyone went to Germantown. So what it gave you was a rounded mix — economically, racially. When they took that mix away, now you start to narrow down schools and I think that’s where a big mistake was made.

“It saddens my heart that a school of this magnitude has come to this.”

As the final day of Germantown High School’s 99-year history approaches — the Class of ’13 will don caps and gowns on June 19 — NewsWorks will present a series of stories including interviews with grads and former students.

To that end, we’re asking you to send your memories via email (subject line: My GHS Memories), the comments section or call (215) 351-1293.

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