By Dan Verner
The members of the Osbourn/Osbourn Park Alumni Association form an unusual group by any standard. While most high school classes have reunions every year at most, the Manassas group has a continuing, ongoing presence that has allowed them to support other graduates with scholarships through the years. The association is 111 years old, the longest-lasting such group in Virginia. Former president of the association Mark Olsen, 1979 Osbourn High School (OHS) graduate and winner of the Outstanding Alumni Graduate Award in 2012, that the association has “a unique history through its involvement with
the high school and the growth of the Town of Manassas into the City of Manassas.”
According to association board member Joann Barrett, the alumni group works “to provide additional funding for books, sports, housing and whatever else is needed to help young people out with school or college. Without this help, some students could not afford to continue their education.”
Olsen, who joined the association in 2003, adds, “We promote fellowship of individuals who went to OHS and promote further education through awarding scholarships to graduating seniors who are going to college or trade school.”
Fundraising for Scholarships for Graduating Seniors
Every year in June, the alumni association stages a banquet and awards ceremony. “The association has awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors, keeping the OAA connected with the community,” Olsen said. Former association treasurer Gerry Sproles (Class of 1952), winner of the Outstanding Alumni Graduate Award for 2011, says that the group used to rely on local businesses for donations and also staged a “Fall Bash” at the Harris Pavilion each October until a few years ago. They have moved on to other fundraising techniques since then, including an appearance by former OHS football player and New York Jets wide receiver Lucky Whitehead, who greeted fans and signed
autographs at a food truck event before homecoming at OHS last October. His appearance netted $1,800 in four hours.
Furthermore, for the first time this year, “the association will hold a raffle on Oct. 21 with a grand prize of $10,000. Proceeds will support the scholarship program,” said Olsen. Sproles notes, “If we sell 300 tickets and raise $30,000, $20,000 will be available for scholarships.” Details on the raffle are available on the OAA Facebook page.
This year, the group honored graduates from both Osbourn and Osbourn Park high schools with scholarships. OHS grad Preston Kulakowski maintained a 3.82 grade point average and numbers four relatives who are also OHS graduates. He plans to attend Liberty University this fall, earn his doctorate in law and become an FBI agent.
Mandi Cottrill, also from Osbourn, received an Alumni Association scholarship. Cottrill’s grandmother, mother, two aunts and sister are all graduates of OHS as well. She maintained a 4.1 grade point average and wants to double major in biology and psychology and be a genetic counselor after college graduation.
Ben Valentine, the scholarship recipient from Osbourn Park, counts five of his relatives who were also OPHS graduates. He has maintained a 3.8 grade point average his senior year and plans to attend West Virginia University and major in sports management. Barrett notes that the best thing about being in the association is that “we can help students (like these) succeed with their goals.”
Outstanding Alumnus of the Year
The association also names an outstanding alumnus or alumna each year, and the person so honored this year was Robert Heltzel, President of Heltzel Mortgage in Manassas. In addition, the group recognized Gerry Sproles (Class of 1952) for his service to the organization since 1997.
Outstanding alumni in recent years have included trucking company operator Danny Barrett, Mabel Black, Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish, state senator and judge Selwyn Smith, and Prince William County Police Officer Jesse Hempen. John Gregory (Class of 1939), a contractor whose company built many of the structures in the local area, is the oldest member of the group.
Lillian Orlich, a teacher and counselor at Osbourn (OHS) and later, Osbourn Park (OPHS), who retired this year after 67 years in education, was recognized as the outstanding alumna in 2004 for her teaching at both schools and outstanding service to and participation in the community, although she was not a graduate of either school.
The association also helps AMVETS, a service organization designed to help veterans and their families; Matthew’s Center, which supports children with autism and their families; and the African Child Care Association, which works to promote the growth and safeguard the interest of quality early childhood care and education through licensed, private providers.
Olsen wants to make sure that graduates know that “there is no cost to join, and anyone interested can contact us through email ([email protected]), Facebook or our website
Olsen, Barrett and Sproles all agree on the value of the association. They also agree that the number of graduates present for various programs, including the banquet, has declined. According to Sproles, “In years past, we had 250 to 300 people in attendance. We had trouble finding a place big enough to meet. Now we have about a hundred, and they largely represent members from the 1960s and 70s.”
“We have to get younger people involved,” Barrett says, by promoting the organization and reaching out to graduates. “Some graduates have never heard of it,” Sproles adds. “We can do more.”
While the officers and board are aware of lower numbers, they are also committed to programs like the raffle and other outreach opportunities to ensure that the state’s oldest alumni organization will be around for a long, long time. Given their energy, drive and commitment, the OHS/OPHS Alumni Association is here to stay.
Dan Verner ([email protected]) is the author of several books (danverner.com) and was named “Best Writer in Prince William County (Virginia)” for 2014 and 2015 by readers
in a “Best of Prince William” poll taken by Prince William Today.