When Harold Banser was named the first superintendent of Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School in 1965, the new school was off to a rough start.
The campus was built as part of the Ela-Vernon High School District, but Lake Zurich-area residents seceded and formed Lake Zurich School District 95 that summer.
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The move left what was supposed to be Ela-Vernon East High unfinished and without a school board, administrators or teachers, months before it was to open.
But a board quickly formed and hired Banser, who had been an administrator at Ela-Vernon High, to lead the school. Decades later, Stevenson regularly is recognized as one of the top schools in the country.
Banser, 84, died Tuesday in downstate Peru.
A Crete native, Banser was Stevenson High School's superintendent for 11 years.
His three daughters -- Nancy, Michele and Kim -- graduated from Stevenson in the 1970s.
When Stevenson opened in fall 1965, it wasn't a smooth launch. Some classrooms didn't have desks because the furniture had mistakenly been shipped to Texas.
The school didn't even have running water.
"When we went (out) to lunch, the first stop was to the bathroom," recalled former Stevenson teacher Dave Hanson, who came from Ela-Vernon with Banser.
Banser handled those early obstacles "remarkably well," Hanson said. He surrounded himself with people who were willing to work hard.
"And as a result of that, especially that first year, Stevenson has always had a very strong work ethic," said Hanson, a Vernon Hills resident who remained friends with Banser through the years.
During his tenure at Stevenson, Banser was responsible for some unusual initiatives, including oral exams for graduating seniors and a four-day school week that featured 72-minute class periods.
"He was always looking for another way to do things," Hanson said.
After leaving Stevenson in 1976, Banser was named superintendent of the LaSalle Elementary School District, a post he held until retiring in 1992.
Even though decades have passed, Hanson still remembers something Banser told him as they discussed a proposal for Stevenson that didn't sit well with teachers.
"He said, 'Dave, you have to remember we're here for the benefit of the student, not the convenience of the teacher,'" Hanson said. "That summed up his belief in education."
A funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. John's Lutheran Church in Peru. A private burial will follow.
In addition to his daughters, survivors include seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.