Alumni of Brandon High School celebrate teacher Mary Force


BRANDON—We all had at least one teacher who made a difference in our lives, who understood us when no one else seemed to, who guided us when others gave up, who provided encouragement when we most needed it, who got more from us than we thought we could give, or who gave us the tough love we needed to pull ourselves together. 

BRANDON HIGH SCHOOL Teacher Mary C. Force stands before the old Brandon grade school that burned down in the 1950s on Seminary Hill. ‘Miss Force’ has been honored since 1989 with a scholarship in her name.

For many alumni of the old Brandon High School (BHS), that teacher was Mary Force, who graduated from BHS in 1926 and taught in various schools in Brandon for more than 40 years.

“We respected her because of the standards she set,” recalled Chuck Memoe (BHS Class of 1957) in a recent conversation at his house in Brandon. 

Though she eventually became a counselor and Vice-Principal, Miss Force was mostly known for teaching math at BHS, and she expected her students to perform to the best of their abilities.

“She was there to teach, and we were there to learn,” said Bonnie Miller Johnson (BHS Class of 1958). 

“When she spoke, you listened,” said Seth Clifford (BHS Class of 1958).

“She would have six students doing problems up on the blackboard and you didn’t want to fail,” said Mr. Memoe.

Despite her reputation for discipline, Miss Force had a softer side. 

“She had a great love of sports,” said Mr. Memoe. “And she used that to get to some of the boys. During the World Series, she’d post the scores on the board every morning.”

Ms. Miller Johnson recalled that after she’d graduated, she went to Miss Force’s house on Union Street to talk to her about a problem she was having. “She gave good advice. I still called her ‘Miss Force’ and she said, ‘Bonnie, I’m just Mary now!’”

Miss Force taught at BHS until the school closed in 1961 when Otter Valley Union High School opened. She continued to teach full time at OV until 1972 and then part time for a few more years. 

A PHOTO OF Miss Force in a Brandon High School yearbook from the 1950s. She taught math but was also a school counselor and eventually Vice-Principal.

By 1988, a group of her former BHS students wanted to honor her by establishing a scholarship in her name. The scholarship was given out for the first time in 1989 in the amount of $500. The first recipient was Mr. Clifford’s son, Seth Charles Clifford. Miss Force even presented the award herself until her passing in 1996. 

Over the years, the Mary Force Scholarship Committee has given out more than 200 awards. The amount of the award has grown to $2,500 as well, in large part because of the generosity of donors. The fund has been fortunate enough to receive many donations, some as large as $100,000. 

“I’ve never seen a scholarship go 35 years and continue to grow,” said Mr. Memoe.

The criteria for applicants are straightforward: students must be descendants of BHS alumni (anyone who attended BHS for any length of time) and must have at least a B average. Applicants don’t have to be from Brandon. 

Additionally, the BHS alumni group raised $3,000 for picnic tables that bear brass plaques in Mary Force’s honor. The tables were installed in May, one in the playground on Seminary Street and the other on Park Street in front of the Ripton Distillery and Mae’s Place. The plaques were manufactured in Rutland.

This year, recipients of the Mary Force Scholarship include Emily Beck, Makennia Dick, Soren Goldsmith, Trinity Lapier, Olivia Miner, Aleksandra Savela, and Troy Senecal.

ONE OF THE two picnic tables that the Brandon High School alumni group purchased in honor of Mary Force. This one is on Park Street in front of Mae’s and the Ripton Distillery. The other is in the playground on Seminary Street.

“I thought we’d have to borrow the money [for the tables],” said Mr. Memoe. But the group worked with Deputy Town Manager and Economic Development Officer Bill Moore to raise the funds through private donations.

The youngest alumni of BHS are now in their late 70s (started at BHS but graduated from OV) but each year the alumni luncheon still draws dozens of people. The oldest members of the group are in their 90s now. But the members of the Scholarship Committee are still enthusiastic about the work and still committed to helping students finance their educations. All in the name of their beloved teacher, Mary C. Force.

“We had good teachers,” said Ms. Miller Johnson. “We were lucky.”

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