Andy Phelps Reminisces about His Days at Andover High

Mentor Principal Stickney made a difference

By Donna Baker-Hartwell, Beacon Volunteer
Andrew (Andy) L. Phelps, in Danbury, in August, 2023. Photo: Donna Baker-Hartwell

He has lived in Danbury all of his 85 years. Anyone who knows anyone would know Andy Phelps. There were generations of Phelps that lived in Danbury before him, and there are still generations of Phelps living in Danbury today. His dad was a farmer and logger. Andy expected to follow in his father’s footsteps but certain people, especially teachers, guided him in another direction.

Andrew L. Phelps’s senior class photo, 1956.

As we sat down on the porch of the Danbury Country Store to chat, Andy pushed his Live Free or Die baseball cap off of his brow, smiled easily, and told me that he had a few stories he’d like to tell. These stories center around Andy’s early education in Danbury, his high school education at Andover High (now Andover Elementary/ Middle School), and his teaching career.

Elementary school took place in the Elmwood section of town, near Ragged Mountain Road. In the 1940s, there was a school there for grades one through eight. When Andy was in sixth grade the school was rearranged to hold grades one through five, and the older students, grades six through eight, went to the Central School, which is located on the west side of the tracks across from the Country Store. 

Andy did a lot of walking — two miles to and from school. He recalls that in 1948, Danbury got their first school bus and kids got picked up and dropped off closer to home.

When it was time for high school, Danbury students went to Andover High. Early on, they took the train but after the train stopped, the kids would share rides or hitchhike to school. Andy  recalls that there were maybe a total of eight cars in the school parking lot on any given day. Judy and Alan Cutler were students from Wilmot who drove to school.

Principal Ira Stickney. Photo is from the 1953 Andover High School Yearbook, which was called The Blue Crest. Mr. Stickney was Andy’s mentor, teacher, and the reason he went on to become an Industrial Arts teacher.

He remembers skipping school on the first day of hunting season and the principal passed him as he came out of the woods with his rifle resting over his shoulder, yet the incident was never brought up.

Andy says that baseball is in his blood. He was active in sports while at Andover High School. He remembers that they collected newspapers for recycling in order to raise money for the team. One day, Principal Ira Stickney overheard Andy say that he was going to ask his “old man” about borrowing the truck when he got home. 

After overhearing Andy say this, the principal asked him to come into his office. Mr. Stickney said, “You only have one father and he is not an old man.” Andy explains, “He wanted me to show respect for my father.”

Andy recalls another time in his senior year that he got called into the office. It was Christmas time and over the study hall door hung mistletoe. Andy said that he knew that it was tradition to kiss a pretty girl if you found her under a sprig of mistletoe. 

Well, there she was, one of his classmates, a pretty girl from East Andover standing under the mistletoe. Andy gave her a quick hug and kiss. Mr. Stickney caught him in the act and asked him to come to the office.

After a bit of anxious waiting, Mr Stickney came into the office. The only thing that he said was, “This is not the place or the time,” referring to the behavior under the mistletoe.

Andy took four years of Woodworking with Mr. Aldrich and Mr. Knight. In his senior year, Mr. Stickney called Andy into his office. He told Andy that the State Board of Education had changed the credits allowed for the class and this left him one credit short for graduation. Andy was beside himself. 

The principal came up with a plan for Andy to do an independent study to earn the credit that he needed to graduate. Mr. Stickney taught a fifth-period geometry class that Andy’s sister was in. Andy had a study hall fifth period. He proposed that Andy join the class and get his sister to help him catch up. 

This is how he was able to earn the extra credit needed to finish high school on time. Andy says that Mr. Stckney was the reason that he went on to college.

Andy got his degree in Industrial Arts from Keene State College. He recalls that he had to save $900 the first year for tuition. One of his textbooks, a mechanical drawing book, cost $34. Alan Thompson called and told him he’d been awarded a monetary award which would cover the cost of the book. Andy has always thought that the award was from the Andover Lions Club.

After graduating from college, he taught more than 40 years, with most of these years at Franklin High School. Over the course of his career, the life lessons that he had learned from Mr. Stickney were repeated. He passed these on to his students.

If he heard a student refer to their father as an “old man,” he gently corrected them with the same words. “You only have one father and he is not an old man.” When he caught students smooching in the hallways, behind locker doors, and between classes, he would tell them, “This is not the place nor the time.”

He helped students who found themselves short on credits set up independent studies. He recalls one student in particular, a boy from Andover, who needed an extra credit to graduate. Andy went to the guidance office with the student and proposed a project to fix up the baseball diamond at the school. 

The young man was a hands-on kind of guy and so the project was perfect for him. After finishing the project and earning all of the required credits, the student went on to having a long career with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Andy Phelps’s teaching career brought him much satisfaction. He is proud of all of his shop students. Both boys and girls learned woodworking from him. 

They built hutches, hope chests, dry sinks, and other fine pieces. They turned spindles on the lathe and sometimes donated their work to good causes. His students used white pine mostly but they also had mahogany and aromatic red cedar.

Andy finished his stories by declaring, “I had the best job in Franklin — for years and years!”
Andy was married for 61 years to JoAnn Tibbetts Phelps. She passed away in 2020. He has two daughters and a son. 

Since his retirement in 2001, Andy has volunteered to provide fuel assistance for seniors in need by cutting and delivering cord wood. He is the sexton of the Town’s cemeteries and enjoys visiting with the locals at the Danbury Country Store.