FORT DEFIANCE — After 14 years of living the Indian way, Fort Defiance High School’s Principal Larry Landes is ready for new duties.
Landes said he informed his staff in January he would retire at the end of the academic year. He made the decision two years ago.
“I still love it,” said Landes of serving as a high school administrator. “I think I would always love it.”
However, he said he is turning 65 this month and he wanted to end his leadership of the Fort Defiance Indians when he still felt he was effective as an administrator.
He did not know he would also leave during a pandemic, which would not allow him the opportunity for one last traditional graduation ceremony as principal.
“It’s terrible. You have to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Landes said of the current situation. “You have to try to find something good out of something that [is not].”
Landes grew up in Fort Defiance and graduated from Fort Defiance High School. His father, Kenneth Landes, was the school’s first principal when it opened in 1962.
Landes said his father, who is 92 years old, inspired him when he was growing up. He always knew he wanted to get into public school administration.
He graduated Madison College, now James Madison University, in 1977, and did graduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University as he began his career as a teacher and coach in Hopewell for eight years.
“I loved every minute of it,” Landes said of his time teaching. “It was so exciting.”
Eventually, he became an elementary school, then middle school principal in Hopewell.
He returned home to Augusta County in 1993 to be principal at Hugh K. Cassell Elementary School, then Wilson Memorial High School, and finally made his way back to the Indian way.
Landes said he will miss the students and staff at Fort Defiance High.
“The kids, their activities, seeing them grow when they come in [as freshmen},” Landes said.
Landes will miss watching the students grow, mature and blossom, while they narrow down what they want do with their lives after high school graduation.
“Helping to mold and shape the whole child, if you will, that’s the most gratifying thing,” Landes said.
He will also miss the camaraderie with his staff.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have that team approach, and all the pieces just fit together, and that’s what you need to have an effective high school, or effective business anywhere. You have to have a cohesive team,” Landes said.
Landes thinks of his life after Fort Defiance High as the next step in a journey, in which he looks forward to volunteering in the community.
“I hate the word retirement. That sounds too permanent. It’s just like you’re moving on to other opportunities and adventures, and that’s definitely what I’ll be doing,” Landes said.
Fort Defiance Assistant Principal Alan Shull will become Fort Defiance High’s principal.
“Wonderful transition. Good choice by the county,” Landes said of Shull, who has been assistant principal for more than 12 years and is the school’s former band director.
Landes said the belief used to be that school administrators should change jobs every three to five years.
“Change is a good thing,” he said. “Mr. Shull will continue a lot of the Fort traditions, a lot of the things that are special and unique to this community.”
Since the pandemic began, Landes has helped deliver meals to Augusta County students learning from home. He looks forward to doing more of this kind of work after he retires.
“Helping others — it’s like your adrenaline rush when you give to others and they appreciate.”
He wants to help more locally with the Special Olympics and the Tim Tebow Foundation.
“Giving back to others that maybe they don’t have the same advantages and opportunities that you or I have. To me, that’s what it’s all about,” Landes said.
Landes said he saw change during his 14 years at Fort Defiance High, such as the effects of technology on students and learning, and changes in the structure of a typical family.
A high school principal must be ready to embrace changes, as well as make time to attend multiple events and activities to support his students.
“You need to have that commitment, in my opinion, if you’re going to do it right,” Landes said.
Landes said Fort Defiance High is a “wonderful place to work. It’s a wonderful place to be.”
His wife, Joy, encouraged and supported him throughout his time at Fort Defiance High.
“She’s amazing,” Landes said. “Anyone that is married to or the significant other of a high school administrator has to be very understanding, very patient and very supportive. And, she is all of the above.”
He looks forward to spending more time with his wife, his two grown stepsons, Ben and Max, and three grandsons.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” Landes said of his time at Fort Defiance High.
Landes said nobody could have written a better script for his time at Fort Defiance.
“It’s just been amazing.”