Old Tigers on the Prowl
Saturday morning, a den of Tigers prowled at the Sunset Grove Country Club. The Tigers were a little older and a little grayer than they were in 1953, but they were all as active as ever in their friendship and love for each other.
The Lutcher Stark High School Class of 1953 assembled for a reunion, starting with breakfast at 9 a.m. at the Country Club.
As the alumni entered the dining room, a tiger greeted them on a pedestal. It was, of course, not a real tiger, but it was a reminder of the mascot, Taboo, and of the old days gone by.
“Our class honored traditions, kept the standards high, had discipline, good scholarship, was noted for citizenship and did good in all things, except football against the Port Arthur Yellow Jackets,” said Class President W.C. Enmon.
Enmon told a story about a nine-shot aerial bomb being placed in a locker. “The fuse was tied to a candle and when the candle burned down, the bomb went off.” Enmon said. “There were six guys accused. One finally confessed, but we were never really sure who did it.”
Later, at the banquet there was a reference made to the ATF visiting the school. This was probably because of the bomb in the locker.
“A noted accomplishment of the Class of 1953 was that during the flood that year, some of the boys requested and were given time off to go to the river and help sandbag the levee. They worked with the Navy and helped save the city from serious flooding. We were very proud to do that,” Enmon said.
Bobby Vincent was the head of the committee that planned the reunion. Vincent served as the master of ceremonies for the breakfast meeting.
“We said for the classmates to attend, but it looks like you brought your grandmas and great grandpas,” Vincent said, making a joke out of the fact that the group had gotten a little older over the 55 years since they graduated.
At breakfast, the Class of 1950 was represented by Jack Huffman, the Class of 1951 by Pleas Evans, and the Class of 1954 by John Curtis.
Jan Eddleman Sellers’ husband, Bill, was from the Class of 1946, but the wrong school. He was a Yellow Jacket from Port Arthur, arch rivals of the Tigers. The old rivalry was gone Saturday, and he was welcomed as an old friend.
Of the group in attendance there were some at breakfast that would not be at the later activities and some not at breakfast who would show up later. The group numbered about 80. Seated at tables of from four to eight, a lot of stories were told and a lot of “catching up” was conducted.
Jerry Priddy told the group that he and his wife Jean had attended the 85th birthday party at the Houston Aquarium for Miss Hattie Mae Wood. “Miss Hattie Mae is healthy, but not getting around too well. She sends her love and best wishes to all of her former students,” Priddy said. “Miss Hattie Mae now lives in Pearland.”
Miss Wood was a P.E. teacher at Stark for decades, and she also taught driver’s education.
Jan Sellers and Gail Gammage Martin were members of a group of girls that called themselves “SAPS’. Sellers and Martin would not reveal the true meaning of “SAPS,” except to say it could mean, “Still All Pals.” Other members of the group, but not in attendance were Punkin Peterson, Jeep Wall, Jill Red, and Wejie Sutton.
Gammage is the daughter of Mildred Gammage, a long time educator and the principal of the Presbyterian Day School. “Mother got her first teaching job in 1928 and taught until 1963. My aunt was also a principal at Curtis elementary. I was the black sheep because I would not go into teaching,” Gammage said.
“We probably lived at the best time to be alive in out country,” Vincent said. Those in attendance agreed with his remark and echoed similar feelings about Orange in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
“Orange was a Norman Rockwell town in those days,” said Jack Huffman. Huffman entered the military after high school and served with the Air Force in Korea. After his service he graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in civil engineering and obtained a Master’s Degree from Baylor University. He returned to Orange in 1965 and served as City Manager until 1972.
Among Huffman’s accomplishments as city manager was the extension of 16th Street from Park Avenue to Green Avenue. “We were able to do that by trading some land we owned to Miss Nelda (Stark) for the right-of-way we needed for the expansion. It was done easily and no money changed hands. It has been very good for the city.” he said.
