People often ask if I’m related to the Ross Boddy whose name is on signs in Sandy Spring, Md. “Yes,” I say, “that’s my father.” If they want to know why the Ross Boddy Community Center is named for him, I explain that he worked many years in the community as an educator and director of the recreation programs held in the old school building.

The whole story can take a while, after all. But it starts with something he wanted his children to know.

In the mid-1920s, when my father was a teenager, his father was hit by a car and killed while coming home from work on the Conowingo Dam in Port Deposit, Md. My father knew he had to help support the family, but he was also determined to finish school. To get there, he walked 10 miles every day. After school, he worked in a mill for 10 cents a week — good money in those days, as he would tell us, when so many had nothing.

Even as a child, I could hear the pain in his voice as he talked about those times. But he wanted to remind us how good we had it, and the truth was, we did have it pretty good.

I don’t know how my father decided to attend Bowie State to get his teaching credentials, but that decision would be as life-altering in its way as the loss of his father. Eventually, he took a job teaching in Carroll County, got married, went off to war and came back to start a family. In 1945, he was offered the position of teaching principal at a three-room school for African American children in Sandy Spring — a “garden spot” (his words) he’d had his eye on since a church visit years earlier.

The school had no toilet, and only those books that got passed down from white schools. But my father took great pride in what highly dedicated teachers could accomplish in spite of that. Things improved in 1952, when he was named principal of the newly built nine-room Sandy Spring Elementary School. My older brothers and sisters would attend this school before it was closed in 1962 as the Montgomery County schools were desegregated.

As with other African American principals, desegregation for my father meant demotion to an assistant principal’s position, but this only seemed to cause him to head full speed down other paths to service. In addition to his children by birth, he and my mother (his second wife) adopted four children and hosted countless foster kids. When his former school became a recreation center, he ran a teen club there. Soon he took on the newly created position of community coordinator at Sherwood High School, working to facilitate relations between the African American community and the school to ease everyone through the unchartered territory of desegregation.

I don’t think it was possible for him to slow down. In 1972, after 38 years of service to the county schools, he retired — only to go to work for the recreation department. As the community grew older, he worked with the senior citizens program at his old school. The center was named after him in 1982, and the program he directed there is still going strong .

My father’s journey holds many lessons. I did not always understand its full meaning until I was older. Today, as a educator, I keep in mind how he accepted children as they were and found ways to engage them. He once told me about a student struggling to learn to read; the student loved comic books, so my father threw aside the basal readers and taught with comic books. He also worked to ensure that Montgomery’s African American teachers received the same pay as their white counterparts, helping to open doors for me and my colleagues. We reap the benefits of their life’s work.

More personally, he taught my siblings and me that we should never let anyone tell us we cannot do something because of the color of our skin. He insisted that we dress well, stand straight and be proud of who we were — but never think that we were better than others. Such lessons can take you a long way in life.

Above all, he showed, by his example, that a meager background is no barrier to great things. Today a statue of my father stands outside the community center that bears his name. When I think back to how, day in and day out, he rose early and worked late to serve others, I know why it ended up there.

So who is this African American man who has a building named after him? He is Ross Boddy, my father, and a great man. I think of him as I open the doors to my school in the morning to students of all colors of the rainbow and economic backgrounds, and do my best to provide them with the foundation so that they, too, can realize their dreams.

The writer is principal of Beall Elementary School in Rockville.