Since Greg Densberger started as principal 31 years ago, 7,175 boys have graduated from De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur.
That's 77 percent of all those who have ever graduated from the 46-year-old Jesuit Catholic college preparatory school, which has an enrollment of 850 in grades 9 through 12.
"I have a tremendous passion for De Smet, for what we do, and I enjoy every day of the work I do because of the kids and faculty we have," said Densberger, 62, who lives in South County.
Though he'll stay on campus a couple of years longer in an advisory capacity, Densberger will officially retire May 31 as principal.
He's already hearing from alumni, and "it's been nice, hearing from people I haven't talked to for years, congratulating me," he said.
After his retirement, Densberger has agreed to remain to help the Rev. Wally Sidney, the school president, with long-term strategic planning, officials said.
The school at 233 N. New Ballas Road will begin planning immediately its search for a new principal. Densberger will assist with the transition.
Densberger recently reflected on his years at De Smet and his plans for the future.
Question: Who was your high school principal and what did you think of that person?
Answer: I'm from Peoria, Ill., and graduated from what at the time was called Bergan High School, but is now Notre Dame High School, a Christian Brothers school. The principal during my time was Brother Augustine, and I didn't have much of a relationship with him. I was a good kid and stayed out of his office.
Q: How'd you decide to get into education? Anybody in the family a teacher?
A: No, no one in the family back then. My dad, Clifford, was a contractor and my mom, Maxine, was a stay-at home mom. But it's kind of funny, I and my two sisters — the older one is Karen and the younger one is Terri — all ended up being teachers. They're both in Peoria now. And, of my three adult children, two are teachers. My son, Jeffrey, runs his own Internet business, but my daughter, Jennifer, is a kindergarten teacher in Seattle, and my daughter, Janelle, is director of student activities at Fontbonne University here.
I was a kid who spent a lot of time at school involved in a lot of extracurricular things and, in that process, really identified with teachers who had an impact on me. I think we begin to identify with people we look up to and admire. When I left high school and went away to college, I knew I wanted to be a high school teacher. There was never any question. I originally taught history starting in 1972 at O'Hara Catholic High School in Kansas City, Mo.
Q: What brought you to De Smet?
A: I went from O'Hara to Chaminade High School here in St. Louis in 1976 and was academic assistant principal there until 1979. Then, my father had gotten sick and I moved back to Peoria to be with him. And I wound up being academic assistant principal at Bergan High School. But Leslie, my wife of 36 years, is a St. Louisan, my dad got better, my sisters moved back to Peoria, and I wanted to be back here. I love, love St. Louis. I got a call from a De Smet teacher, Chris Mess, who said the principal job here was open. Almost right after I got off the phone, the principal at Chaminade, Brother Peter Loehr, also called me with the same information. So, I ended up applying for the job, having never been in De Smet beyond being in the gym when I was an assistant basketball coach at Chaminade. I came here in the fall of 1982 and never left.
Q: Do you have any funny stories from your 31 years as principal?
A: None that I'd want in the paper. But when I first came to De Smet for the interview, my car got a flat tire. I was driving my dad's car because my own had broken down. I was on Highway 40. So, I left the car in the parking lot of St. John's Hospital on a warm day in March. I was wearing a three-piece suit to be well-dressed for the interview. And I walked at least a mile to De Smet. I thought it was right up the street from St. John's. I had broken out in a sweat and was 20 minutes late for the interview. I thought there was no way they'd hire me. But as a 30-year-old kid, it helped me relax. And I got the job. I thought maybe nobody else had applied.
Q: What are you most proud of having accomplished over the years?
A: People might think it would be buildings, programs, changes in curriculum or technology, all of which are important. But, for me, the thing I feel best about is that we have a faculty and staff with a real strong sense of what it means to be a Jesuit high school and what the mission of the school is. And I played a role in that.
We have a community here as a school, not just a bunch of teachers and administrators and students. That's been a high priority for me. Certainly, in the past, there were advanced placement courses we didn't have before I came, accreditation didn't exist and the place doesn't look the same as back then. But that's all less important than we have people with a sense of what it means to be a Jesuit high school.
Q: What are you planning to do in retirement?
A: I really haven't thought about it. I'll work here with the president in an advisory capacity for a while. I'm not a sit still person. I'll probably be close to retiring completely in a couple of years. Besides driving my wife totally out of her mind, I will certainly find something very active to do.
Q: What will you miss most about De Smet when you leave here?
A: The people, clearly. The day-to-day contact with the kids, the friendships I've developed with people I see every day that I come here. I'm also kind of a problem solver, so I'll miss the day-to-day "how do we deal with this?" I enjoy that part of my job. And I enjoy being in the middle of things. It'll be very much a change to leave that behind. I told the ladies in the office the thing I'll miss most is that when anything happens at De Smet, I'm in the center of it all.