by Lisa Tome
After 15 years of teaching at North East High School, Dean Gilger found a way to leave his mark.
Gilger, visual arts teacher and chair of the school's art department, retired at the end of the year. But he had one last giant project to complete before stepping down.
A truck body stands in the NEHS stadium. It is used to store surplus equipment. While useful, it was also an eyesore. Until the students got a hold of it under Gilger's direction.
"We started on it during the last school year. But we needed to raise money for materials," said Gilger.
It was decided that panels would be created to cover the 40 foot long, eight foot high truck body. In all 30 to 40 students worked on the 10 panels, in groups of three to four per panel.
It was also a learning exercise. Students in drawing and writing courses collaborated and came up with themes for each panel.
"It was well planned and well thought out," said Gilger.
It took a year and five months to bring the whole project to fruition.
"I'm very pleased, happy with the results," he said.
The panels reflect local life: there is a Turkey Point Lighthouse panel, water life panel, agriculture panel, two featuring school athletics, and more. When all grouped together, a letter on each panel spells out "North East".
Students were also working with materials that are new for them. The mural was created with plywood and exterior house paint.
"The biggest challenge was keeping them on track for a long period of time. They kind of ran out of steam. It was tough keeping them motivated. This is their legacy and it's a legacy for me too," said Gilger.
Donations came through a school parent action group. The parents of Dominique Italiano donated $250. Another $250 came from Verizon.
Gilger is a celebrated photographer. Now that he is retiring, he plans to do something with his own art, possibly teaching on the college level.