Our own Mr Neil Hoare, a Riebeek College Freedom holder and long an institution in the teaching of science at Riebeek College, could sadly not be with us in the fourth term of 2015 and we sadly bid farewell to a long serving member of the Riebeek staff whose role at Riebeek was large and whose presence in the classroom was legendary. Mr Hoare, while visiting his daughter in Cape Town, fell ill and is unable to return. In his absence, we wish him the best and hope that he will soon be feeling better. Mr Hoare has given his life to education and the greater part of that time at Riebeek College as a Science teacher and as Deputy Head.   Here is an article he wrote in 2010 on his memories of Riebeek:


Happy Days

By Mr N. Hoare


The year was 1976 and I arrived at Riebeek after the June holidays as the first Deputy Principal,   having taught at Muir. The thought of teaching an all-girls class did not bother me – for a few years before that I had been teaching Riebeek girls because Riebeek did not offer Physical Science until I arrived. I loved teaching at Muir and had been reluctant to move, but this was a promotion that did not entail a house move, so it suited me.


What I did not expect was the change of behaviour in an all-girls environment! I thought the girls where undisciplined, noisy and  exceedingly quizzy about my personal life. The Muir boys came to attention at lines: “School ‘tion! At Ease!” and really did not care what you wore or how many children you had at home. But I soon got used to that – it was just a female thing.


The first six months on the job were very hard. I was Deputy but I only had one free period every second week and, to top it all, I had to teach two Standard 7 (Grade 9) classes at the same time in the lab because I did not have enough periods to teach them separately. At least I did not have sport to coach, but that did not mean no extra murals!


Soon after I arrived, Mr McIntyre (who was Head of the School Committee) asked me to look into facilities and make recommendations. We had money to spend! I came up with three projects which became my special interests. The first was lack of storage. I designed what was to become known as the Jurgens Building. It incorporated a double garage for the school busses, an office for the school psychologist, a remedial teaching room, a chemical store room, a dark room for the Photography Society, a tuck shop leading off a tea room and a small store for the prefects. I had a lot of fun with the tea room which was for serving   refreshments to sports teams in the afternoons and for the prefects’ use in the mornings. The tables folded up against the walls, while some bench seats fitted into others which were designed as boxes. My second project was to improve the stage lighting and the fitting of a modern dimmer board because I was very involved in theatre in those days. Finally, there was the quad which was a barren space. All the rooms in the science wing were extremely hot in summer and freezing in winter hence the introduction of trees was to form a micro climate and also to provide much needed shade for the girls during breaks. Finally the “mound” was to be a stage for outdoor theatre some time in the future. I got swimming pool  contractors to dump their waste material there. At the hostel I drew the plans for the conversion of a storage area into teacher quarters, and the extension of the principal’s flat to form an office area. When the new hall was constructed and, when I was acting principal, I applied for the land for the top fields next to the hostel. The late Mr Jooste and I marked out two hockey fields inside an athletics track on those fields. I remember that the wind was blowing so strongly there that the tape measure acted as a sail pulling two large men!


I also started the first Prefects’ Camp at Riebeek. My wife and I (and our baby daughter) took the prefects to Van Stadens Beach Resort where we hired several cottages. We really worked the girls hard so there was not much time to play.


I had been involved with amateur theatre in town since my arrival at Muir, so I was told to produce the one-act play for the annual Inter Schools’ Play. I found that I had a natural talent for it, winning the festival for Muir every year while I was there. The principal of Muir wanted me to direct a Shakespeare production, but I was not keen as I felt that I lacked experience for that type of theatre. So I chose a musical instead. We needed a few girls for the play Paint My Wagon, which was mainly for men, so Riebeek was approached, and that was the beginning of the bi-annual school musicals. Later, the trend continued with Riebeek now a full partner. Muir made the sets and had the musical director, Mr King, while Riebeek did the costumes and I directed. The musicals were hard work: rehearsals four nights a week for three to five months. It was time-consuming because I was involved in set design, décor, props, programmes and tickets. The last musical in our hall was Grease but, for the Muir Centenary, I was asked to do Fiddler on the Roof in the Muir hall. After the musical co-operation with Muir ended, I only did two full length productions at Riebeek: I Remember Mama, which had a few boys in it and also the last play in the hall before it burnt down, and a thriller with Daniel Pienaar boys.


The night of the fire was something that will stay with me. In the early hours of the morning I received a phone call from Mr Vincent, headmaster of Muir Primary, who stayed in the house opposite the front gate, telling me the school was on fire. I arrived at about the same time as the fire engines and opened up the front doors for them. The heat was terrific, there was smoke, the noise of the fire and falling roofing. I went to call Mrs Hutton at the hostel and brought her over dressed in her gown. We made do with no hall for quite a while. Matrics wrote exams in church halls, inter-house plays became radio plays recorded on tape, and assemblies were in the quad. The one good thing that came out of all this was that when the hall was rebuilt, other improvements were made to the school. The staff room was enlarged, a new kitchen was built, the hall acquired a balcony area and the Science Lab was reconstructed.


One project that I pushed for that never happened in my time as deputy was the Beehive. I had drawn sketches of a building constructed between two railway coaches which were going cheaply at the time. The idea was that the two coaches would provide seating at tables for eating and the area between them would look like a Victorian railway station, with iron girders and this would be large enough for socials, music and for writing exams. There was a problem transporting the coaches, so the building was never built.


I ran a Dramatic Society and an Astronomical Society. Our telescope is in the computer room and, although I have not used it for many years, I suppose it still works. I had to fundraise for that telescope which we bought through the planetarium in Johannesburg, but we also received donations from three people: Mr Jooste, father of Rupert (who taught History), my own father and Mrs Steyn. Since the biggest donation came from her, I called our telescope the Nellie Steyn Telescope.


Taking early retirement was a difficult decision. In hindsight, it was the wrong one. But one of the factors that prompted it was that if I did not go, we would have lost one of our senior teachers in a promotion post. But then something good did happen – Mrs Woods became Deputy and then Principal! I have really never left this school that I love so much because I was asked to take just the matrics the next year, which I was very happy to do as my younger daughter, Stephanie, was in matric and was Head of Eleanor. Half way through that year I was asked to take a Grade 10 Geography class. When the lady who replaced me left after two years, I was back in my old post again!


Throughout my teaching career my wife, Yvonne, supported me beyond the call of duty. During my early years at Muir, she acted as prompt for all my plays, attended debates and drove boys to sport matches. This only stopped when we had our first daughter, Jacqueline, and we made the decision that she would not work while the children were young. Yvonne’s last job was as secretary at Riebeek College, her old school. She loved the   children very much and kept all the letters the juniors would write to her. She finished work on the last day of school, saw Jackie graduate as a Doctor and, two weeks later, lost her battle with cancer. She would be very proud of both her children today as I am of their achievements,  bearing in mind the solid ground this school gave them not only academically, but also in leadership and community service.

 February 05, 2016
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