Walnut Grove students remember high school days

 Don Garrard presents Ann (Cleveland) Williams with a bouquet in appreciation for her work in organizing the Walnut Grove reunion. All students who attended the school -- which closed in 1966 -- were invited to the reunion at Sarah’s Cafe in Walnut Grove. Don Garrard presents Ann (Cleveland) Williams with a bouquet in appreciation for her work in organizing the Walnut Grove reunion. All students who attended the school -- which closed in 1966 -- were invited to the reunion at Sarah’s Cafe in Walnut Grove.

By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Walnut Grove High School ceased to exist in 1966, after fire destroyed the neighboring high school and led to the merger of the two schools, as West End High School.

But the students who attended Walnut Grove gathered June 8 for the third annual reunion not just of one graduating class, but of all those who attended Walnut Grove.

The reunion was at Sarah’s Café in Walnut Grove. The café now displays some Walnut Grove memorablia – a diploma, some photos of graduating classes and photos of the school as it looked as far back as 1926. There are photos of former custodian Samuel R. Higdon and his wife, first grade teacher Eiddessa C. Higdon.

Those attending the reunion ranged from the class of 1949 to the class of 1968 – students who attended Walnut Grove but were graduated from West End.

Good-natured touches of the old rivalry resurfaced as everyone stood and gave their names and the year they graduated. The West End grads got a few boos.

Some recalled how intense the rivalry was: one graduate remembered a car load of his classmates passing a woman on the street who hailed from the rival town. She was with her children, he said, and obviously had gotten food for the family, which she was carrying in bags. The guys in the car taunted her and she threw the bags of food at them.

Stanley Pruett, of the class of 1962, served as master of ceremonies for the reunion, joking that he was “ad libbing it.” He had collected some facts and figures about Walnut Grove, and about events of 1963 – the class celebrating the 50th anniversary of graduation.

Pruett gave Ann (Cleveland) Williams credit for making phone calls to get as many classmates as possible together for the reunion. She said it was not hard to do. Some classmates still live in the area or nearby, or maintain ties with people in the area.

The classmates gave special recognition to those graduates who became teachers, and those who served their country in the military.

There were many of those, who served in Korea or Vietnam, and several who specifically mentioned serving during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“You know those pictures that showed the missiles?” one veteran said, “I was on the aircraft that took those pictures.”

“I was up for discharge,” another said, “and I couldn’t leave.”

In reviewing events of 1963, another Walnut Grove alum recalled the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy.

“Me and (another classmate) had skipped school and were playing pool in Boaz,” he said.

Many of the former students took the opportunity not only to recall Walnut Grove with pride, but to brag about their individual classes.

Flonnie (Walls) Bellamy proclaimed the class of 1956 as the “best class that ever graduated.”

Another graduate said the class of 1957 might have been one of the smallest – with 19 students – but it was the best.

Yet another graduate offered that his class had only 13 graduating seniors.

“There were 13 girls and three boys,” he said. “Those were good proportions.”

When Ollie Lee introduced himself, classmates recalled how he got a scholarship for $500 – full tuition, at that time – to Lee University, and some teachers told him he shouldn’t take it. He did, and after studying at Lee, he became a sociology professor there.

“How long have you been at Lee?” someone asked.

“Forty-six years,”

The former students of Walnut Grove enjoyed a good meal at Sarah’s buffet, and cakes decorated in school colors. They had the chance to renew some acquaintances, to reminisce about years gone by and to reflect on classmates who’ve passed on.

Then the students started to drift away, too soon for some. “After they eat, everybody starts to leave,” Annie Green, of the class of 1965, said. She said about seven members of her class attended this year.

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