JAMESTOWN — The man who watched Greene Vocational School come to life, transform career education for local students, and turn 50 years old, has died.
The school’s founding director, Wallace Bryan Gossett, 95, of Jamestown, died Feb. 11 at Hospice of Dayton.
Gossett did more than watch the now-called Greene County Career Center (GCCC) evolve into what it is today. Gossett led that vision from the ground up.
In a September 2017 Gazette interview, Gossett recalled breaking ground on 40 acres of land on West Enon Road and helping architects design the building that would become Ohio’s third vocational school.
“When they were building the building it was real muddy, and when they brought the cement trucks in to pour the cement in the forms for the foundation, they had to push them in with bulldozers to get them back through the mud … We got ‘er right in and we started in ‘67,” he said.
Forty-year-old Gossett was the coordinator of diversified cooperative training at McClain High School in Greenfield when he was called for an interview and hired as director. He moved to Xenia and traveled around the county, promoting the idea for a vocational school. The bond issue and operating levy on the ballot failed twice before passing in May 1966.
Gossett, a natural storyteller, described designing the building with ample space for classrooms and labs and interviewing teachers for each vocational area — one time even chasing down an auto mechanic at an airport, pleading with him to come teach at his school. Gossett picked out all the equipment and technology for the school, drove buses full of students to trade competitions, and designed classes that mirrored real-life industries.
But what he remembered most was the students, revealing an easy inclination toward the ones who struggled before they excelled.
“The students had this sit-in in front of my office,” Gossett recalled in the interview. “I remember one student that just couldn’t get along in an academic atmosphere over at Beavercreek. He got interested in machine trades. During the sit-in he said, ‘Get up and get back in your trade areas and get this vocational education going.’ And he became a leader of the students.”
Students, faculty and staff alike respected Gossett, like one graduate who got to know him when he hired her as the attendance secretary in 1980.
“He was a no-nonsense kind of person,” Lisa Salyers, who recently retired after 35 years, said. “He expected you to do a good job — and you did. He was one that was thrifty with the school funds, too.”
Marsha Leonard, who was superintendent from 1995 to 2010, credited Gossett among the founding members who impacted the school beyond their tenures.
“We certainly could not have done what we were able to do had it not been for them,” she said in a previous Gazette interview.
Gossett’s image lives on today in the current career center as well.
GCCC Superintendent David Deskins called him a visionary, an inspiration to thousands of students.
“We believe he was one of those true pioneers for career technical education, and really kind of forged career tech in Ohio,” Deskins said. “He was a guy who just had this grit and determination to achieve, the ability to help kids see future opportunities. He is going to be sadly missed but has certainly left his imprints on this career center and also on career tech in the state.”
The vocational school brought Gossett to Greene County, where he served until 1983, but his early experiences in other parts of the world shaped him, too.
Born Sept. 15, 1923 to Harley and Rena Fenton Gossett in Greenfield, he later served in the United States Navy on the APA-69 USS Carlisle during World War II. He retired as commander of the Chillicothe Naval Reserve Unit.
“He was really proud of his military service,” James Gossett, his son, said. “He was on a ship in the Pacific at the end of the war.”
The younger Gossett recalled his dad’s vivid memory of his days in the Navy. He’d also tell his sons stories about camping all over the United States with their mom.
Beyond camping, Gossett loved boating and was involved in Rocky Fork Lake’s boating club.
“He built the boat we spent much of our youth riding all over the place in,” his son said. “We went on river trips — went up the river, stayed all night and came back the next day — as a family, my brother, my mom and dad.”
James Gossett called his dad an avid Ohio State fan — he took his graduate studies there — and a grandfather to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some who lived near him at Shawnee Lake.
“He saw them often, and really enjoyed watching them grow up,” he said.
Gossett was preceded in death by his wife, Betty James Gossett, and a son, Charles Gossett. Services will be held 2 p.m. (calling hours) and 3 p.m. (memorial services) Sunday, Feb. 24 at Powers-Kell Funeral Home, Jamestown. Donations may be made in Gossett’s honor to any military charity.
Up to his last days, the father, grandfather, veteran and retired school director took pride in his work in vocational education.
“He talked about it all the time,” James Gossett said. “And a lot of the students and teachers commented to him on how much he helped them.”
Gossett returned to the school to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017.
“Being able to have him back in the building to return a part of the history was really positive for us, especially as we forge into the new facility that is coming,” Deskins said. “It was inspirational for me.”
At the end of Gossett’s interview, he thought about the way early graduates might remember their education.
“I think they will say it helped them, it gave them a start in the industry, and they understood what industry was like,” Gossett said. “I think they were taught a work ethic at the vocational school that carried them on in life.”
Gossett’s life may have ended, but the career center he left behind is carrying on, fully alive.