Former priest to teach at PHS

Class reunions are good places to find human interest stories.

I think I found two interesting stories at last Saturday’s Parkersburg High School Multi-Class Reunion at Dils Riverfront Park in Vienna.

The first involves Mark Purcell, a 1989 graduate of Parkersburg High School who will be returning to his alma mater this summer to teach math. He also is a candidate to become the PHS women’s crew team head coach.

Purcell, 43, who grew up in Vienna, rowed for the PHS crew team in 1988 and ’89 and played the drums in the PHS Marching Band for three years. After graduation, he wanted to move away from Wood County, Purcell told me.

Purcell earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, majoring in mathematics, from Ohio University. He taught in Texas and Michigan and was a substitute teacher in Wood County and Belpre.

In the mid-1990s, Purcell said, he felt a call to the priesthood. He had attended St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Vienna while growing up here.

Purcell became a monk, or brother, in 2000 and a priest in 2006 while serving at the Benedictine Monastery in Richmond, Va. He visited hospitals, homes and parishes and was chaplain at Langley Air Force Base. He played the drums in the Christian rock band Amen JC in Richmond that released the album “Fishers of Men” in 2010.

He earned master’s degrees in theology and divinity from St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa.

Purcell said he was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church in 2006 but left the priesthood in 2012 – in order to get married. He was serving at a parish in Ohio at the time of his departure.

Purcell said he did not leave the priesthood because of any animosity toward the priesthood or the Catholic Church. He said he was glad he became a priest.

“God and I are very much at peace with each other and what I have now chosen,” Purcell said.

As a priest, Purcell served as a celebrant at the funeral service for Chet Backus, percussion instructor with the PHS Band for 30 years, in the PHS auditorium in March 2011. Backus was Purcell’s drum instructor at PHS and an influence in his life.

Purcell said he has been playing the drums for 33 years and wants to start a local rock band.

On visits home over the years Purcell realized he wanted to settle down someday in the Parkersburg area.

“I’m glad to be back,” Purcell said. “It is time to come home and plant my feet here.”

At 80 years old, Eddie Rayburn and Nelva (Gregg) Knotts, both from the PHS Class of 1952, were the oldest graduates attending Saturday’s multi-class reunion in Vienna.

Rayburn of New Martinsville and Knotts of Mineral Wells were friends while attending the old Washington Junior High School at Seventh and Green streets in Parkersburg, where the UpTowner Inn now stands. They seldom saw each other at Parkersburg High School, as Rayburn devoted his time to playing football and attending the trade school classes, while Knotts took academic classes.

But Knotts never stopped cheering for Rayburn as he was one of the halfbacks on the 1950 state champion Parkersburg High School football team coached by Jimmy Scott. The following year, as a senior, Rayburn was named an all-state halfback.

Rayburn and Knotts went their separate ways after high school, working and raising families. They reconnected seven years ago through Classmates.com and are now “good friends.” Rayburn worked for Kaiser Aluminum and Ormet.

Rayburn recalled how thrilling it was to return to Parkersburg after that state championship football win over Oak Hill at Huntington in 1950. An estimated 2,000 people greeted the Big Red football team as it arrived at the Chancellor Hotel at Seventh and Market streets, he said.

WPAR Radio was set up on a balcony facing Market Street over the entrance to the hotel, Rayburn said. The radio announcer “would introduce the team one at a time and interview us while the crowd of people below cheered like nothing I have ever seen. It was awesome,” Rayburn said in an email.

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Speaking of reunions, the Parkersburg High School Big Red Band alumni are throwing a party during the Parkersburg Homecoming Festival on Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. in the high school bandroom. In celebration of the band’s 90th anniversary, band alumni are being asked to bring a covered dish, photographs and memorabilia to the reception. Band alumni plan to construct a float for the homecoming parade, which begins at noon that Saturday.

Contact Paul LaPann at plapann@newsandsentinel.com