Heritage Academy in Columbus is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Representing a four-generation Heritage family, alumna Meredith McClanahan Fraser (1979), seated at left, looks through her senior annual Wednesday with her daughter, Elizabeth Yates (1999) and Elizabeth's son, 4-year-old Bayn, a junior-kindergarten student. Standing at left is Heritage Elementary Principal Cindy Wamble. At right is Heritage Headmaster Dr. Greg Carlyle. Fraser's father, Ted McClanahan, was a member of the school's first board. Bayn's dad is Brad Yates. Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
From left, eighth-grader McKenzie Ellis, senior William Hardy and sophomore Douglas Glenn raise the American flag and Heritage Academy's 50th anniversary flag Wednesday. The anniversary logo was designed by Marion Lott Kilarski (1980). McKenzie's great-grandmother, Gladys Ellis, was the school's first third-grade teacher. Her parents are Chuck (1980) and Carmen Ellis. William's parents are Kirk and fourth-grade teacher Vicki Hardy. Douglas' great-grandfather, Fred Beard, was on the first HA school board. His grandfather, Tommy Glenn, served on a board, too. His parents, Robby and Frances Glenn, are 1987 graduates.
Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
Heritage Academy's first official homecoming court in October 1972 included queen Marion Biddy (McEwen) and escort Bryant Wiygul and the court, clockwise: an unidentified elementary student, senior maid Anne Marie Smith and Harold Dobbs, sophomore maid Kimberly McCarty and Frank Imes, SGA maid Julie Franklin and Rusty Howard, Dickie Tate and freshman maid Debbie Wiygul, Steve Ellis and junior maid Ann Biddy, and an unidentified student.
Photo by: From the 1973 Heritor
September 13, 2014 11:33:59 PM
Meredith McClanahan Fraser remembers the dress in the 35-year-old photograph as though it were yesterday. It was the color of peaches, and an 11th-hour find.
Fraser was flipping through a 1979 annual at Heritage Academy Wednesday, alongside her daughter, 1999 graduate Elizabeth Yates and 4-year-old grandson Bayn Yates, who attends junior-kindergarten. Turning the page and seeing his "Bitsy" as Miss Heritage -- the Farrah Fawcett do, the drawstring-waist dress -- brought Bayn to giggles.
"Oh, I'll never forget," said his grandmother. "I called Martha House of The She Shop at home and she met me at the shop on a Sunday! We were having pictures made that afternoon and I hadn't been able to find anything to wear." (It was the kind of thing that happened in small towns, a store owner opening up for a friend on a day off.)
Fraser's indelible, random memory is one of legions held by almost 2,000 graduates of Heritage Academy who may be doing a bit of reminiscing soon. This year the school marks a milestone, its 50th year. Many who attend festivities in the months ahead are multi-generation Heritage Patriot families, like Fraser's. Her late father, Ted McClanahan, served on the first school board and as the second board president, in 1968. (Ray Waters was the first.) All her children graduated from the school.
"And now, like a lot of other alumni who went here, I have a grandchild here, so I'm back," Fraser said. "This will be fun, getting reacquainted with it all and watching him enjoy growing up at Heritage. It's like coming full circle."
Dr. Greg Carlyle is the school's headmaster.
"We're just so glad to celebrate the 50th anniversay and the legacy it represents," he said. "And we're excited about our future; we have a great path to build upon."
Half a century ago
Heritage Academy was founded in 1964 by the Columbus Educational Foundation. Thirty-three children in first, second and third grades began meeting in the fall of 1965 at what is now Main Street Presbyterian Church (then First Presbyterian Church). Their teachers were Mrs. Haley Reeves, Mrs. Josephine Emory and Mrs. Mayo Ellis.
Due to renovations at the Presbyterian church, in 1966 the school moved to First Baptist Church and added grades four through six. The following year the young student body relocated to a permanent facilty on five acres of land on what is now Willowbrook Road. In 1970 and 1971, another building went up to house seventh through 12th grades. The new facility with 14 classrooms, library, gym, labs, music rooms and offices marked significant expansion; the campus grew to 22 acres. The school fielded a football team, coached by Ronnie Gray and Charles Jourdan.
