'Your Name Here'

"Everybody in the county knew him," Gracie Weller says of her late husband. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Last year, Steuart W. Weller was a business owner and longtime county resident known unofficially as the "Mayor of Ashburn." Next year, he may become officially inscribed in Loudoun County history.

Weller's name was proposed to the School Board on Tuesday as the name for an Ashburn elementary school that is scheduled to open in the One Loudoun subdivision in 2008.

In a school system that has opened on average three schools a year in the past decade, educators face a creative challenge every time a school is born.

The naming process is a months-long ritual. Once a school has been funded and opening day is in sight, School Board members and other officials appoint teachers, staff, parents and sometimes students from nearby schools to a naming committee. The committee does research and presents proposals to the board, which has the final say.

Phyllis Randall, an Ashburn parent who was on the naming committee that recommended Weller, said it was an important role because a school's name "lasts forever."

"It's a powerful thing to [have an] effect on children who will come years later," she said.

Last week, another committee proposed that the next western Loudoun high school be named Woodgrove after a once-busy agrarian town nearby. And a third committee suggested that the South Riding elementary school to open in 2008 near Freedom High School be known as Liberty.

The School Board plans to vote on the names during its meeting June 26.

School names in Loudoun generally fall into three categories: historical figures, geographical landmarks and inspirational themes.

Weller is one of many Loudoun residents whose names have been added to the lexicon of the county's youth. Rosa Lee Carter, an African American woman who taught in Loudoun for nearly 50 years, was honored with an elementary school in Leesburg; Frances Hazel Reid Elementary, also in Leesburg, was named for a former reporter at the Loudoun Times-Mirror; and John W. Tolbert Jr. Elementary in Leesburg was inspired by an education-conscious former member of the Town Council.

Sometimes the choice of a historic figure has sparked controversy, and for several years the School Board urged committees not to focus on individuals. In 1998, the board vetoed a committee's choice to name an Ashburn high school after Margaret Mercer, an 18th-century Loudoun resident who freed her family's slaves. Board members said she was not well-known, and some questioned her involvement in a movement to send freed slaves back to Africa. In the end, the board named the school Stone Bridge.

Current events often influence committee decisions. Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn was named for Christopher C. Newton and Dong Lee, two Loudoun residents on the plane that terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Freedom High School and the proposed Liberty Elementary are post-Sept. 11 names that reflect the country's war on terror, said Sarah Lichter, a library assistant at Hutchison Farm Elementary who sat on the naming committee for the new South Riding school.

Lichter had suggested the name Buffalo Trail Elementary, because she discovered that Native Americans once transported buffalo along what is now Route 50. But she said she liked the idea of offering children a loftier theme.

"Liberty is a concept you can teach elementary school students," she said.

Landmarks are another popular choice, providing the county's many newcomers with clues to the area's heritage. Harmony is the former name of the town of Hamilton, where Harmony Intermediate School is located, and Farmwell Station Elementary in Ashburn carries the name of a former railroad stop nearby.

For the new Ashburn elementary school, the committee chose a person who lived through many changes in the community and who was committed to the schools.

Weller, who died in February of pancreatic cancer, moved 49 years ago to a farm in Ashburn, when it was a village with its own brick elementary school and post office.

He and his wife, Gracie, sent five children to Loudoun schools and opened a family business, Weller Tile & Mosaics in Ashburn. Weller was a volunteer firefighter and often helped in the schools. He sponsored youth sports teams and volunteered with the Boy and Girl Scouts.

"Everybody in the county knew him," Gracie Weller said. To name the school for him "would be just such a tribute to somebody we know who was wonderful."

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