SOUTHWEST FORSYTH -- The walls may gleam neon green and blue at Forsyth County’s newest middle school, but what shined the brightest Wednesday afternoon were the faces that regaled stories of the late couple who it is named after and whose legacy is eternalized on the walls.
Jim and Jeanne DeSana were honored at a dedication ceremony Dec. 7 at DeSana Middle School in southwest Forsyth that emulated why they were chosen as the school’s namesake.
“They were two of the most generous people I have ever met, to each other and to the community,” said Forsyth County State Court Judge T. Russell McClelland III, a past president of the Cumming-Forsyth County Optimist Club, in which the DeSanas were heavily involved.
After moving to Forsyth in the ’70s, the DeSanas became responsible for helping establish the Sawnee Association of the Arts and a college scholarship fund for high school seniors, which more than 68 students have been awarded a total of more than $305,000.
“They had no other reason other than deciding to live here to donate their finances,” McClelland said.
They helped develop the initial strategic plan for the school district in the mid ’90s, said Paula Gault, a former Forsyth County Schools superintendent who remains involved in local education and community organizations.
“They were dedicated to their community and always believed in giving back. They were always helping others, and not just monetarily, but they believed in being hands-on in getting things done in this community,” Gault said.
While Jim DeSana was an engineer for General Motors and Jeanne DeSana was a genetic scientist, they were multifaceted in their talents and what they thought was vital in education.
“It is truly important to have arts and music in our school, and the DeSanas recognized that, and they supported the programs,” Gault said. “Jim DeSana was always so willing to play [piano] for others to share his talent, and Jeanne was quite the artist, as well.”
Roger Crow, director of the DeSana Educational Fund Inc., asked sixth-grade chorus students who had just performed for the ceremony to hold a sign that read “Santa,” saying “DeSana” is pronounced like “Santa” and not like the “Dasani” bottle of water.
Crow said he remembers how Jim used to call his wife Precious when she fell ill and started forgetting people and her surroundings.
“It could bring tears to your eyes in how patient he was with her,” Crow said. “He would say, ‘Precious, we’ve already talked about this, but let’s try this.’”
Their connection continued through their entire lives.
“They both passed away within six months of each other in 2009,” Crow said. “Jim and Jeanne didn’t miss an opportunity to support the schools in any way. They loved the arts. They loved the drama program at [Forsyth] Central [High School].
“Their heritage lives on in the things they helped foster.”
That heritage is taught to students at the school, but to reinforce the impression they made, a wall near the cafeteria is donned with pictures and information about their legacy.
“Truly,” said Terri North, the school’s principal, “what an extraordinary legacy the DeSanas have left for us all.”