Celebrating 70 Years of Indian Springs School

This story appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Indian Springs Magazine.

In this milestone 70th year since Indian Springs School first opened in the fall of 1952, we are fortunate to have clear memories from alums who were on the Indian Springs campus when the school first opened in the fall of 1952. It was a bold experiment in education for our area when Dr. Louis Armstrong assembled the first teachers and students to begin an ongoing quest for Learning through Living that is now in its third generation.

We had the opportunity to speak with several alums recently who joined the school as students in that first opening year to recall how their lives were shaped by their time at Indian Springs and who some of the influential figures were as they embarked upon “Doc” Armstrong’s exhortation to join in “participation in creation” of what has become the Indian Springs School of today.

Preston Haskell ’56

Preston Haskell ’56 is a member of the first graduating class of four-year Indian Springs students and entered the school’s first ninth grade in the fall of 1952, despite having originally planned to attend Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

“My mother was impressed by Dr. Armstrong and his vision and decided to give it her full support,” said Preston. 

He started as a day student but eventually became a boarding student. He has fond memories of all his teachers, particularly Dr. Frank Cantey (Math), Dr. Charles Bryan (Music/Glee Club), and of course, Dr. Armstrong. 

“Of all the fine educators at Indian Springs, Dr. Armstrong himself had the strongest influence on me,” said Preston. 

Preston also recalled a watershed moment when he was first exposed to blueprints for the school’s new buildings. This foreshadowed a lifelong passion for construction that became his successful choice of profession and business. 

“Dr. Moore showed me the blueprints for the buildings I was actually in at school. This was the first time I was able to see such a thing, and it fascinated me,” said Preston.

Preston was one of the mayors during his senior year and was chosen to speak at his 1956 graduation. 
“I expressed gratitude for the balanced education I received at Indian Springs School. I was rather well prepared for college and life afterward,” said Preston. “My schools and colleges prepared me for life in so many important ways. Both within and beyond the classroom, I gained knowledge, ways of thinking, and behavioral traits which would have been unattainable anywhere else.”

Grady Richardson '57

Like many other Springs students from the early 1950s, Grady Richardson'57 came from the Lakeview School before his four years at Indian Springs. "I was half a year behind Bill Slaughter '56 (at Lakeview)," Grady recalled. While there were many memories from those early years of the school's history, Grady's most poignant memories occurred during this tenure as mayor. "As the recently elected mayor, my first Town Meeting was a disaster!" he said. "So much so that Doc told my faculty advisor, Dr. Sipe, that I needed to learn to 'think on my feet.'"

"During my tenure as mayor, I never learned to do this nearly as well as my predecessors, Preston Haskell'56 and Cory Jackson'56; I just got by -- so I was greatly relieved when my term as mayor was over!" Grady said. 

Grady went on to Sewanee and then Birmingham Southern College where he graduated in 1961. After trying some different jobs, including active duty in the U.S. Army, Grady went on to Virginia Theological Seminary and a 55-year career in the Episcopal Church as an ordained minister.

"In college I took some speech courses that must have worked -- so that now, having preached thousands of sermons as a clergy person, I am told that some of my best are the kind that are preached spontaneously! So thank you, Doc (Armstrong) and Dr. Sipe for encouraging me to 'think on my feet'...since my days at ISS, I've had to do a lot of this!"

John Bigger ’56

John Bigger ’56 was also in the first graduating class of students who spent four years at Indian Springs and recalled his own memories.

“At age 13, a major event occurred for my future when we were approached by Dr. Louis Armstrong, who was starting a new all-boys prep school in the Birmingham area. This was in 1952, and I (thanks to scholarship help), along with six other boys from Anniston, entered Indian Springs School in September 1952,” said John. 

“There is little question that the major Indian Springs influence then, and for many years, was “Doc,” said John. “As Director, he set the direction for the school and put it on a fast course to becoming the outstanding school it is now. He was a brilliant person but a down-to-earth person. He could seem to be your best friend but would not hesitate to call you down when needed.”

Other standout faculty for John included storied names such as Crosby, Canty, Payne, and of course, Mac Fleming. 

“Mac was special, and I had the honor to spend some time with him a couple of years ago when he was in his late 90s and shortly before he passed on,” said John. 

“The significant things that Indian Springs left with me, now at age 84, are a curiosity for knowledge, the ability to know how to satisfy that curiosity and where to find the information I need, the confidence in my ability to compete with my peers academically, and the ability to communicate what I know either in writing or verbally,” said John.

“In my first semester of medical school, I faced the feared gross anatomy course with mixed feelings,” said John. “Here I was with a group of top students from around the country, wondering if I could handle it. The Indian Springs background provided confidence and motivation. I quickly found that my ability to learn was competitive, and I completed gross anatomy with two awards as the top student in the class. Interestingly, this was the first time I realized that my ability to learn by memorization was also a factor in learning.”
“In summary, what did Indian Springs teach me?” said John. “If you have something to do, then have at it; know you can do it and ‘git-er-dun.’”

Mark Myatt ’55
Mark Myatt ’55 P ’86 GP ’24 came to Indian Springs with several other boys who had been students at the Birmingham University School (BUS) after it became known that Indian Springs had hired Frank Canty, who had been BUS’s head. 

“Mr. Canty and Mr. Fleming were two of my all-time favorite teachers,” said Mark as he remembered his time as a member of Indian Springs’ first graduating class. 

“There were others like Mr. Moore, who we liked, and Coach Cameron, who we called ‘Chrome Dome.’ He was the nicest person,” said Mark.

The rigorous academics that Indian Springs was known for, even in the 1950s, were not aspects of school that came naturally to Mark. 

“I learned how to struggle,” said Mark. “I had to work hard, and that served me well later. If I hadn't gone to Indian Springs, I’m not sure I would have amounted to much.” 

He went to the University of Alabama and became involved in successful real estate and insurance ventures.
“The school was different then, a lot simpler, but you learned people have to trust you, and you have to have friends you can lean on for help,” said Mark. “Our teachers here taught us how to learn and work hard. Some of the smartest kids in college I knew bombed out because they didn’t work. There were a lot of folks at Indian Springs who were a lot smarter than I was, but I learned to associate myself with smart folks and listen to them and emulate them. Those lessons served me well later in my business life.”

190 Woodward Drive, Indian Springs, Alabama 35124
Phone: 205.988.3350
Indian Springs School, an independent school recognized nationally as a leader in boarding and day education for grades 8-12, serves a talented and diverse student body and offers admission to qualified students regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Located in Indian Springs, Alabama, just south of Birmingham, the school does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, or athletic and other school-administered programs.

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