In the spring of 1957, in Simpsonville High School, a small group met to undertake a large task, the one of establishing the foundation of a new high school. A committee of nine was formed, composed of three representatives from each school, to decide on a name for the school. Seventy-eight suggestions were sent in, the list of which the Tribune published. Among the suggestions were “Triangle”, “Southern”, “Hillcrest”, “F.S.M Consolidated”, and “Quil-Ma-Ville” (the last one is a consolidation of the three towns: the “Quil” stands for Robert Quillen, the famous author from Fountain Inn, the “Ma” for the Mauldin Community, and the “ville” was taken from Simpsonville.) Out of that long list of names, the committee selected Hillcrest because “of the poetic quality of the spoken word and its beauty in writing or print, and because it is applicable to the general terrain of the school property and the particularly impressive knoll selected for the building site”. This name was suggested by the late Miss Daisy Stone, the sister of Mr. Rocky Stone.
The committee also chose the school colors of red and white, and the nickname of “Rams” to call the athletic teams. A gigantic step had been taken toward the establishment of the tradition and spirit vital to the proper function of such an institute of learning. The rest was up to the school administration, and to the students.
On September 3, 1957, the school opened its doors for the first time. Built by Triangle Construction Company at the cost of $1,050,000, it included 52 teaching stations with facilities for 1400 students. It was located on an 84 acre tract of land and consisted of over two acres of school buildings. That first year, it had an enrollment of 1065 students in grades 7 through 12.
The late Mr. Henry P. Bennett was selected as the first principal of our school and Mr. B. T. Julian, assistant principal. The administration also included Mrs. Sara Carson, counselor, and Miss Mary Dupre, secretary. Some of the faculty who have been here from the first include Mrs. Lois Abbott, Mr. M. O. Alexander, Mr. Daniel Allen, Mrs. Lucy Babb, Mr. W. H. Chastain, Mrs. Wilma Gault, Mrs. Lillian Johnson, Mrs. Sybil Martin, Mrs. Annabel Stogner, Mrs. Thelma Thomason, and Mrs. Ruth Verdin.
These teachers faced a tremendous task: that of helping the students overcome the social barriers which had arisen due to the rivalries in athletics. The students, though skeptical at first, came to school ready to cooperate. The transition began smoothly, largely due to the efforts of the administration and faculty. Mr. Bennett will long be remembered for his untiring efforts toward this goal.
Probably the greatest single step toward unification came in December of 1957. In that month, the Hillcrest High School senior ring came into being. The words “honor”, “truth”, and “loyalty” became synonymous with Hillcrest. The pride and school spirit were fast developing.
On January 26, 1958, the school was dedicated, “to the education of the young people in the community”. The principal speaker, Dr. J. A. Barry, Jr., president of Coker College, dedicated the building, “to the principles that ought to and can mean the most to us tomorrow”.
Other dignitaries included Dr. W. F. Loggins, Superintendent of Greenville County Schools, Mr. Conway Jones, senior trustee from the area, the mayors from Fountain Inn, Simpsonville, and Mauldin and the principals of the elementary schools.
W. E. Freeman, Jr., representing W. E. Freeman and Associates, the architect for the building, presented the keys to the building to Thomas K. Johnstone, Jr., chairman of the county school board of trustees. Mr. Freeman presented Mr. Bennett with a giant key for the community. This key now hangs in the school library.
As the year went on, the necessity for an Alma Mater became apparent. Miss Pamela Koon, the choral director for the school, wrote the music for the song. When a search for lyrics was begun, it was found that Mr. William Hickman, one of the algebra teachers, had written a poem at the first of the year which proved perfect for the melody. The Alma Mater was adopted with enthusiasm for its beautiful tune and stirring words.
In June came the crowning touch to Hillcrest’s first year: her first graduation. On June 5, 1958, 104 seniors received their diplomas from the principal, Mr. Bennett.
The first year was over. A school had been begun. It had not been easy, but now a once shaky consolidation was on its way to becoming what Mr. Bennett always believed it was: “the best school in the state”.