It was an era of firsts: According to the school history, the first Student Government Association was formed. The inaugural issue of the school newspaper, The Banner, and a school annual, The Heritor, went to press. Bill Farris was headmaster. Billy Brewer was hired as the first athletic director.
In 1972, the football field was completed and named after a founding supporter, C.L. Mitchell, all in time for the school to celebrate its first official homecoming.
"Before we got that field, our football team played at Propst Park," recalled Marion Biddy McEwen, referring to the east Columbus park. "I think they made a football field out of two baseball or softball fields."
So spirits were high when, on Oct. 13, 1972, the Patriots ran onto a field of their own for the first time. At halftime, McEwen, escorted by Bryant Wiygul, was crowned as the first homecoming queen.
"It was the second year there had been a high school, so it was the first time we actually had people who could 'come home,'" she laughed.
Like Fraser, the McEwens' lives have been intertwined with Heritage for decades. Marion's siblings, Ann Biddy Buster and Peppy Biddy, are alumni, as are her sons Jonathan and Josh, with husband Steve McEwen. Through the kids' years in sports, Marion's father, the late M.P. Biddy, was a loyal fixture, driving the team bus and mentoring athletes. "Our family just graduated our last person -- a nephew -- in May!" McEwen said.
Where do we go?
Dr. Perrin Smith of Columbus served as HA board president in 1975-76. The high school was still young, the school still growing. There were the usual challenges -- budgets to manage, policies to hone.
"We were interested in securing the right teachers, the right staff, the right football coach, having the right discipline ... " Smith recalled. "We looked at how big do we want to get? How many students do we want? How do we grow and how many do we grow to?"
Amy Ellis is president of the current board. She praises administration, faculty and staff for their part in the school's success.
"One hundred percent of our last graduating class received scholarships. Our ACT scores are well above the state and national average. Our elementary students consistently test one to two levels higher nationally on the Stanford Achievement Tests," shared Ellis, who will, as president, have the honor of handing a diploma in May 2015 to her graduating son, Nicholas. "Our board is very committed to the education, safety and well-being of the students. Every decision we make is with that in mind."
Heritage is a fully accredited member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) and the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS).
It has a 100 percent graduation rate, and typically 100 percent of HA graduates enter college. The average ACT score as of May was 25.
Anniversary celebrations began in August with a reception honoring former and current school board members, hosted by George Hazard, honorary chair of the 50th anniversary observance. Looming large on calendar is homecoming on Friday, Sept. 19. It includes a Grandparents' and Guests' Day, an assembly, hamburger supper and, of course, a football game.
"Homecoming will be great," said Carlyle. ... At the hamburger supper we're not only inviting all alumni but all Heritage families. We have several classes coming back, and we look forward to welcoming them."
The assembly features Entergy Mississippi Inc. president and CEO Haley Fisackerly (1983) as speaker. All past homecoming queens are to be special guests. Grandparents' and Guests' Day programs showcase the elementary grades. Past graduates will be honored.
"Our elementary students are very much a part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary," remarked Elementary School Principal Cindy Wamble.
The first half-century for Heritage is in the history books. Much has changed since 1964 -- explosions in technology and communication, new methods of teaching, the prevailing culture, to name a few. When the next 50 years get underway, Carlyle feels confident the school is ready to meet the challenges and opportunities. He is buoyed by a recent successful annual fund drive and a feasibility study that points toward positives.
"It's great to see how the Heritage family is rallying around the school," he said, "and continuing to seek excellence for our students."
HA 50th Anniversary related events
The Oct. 6 program at 7 p.m. features the Mississippi University for Women Chamber Singers directed by Phillip Stockton and the Columbus Girlchoir directed by Dr. Cherry Dunn. Megill Imes (2014) closes the program. Both programs are free to the public.
Contact the school, 662-327-5272, for more information.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.