Betty Stone: Spring reunions

May 22, 2009



It''s that time of year again. People are returning to their roots, gathering for class reunions. May seems to be the busiest month for that, with autumn homecomings and Christmas holidays trailing slightly. 


This was not a significant year for me, but I got to go to two reunions anyway. One was the S.D. Lee High School athletic reunion, spanning many classes. I had been invited in the past, but had never gone, knowing full-well I could never qualify as an athlete. It seems that doesn''t matter. When I finally went as someone''s guest, I felt very comfortable. Other non-athletes, or marginal ones, made me feel very welcome. Walter Cole''s camp, where it was held, is a spacious marvel on the Luxapilila. It takes him two days on a riding mower just to get the grass cut. 


Since the reunion was not limited to a certain class or sequence of classes, I saw many people I might not have seen otherwise, both local and from other towns. There were several Caldwells, Russell, Nancy, Albert, Margie, Clevie Jean Friday; L.C. and Betty McGee; Mother Goose; Shirley Gordon; the Windy Swedenbergs; the Tom Yeatmans; Homer Swain; and Bobby Sandifer, whom former coach Bill Lee said he would nominate for "Most Courageous," as he often played with crippling muscle cramps. The list goes on and on. (I have had to use some maiden names and ask for your indulgence.) 


Special compliments are in order for the Ike Savelles, Victor Lancasters, Jack Marshalls and Walter Coles, who engineered it. 




Lee High''s 50th 


From there we went to the 50th anniversary reunion of the Lee High class of 1959. Again, I hesitated. I knew some of those class members and felt sure someone would say, "What are you doing here? You''re not a member of this class." 


Sure enough, as soon as Albert "Chance" Laws spoke to me, he said, "What are you doing here?" etc. I said I''d been invited; but by the time we left, I was telling everyone who would listen that I wished I had been one of their classmates. They had a lot of fun, and they put on a good reunion. Bess and Billy Swedenberg were among those who made us guests feel welcome. 


Emcee Charlie Box, who had been class prophet, remembered that those days were good. Prices were down, the stock market was at a 30-year high, and kids wore their clothes where they were supposed to.  


"The faculty weren''t our ''friends,''" he recalled. I sat at the table with some of that faculty: Bill Lee; James Carr, who they say can still beat ''em to death -- in tennis; former teachers, Evelyn Gillis and Evelyn Rogers, who taught Bible, "for which she''d probably be put in jail today"; and the Rev. Jerry Lawson, from Ackerman. We laughed until we hurt. 


Vicki Waltman (again, maiden names) reminded the class of how, as children, they could go to the Varsity Theater on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Beth Witt, now a Ph.D, was president of the Roy Rogers Riders'' Club. Remember Hadacol? With Hadacol box tops a child could get in free. Chauncey Randall from Laws Drug Store would save box tops for Clark Hairston. (Since her school days Clark has cycled across the country twice!)  




Getting buggy  


Sally McPherson had been the class historian. She recalled, among other things, that the class motto was, "The elevator to success is not running." Nevertheless, many members of the class have been very successful, in spite of what Charlie Box prophesied for them. His time machine had Dr. Milton Fields as a sewage inspector, Charleigh Ford destined to make a lot of money -- and put his own face on it -- and Juddy Boyd managing the Harlem Globe Trotters. 


But Charlie''s pièce de résistance was the enactment of "The Bug Dance." He opened a "Bug Box," then began twisting, shaking, slapping and gyrating like crazy. A couple of others joined him. Most of us clutched our sides with laughter. Jamie (Dagress) and Bob Peronne later demonstrated some really impressive dancing. 






Inevitably, confessions abounded, sometimes with more than one person confessing to, or claiming, the same incident, and often protesting, like Gil Dishongh, that "I was just standing there. I hadn''t done anything, but I got the ''board of education!''" 


This referred to the appearance of the goat in the girls'' restroom. The girls ran out screaming, followed by the goat. Frank Ferguson, citing the statute of limitations, confessed that, coming back from a visit with some "nice people at the Highway 17 state line," some of the boys had found a pen of goats. Taking one to the school "just seemed like the thing to do. Running it up the flagpole would not have been humane." 


One cold winter Jody Thompson caught 21 mice in two days and brought them to the school. Someone else filled a matchbox with wasps and let them out in Mrs. Georgia Payne Smith''s classroom. Another rigged a radio inside a book and planted it by the pencil sharpener. Anyone sharpening his pencil could unobtrusively turn it on or off.  


I think it has always taken courage to teach high school. 




Old tales  


Predictably, stories from their senior trip to Washington emerged, literally the "senior trip to end all senior trips." (I think this was the trip for which Bobby Caldwell and Larry Cohen tried to get a St. Christopher medal from the Catholic priest. He asked Larry if he were not Jewish. "No, sir, I''m Baptist!" Larry protested. Baptist still wasn''t Catholic.) 


Incidents included such things as setting off the fire extinguisher at the Martha Washington Inn to the extent that Billy Beard could not be found under the foam in the hall. It seems that was their "only night out." Frank Ferguson was compelled to stay so close to chaperone B.J. Lee that some thought he was handcuffed to her. Someone shaved David Lee''s legs while he was asleep.  


Albert "Chance" Laws proclaimed there had been a great "miscommunication" at bed check one night. Six boys were in one room, "just drinking sweet tea and playing bridge," when Coach Easterwood and Principal Lee walked in. I think there has not been another whole-class senior trip in the ensuing 50 years. 


The class has grown up. They produced outstanding citizens. Parents, take heart. 


One final announcement must be repeated and emphasized. Bill Horton is alive! He has been on the dead list for years. 




Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus. She is a proud member of the S.D. Lee High School Class of 1947.