Rebels band together for Rip Reagan


By Mike Goodson/Staff Correspondent

Former students, friends and faculty gathered on May 26 for a block party on Wall Street in Alabama City. The event included a parade and the dedication of “Rip” Reagan Park. 

The park and monument were dedicated to the honor of one of Emma Sansom High School’s own, Billy “Rip” Reagan. Reagan was an Emma Sansom student and band member during the mid-1940s where he graduated in 1947.

The afternoon’s festivities began with a parade, which featured many former students and the Emma Sansom Middle School “Rebel” Band. Also taking part in the parade was Peggy Elder Butler, who was Miss Alabama, 1947, when she was runner-up to Miss America.

Following the parade, the attention turned to dedication of the newly completed Rip Reagan Park. A capacity crowd was on hand as a variety of speakers greeted the crowd and made opening comments. 

Carol Cox Carlisle served as the master of ceremonies and introduced the afternoon’s speakers. 

A special presentation was made from the Alabama House of Representatives recognizing Reagan’s accomplishments and contributions to the City of Gadsden, Emma Sansom High School and the field of education.

City of Gadsden mayor and 1963 ESHS graduate Sherman Guyton spoke of Reagan’s contributions to the City of Gadsden and his efforts in helping Gadsden to garner its nickname as “City of Champions.”

Billy “Rip” Reagan’s career began at Crossville High School. He moved on to Corinth High School in Mississippi, Albertville High School, and later Emma Sansom High School. 

Reagan is widely known for his tenure at Emma Sansom, where he directed the band for 25 years and was principal for five years. Reagan accomplishments were legendary during his teaching span in Alabama City, a time period that included 24 years of superior concert ratings with over 200 superior ratings at marching competitions. The Emma Sansom Band won the National VFW Championship three times (1957-1959) by competing in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. The ESHS Band also won the Greatest Band in Dixie Award, an extremely prestigious competition held in New Orleans in 1963, 1965 and 1967.

The event’s keynote speaker was 1955 Emma Sansom High graduate Dale Garner, who spoke of how Reagan took a large group of “lint heads” and “steelies” and won the coveted VFW National Championship in 1957, 1958 and 1959. These championships were the beginning of the Reagan legacy that touched the lives of untold numbers of Alabama City youth.

Reagan family member Steve Reagan spoke of his father’s career, which began at Emma Sansom in 1953 and spanned 60 years. Steve Reagan is the band director at Gadsden City High School and is carrying on the family tradition of producing superior quality high school bands. 

Rip Reagan, who serves as director of the Gadsden State Show Band, is recuperating from a fall he suffered in March at his home. Since he has been hospitalized because of the accident, there were concerns whether or not Reagan would be able to attend the dedication. 

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