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North Johnston High yearbook dedicated to former principal

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KENLY — During an Oct. 23 ceremony witnessed by the entire North Johnston High School student body, the 2019 edition of “Panther Prints,” the school yearbook, was dedicated to former principal Ben Williams, who was at the school in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Yearbook adviser Cindy Fry made the dedication announcement.

“Since this school opened in 1965, it has been a longstanding tradition for the yearbook to be dedicated to a staff member as voted on by the senior class,” Fry said prior to presenting Williams with a copy of the yearbook.

North Johnston is one of the few schools that still dedicates its yearbook to a faculty member.

Also, unlike most schools, North Johnston operates on a fall delivery schedule for its yearbook, meaning all events occurring within the school year are included in the book instead of yearbook staff having to omit some spring events due to delivery deadlines.

Fry said the year-long scheme of choosing and naming a dedication recipient involved not only deceptive planning but also tight-lipped secrecy among a number of individuals.

“I thought I was going there for something else and I had a meeting there anyway,” Williams said following the surprise honor.

Williams said Fry sent word to him after he arrived on campus that the yearbook dedication ceremony was planned and he might want to see it.

“I was surprised and honored because I know for North Johnston, this is a tradition that holds a special place in our school community,” said Williams. “It was overwhelming to see the support of the students and staff along with my family being present.”

“When something like this happens, you can’t help but feel grateful and overwhelmed by the support, but it just reinforces what I already knew about my home — that the North Johnston community is special,” said Williams. “I really enjoyed being with the students while I was principal here. We were extremely close.”

Williams grew up in Pine Level, graduated from North Johnston in 1993, taught and coached at NJHS from 2000-10 and served as principal for two years.

Williams is married to his wife, the former Brandy Toole, also a North Johnston graduate, and the couple has four children including Cassidy Dowling, 21, Jake Williams, 19, Hannah Dowling, 64, and Ella Grace Williams, 8.

“I was thrilled for Dr. Williams,” Fry said following the ceremony. “He truly leads with his heart and it is felt by the students. The word that stands out most when reading through the comments on why students chose Dr. Williams is the word ‘friend.’ Many students used this in their comments to explain why he deserved to have this book dedicated to him.”

Fry said students wrote that they chose Williams because he “understood them,” “he is a Panther” and “is fair and caring.”

“Dr. Williams has made a lasting impact on the lives of the students at North Johnston High School, especially those in the class of 2019, and they love him,” said Fry.