Submitted by Kathy Trujillo
Family members of Delbert K. Cornella gathered in the halls of Mineral County High School to unveil a portrait of the former principal drawn by local artist Gary Funk. Cornella, who passed away last March, was the principal of the high school from 1966 until his retirement in 1990. Generations of high school students benefitted from the no-nonsense leadership style and consistency provided by Cornella. In addition to overseeing the discipline and educational climate at the high school, he built a strong school community making MCHS a welcoming place for students and their families.
During Cornella’s tenure at Mineral County High School, he was responsible for introducing many new programs. This started in 1967 when wrestling was made a part of the athletic program. Other athletic initiatives that followed included girls track in 1973, girls’ volleyball and basketball in 1976 and girls’ softball in 1989. In 1972, Cornella introduced Cooperative Education where students received on-the-job training, school credit and were eligible for pay while working during school hours. In 1977 the Building & Trades program at the high school began constructing homes for senior citizens in our community. Not only did the Building & Trades students learn valuable skills, these homes are still occupied today and are managed by the Mineral County Housing Authority located on 10th and K Streets. In 1975 French was added to the foreign language program.
In 1990, the year of Cornella’s retirement, Mineral County High School was one of 36 schools honored by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges for maintaining accreditation for 50 years. At that time only three percent of the accredited schools had been members since 1939. Cornella made every effort to ensure a quality education for every student at MCHS.
Those present for the unveiling, included students and currently MCHS employees who were proud to have Cornella as a principal and remembered him delivering their diplomas at graduation ceremonies in the 1980’s.
School secretary Janell Carlos, has been employed Mineral County School District for the past 30 years. Carlos graduated in 1984 and remembered Cornella’s intimidating voice and his sense of humor.
Holly Pellett, Mineral County School Nurse, graduated in 1982 and she noted that “MCHS was a part of my life as my mom, Asalea Baldry worked as an attendance secretary from 1967 until her retirement in June 1992 and Mr. Del Cornella was the principal for a majority of that time. Mr. Cornella was always gruff around the edges, but he could be, a few times, a real softy. He had pride in the school district and expected a lot from the students and staff members.” Pellet recalled, “One memory I have is of the staff parking. The parking lot was located near the tennis courts (north side) of the building, and all teachers/staff members had to park there. This provided Mr. Cornella an opportunity to see each individual — as they had to walk by his office.”
Kathy Trujillo, M.A. Safe School Professional and a graduate of the Class of 1981 gave high praise to Principal Cornella who not only gave her employment opportunities as a student worker in his office but helped create a path toward graduation. “When I returned to school my sophomore year there were only a few who thought I would be successful and graduate. Mr. Cornella always believed in me and did everything possible to smooth the difficult path for me.” In all there are more than half a dozen current MCHS/HJHS employees who were proud to call Cornella their principal.
In preparing the portrait, Funk recalled that “As an administrator, Mr. Cornella was always strict, fair and professional; someone who cared for and nurtured hundreds of Serpents.” Funk continued, “While we’ve since had many good, professional administrators and staff, I felt that Mr. Cornella deserved special recognition for his decades of service to MCHS.”
During the brief ceremony, it was announced that a scholarship in memory of Cornella would be awarded to a graduating senior this year. The scholarship amount will be $5,000, one of the most generous local awards currently available to Mineral County students. To be eligible for this new scholarship students must have a 3.0 or higher GPA, must have accomplished four years at MCHS, fully complete the local scholarship application (and attachments) and provide a 500-word essay. The deadline for the scholarship is April 16 and finalists may be interviewed by a selection committee.
Cornella’s wife of 55-years, Mary Lou, their son, Del and two grandchildren, Dixie and Dillan were part of the presentation on Thursday. The grandchildren were given a tour of the principal’s office where their grandfather spent his entire career. The Cornella’s two grown grandchildren Cameron Cornella (MCHS Class of 1996) and Jed Cornella (MCHS Class of 1997) are also MCHS alumni.