Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

Leesville Road High School, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, has had a tremendous impact on the lives of members of the Keel family.

The three Keel siblings—Jenny Gidley, Julie Hess, and Jay Keel—all graduated from Leesville.  Additionally, Julie Hess’s husband, Jon Hess, also attended Leesville.

The Keel family truly is a Leesville family, for its members continue to live in Raleigh long after they graduated from high school.

Pre-Leesville Road High School

Gidley first moved to the Leesville community from Mississippi when she was in seventh grade.  Her parents built a house in Dominion Park, a neighborhood many Leesville students still live in today, back when the Leesville area was just beginning to develop.

Back then, the present-day Leesville community did not exist.  Leesville Road was only a small country road.  Developers had not built Brier Creek.  I-540 was absent.

During these early years of the Leesville area, while Gidley began high school at Millbrook High School shortly after moving to Raleigh, Keel, Julie Hess, and Jon Hess attended Leesville Road Middle School.

“I was the first class I believe to go all the way up from 6th-12th grade,” said Julie Hess, Leesville class of 1998, through email.

Leesville Road High School

Gidley began attending Leesville Road High School at the start of her junior year as a member of Leesville’s first graduating class, the class of 1995.  Most students would be horrified at the thought of starting at a new school for their junior year; however, the opportunity excited Gidley.

“Millbrook was so far from our house (it took at least 35 minutes to drive there in the mornings),” Gidley said via email.  “I was excited about the prospect of being able to sleep for a few more minutes each day with Leesville being so much closer.”

Even though Millbrook and Leesville were vastly different—one old and large, one new and small, she adjusted easily to Leesville and developed close friendships between members of the extraordinarily miniscule class of 1995.  The new high school had less students compared to other Wake County high schools, which made it very easy for a close-knit community to form.

Additionally, the class of 1995 shared the unique experience of being the oldest group of students for two years.  When Leesville first opened, no seniors attended the school.  Members of the class of 1995 also had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape Leesville Road High School for future years.

“We had the opportunity to set precedent for years and years to come,” said Gidley.  “The administration took great steps to make us feel connected.  We voted on the school colors and mascot before even opening the school.”

Both Jon and Julie Hess, who attended Leesville Road Middle School, also found it easy to adjust to Leesville Road High School.  Having attended the middle school, they were already accustomed to the high school’s campus and had friends from middle school also progressing to the high school alongside them.

“I was familiar with the [Leesville Road High School] campus already and transitioned with all my friends — so high-school was a much easier transition than I thought,” Julie Hess said.

During her time at Leesville, Gidley involved herself in Student Council, National Honor Society, KEY Club, Latin Club, and Concert Band.  Her extracurricular activities helped her feel connected to the school and the community.

“After school activities were a great way to build community and connections especially that first year.  Everyone was new to the school.  We had come from high schools all over the county,” Gidley said.  “Participating in clubs was a way to make fast friends by meeting in smaller groups.”

During their times at Leesville, Keel and Jon Hess, both part of Leesville’s class of 2000, mainly focused on playing soccer and football.

“I played JV football my freshman year and Varsity Football my sophomore through senior year.  I wrestled and did track off and on as well,” said Jon Hess via email.  “I also did a lot of woodworking projects through the shop class.”

While the students shaped the school for future generations, some classes that students took influenced them for years to come.  Gidley’s favorite class at Leesville was Anatomy and Physiology, and she still remembers an important lesson that her teacher, Mr. Murdoch, emphasized.

“‘Mitosis is the quantitative and qualitative division of the nucleus of a cell.’  He must have said that a thousand times that year, but it worked.  I still remember it,” said Gidley.

The class at Leesville Road High School that Jon Hess enjoyed the most was the shop class because of the material’s applicability.

“I took shop class every year.…Woodworking was something I was always interested in and my senior year they offered a two period advanced level shop class,” said Jon Hess.  “I learned a lot of practical skills that I still use as a homeowner today.”

Along with the classes, the teachers at Leesville also greatly affected their students’ high school experiences.  One of Keel and Gidley’s favorite teachers was Paul Dinkenor, who remains a Leesville favorite today.

“Coach Dinkenor taught World Civilization and brought an international flare to the class,” Gidley said.  “He was incredibly knowledgeable and took great steps to make the class interesting for all students.”

Similarly, Julie Hess enjoyed Mr. Bryant for the way he engaged his students..

“He was the best – laid back, so very intelligent, easy going and easy to talk to,” said Julie Hess.  “He kept his class interesting and was so much fun.”

Post-Leesville Road High School

After she graduated from high school, Gidley attended North Carolina State University, and Jon and Julie Hess attended East Carolina University post-graduation.  Jay Keel first attended East Carolina University as well, but later attended North Carolina State University.

Both Gidley and Julie Hess attribute their careers to their experiences at Leesville.  Gidley appreciates how Leesville amply prepared her for her time at NC State and beyond.

“Leesville provided great opportunities for advanced and AP classes in both the sciences and math,” Gidley said.  “Classes like Anatomy, Calculus, Biology and many others set the foundation for success in college and my career.”

Julie Hess loved her Home Ec. class at Leesville so much that she studied Apparel and Textile Merchandising Design at ECU, where she incidentally met her husband, Jon Hess.


Gidley, who continues to live in the Leesville community, is incredibly grateful to have had such a rewarding experience at Leesville, and she hopes that her two sons, ages six and nine, will one day have the opportunity to attend Leesville Road High School.

“I loved my time at Leesville and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Gidley said.  “I had a really positive experience in High School, especially my Junior and Senior years.  We knew even back then it was something really special to be able to open a brand new school.”

The fact that Gidley, Keel, and Julie Hess continue to keep in touch with the friends that they made at Leesville proves that Leesville still has tremendous meaning in their lives.

“The education is important and made my first year in college pretty seamless. But perhaps most importantly I have life long friends that I still see and talk with regularly,” Keel said via email.  “Not a week passes without me seeing or hearing about someone that I went to Leesville with. The bonds and impact you make today will still be with you even when you are old.”

The Leesville community has developed over the years, and Leesville Road High School has expanded.  However, certain aspects of Leesville have remained constant through the past 25 years.

“So much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same,” said Gidley.  “There are new buildings and facilities that weren’t available that first year, upgrades to the stadium, and I’m sure some wear and tear on the original building.  However, at the core it’s still the same.”

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