An important emphasis was placed on symbolism at the beginning of our school. One of our more symbolic pieces is the senior class ring. It is divided into two parts, educational and historic.
On the educational side, the lamp of knowledge and the book of learning are depicted. On a banner around the emblem are the words “Honor”, “Truth”, and “Loyalty”.
A map of Greenville County appears on the historical side. Three small stars represent the three towns from which the school was made. One large star represents Hillcrest. On each side of the map, industry and agriculture are represented as symbols of the work in the area. The yellow jasmine, the state flower, is also shown.
The setting in the ring is red, with “Hillcrest High School” and the founding date encircling it.
The Hillcrest seal has been around as long as the school has. It is a simple representation of all that our school stands for. The outer edge is a rope which signifies school spirit. Next on the seal is the word “Hillcrest” and the founding date, 1957. In the center is a triangle representing the three communities. Across the triangle is a banner with the words “Honor”, “Truth”, and “Loyalty written on it. In the middle of the triangle is a picture of Hillcrest, the meeting place of the three communities, their honor, truth and loyalty.
Late in 1959, Hillcrest students showed their loyalty to their school, to each other, and to the people of the world, by taking part in a massive drive for the March of Dimes. Many money raising campaigns were started. People volunteered to have pies thrown at them for $5 a pie, a barrel was rolled down Main Street in Greenville at the cost of a dime an inch. There was a womanless beauty pageant and a March of Dimes Queen campaign, with all proceeds going to the March of Dimes.
Hillcrest’s participants relaxed at the end of the campaign with the comforting feeling that they had helped someone. Then they received the news that they had donated “2,040.57, the highest of any school in Greenville County. The school was awarded a trophy by the March of Dimes Association.
On February 2, 1961, the great honor was again awarded to Hillcrest. This time they had raised $2,100. Collections were taken in front of WFIS radio station, and cars were stopped along the highway by hopeful students asking for money.
In 1962, the school’s student council began its first full operational year. One of the council’s first jobs was to organize a traffic force to patrol the halls and office areas.
That same year, two years of work by the faculty and administration were rounded out by a final evaluation. The school was now applying for accreditation, a very high honor. A committee from the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges roamed the halls of Hillcrest checking every room, and every teacher, to be sure that our school qualified.
On November 27, word finally came. Mr. J. E. Herndon, Area IV Superintendent, announced that he had received word from our principal, Mr. Bennett, that Hillcrest had been accredited by the Association.
Mr. Bennett was in Dallas, Texas, during the week that the regional board of the association met, and telephoned Hillcrest immediately, after the school was approved by the Board.
Another milestone had been reached. Now Hillcrest had the distinction of being accepted by the highest accrediting body in the area. This meant our standards had to be considerably higher, thus making it a better school. This was a great asset for students applying for college.
Then, in 1963, our school suffered a great setback. Our first principal, Mr. Henry P. Bennett, died after a prolonged illness. Just as it appeared that he was on his way to recovery, he suffered a fatal heart attack. The doctors had warned him that if he did not retire soon, his work would take its toll. Still he could not stay away from his beloved school. The very day he died, he had returned from a two week period of recuperation at home. After spending an abbreviated day at school, composed of limited activities, to return home where, in the stillness of his empty house, he quietly passed away.
His death left a big vacancy in our hearts, and in our staff. This vacancy was ably filled by Mr. Wm. Moody, the assistant principal. Then, at the beginning of the next school year, he became principal of Hillcrest Junior High School. The head administrative position at Hillcrest was taken over by Mr. W. H. Chastain, our present principal. He has proved to be a capable leader, sincerely dedicated to the advancement of our school. Through his efforts, Hillcrest has continued its steady advancement toward the development of higher education.
“Hillcrest High School, the best school in the state” is a phrase that was close to the heart of one we loved. Mr. Bennett left this phrase to us as a motto, a theme, and a challenge. It would be impossible for us to do more for his memory than to accept this challenge and live for it day by day. Some day this school’s history will be recorded again. What is done today w2ill be history tomorrow… Do your best now so that future generations will be proud to say, “I go to Hillcrest High School, the best school in the state.”