“I am very proud of this group today,” Enmon said. “Usually the first question is ‘where is the restroom?’ you have all done well.” Enmon informed the group that the activities of the day would resume at the High School Memorial on the corner of 13th and Green Avenue and then move into the cafeteria of their old school.
The alumni met at 5 p.m. for a memorial service for the deceased members of the class. As part of the memorial orange balloons were released as names of the deceased were called. Following the memorial service the group began to enter the school for the remainder of the program.
Inside the cafeteria were the logos of Orange High School, Lutcher Stark High School, and a large orange “O” with the tiger mascot “Taboo”. There were clippings of articles of past reunions and a listing of deceased classmates with the pictures of them as they appeared in their school days.
The artwork for the decorations and also for the Memorial was done by Johnelle Hughes Wilson. Wilson has been an artist since her school days and was the first girl to take mechanical drawing at Stark. Wilson also served as co-chairman of the reunion committee.
Vincent opened the program with a few remarks about the events of the evening and then Enmon took the microphone for a few announcements.
“The book reports for Mrs. Johnson’s English Class are overdue. Some of the cost of the day has been underwritten by Viagra, Geratol, and Preparation H. There will be a 10-minute break for you to take your medications. Finally, we will adjourn so that those of you in the older classes can make it home by your eight o’clock bedtime.” Enmon said.
Billie Jean Rudd Casey read some “You Might Be a Grad of 1953 if …”
One of the most popular was “(If) you know about Pic and popcorn.” It was a reference to the days at the drive-in movie theater when people watched films in their cars and burned the slow-burning Pic mosquito repellent to keep the mosquitoes away. While they watched the movie, and they ate popcorn as the Pic coil burned.
“I never knew how my mother knew I had been to the drive-in movie when she told me I could not go. I finally learned that she could smell the smoke from the Pic on my clothes,” Casey said.
Another of the “ifs” was “You pay for two and enter four.” The high school kids in thos days would have two people in a car at the drive-in admission, with two more kids hiding in the car trunk.
“You are not from Orange if you think Shirley Swift was a girl,” someone in the audience said. Mr. Swift was a Highway Patrol Officer in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and was well-known for writing traffic tickets.
In an open microphone session, several members of the class told stories about Paul Pearson the long time principal at Stark.
Pearson did not like to see boyfriends and girlfriends standing too close together in the halls, and was known to approach a couple that was too close and say “oxygen.” That meant to put “daylight” between the girl and boy.
Ernest McCollum, a 1953 grad and later long-time choir director at Stark, told a story about Pearson catching a romantic couple. The story sounded plausible until he “sunk the hook” with the punch line and caught most of the alumni and guests off guard.
McCollum returned to Orange in 2007 for a choir reunion of the students he taught. He will be back for another reunion in 2009.
“The ‘High and Mighty’ was not the best-selling book in 1953, it was the sign over Principal Pearson’s door,” Enmon said. “’Battle Cry’ was not a book, it was the story of the football game between Orange and Port Arthur.”
Thomas Owens recognized all of the class members who were military veterans. There were about 30 from all branches of the service.
“I left Orange on a train with 26 others from our school. We were on our way to join the military. I was sent to San Antonio to cadet training with the Air Force. I was lucky to go into the Air Force. Some of the Army guys really had it rough in Korea,” Huffman said.
The classes of 1950 through 1954 were the graduates of the Korean War era. Those at the reunion who were in the military during that time were proud to have served their country. Owens won the honor of traveling the farthest distance. He came 1,600 miles from his home in Pennsylvania.
Huffman and his wife,Betty Ramsey Huffman, have been married the longest with 57, soon to be 58, years of marriage.
Robert Dozar had both the most children with 16, and the most grandchildren with18.
One alumni had nine great-grandchildren, and Johnelle Wilson had three great-great-grandchildren.
The youngest alumni in attendance was Janey Olschefski Cameron from the Class of 1963. Cameron had been a student in McCollum’s choir and the two had a good time telling stories and catching up on the past.
Other classes represented were 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1959.
The Class of 1953 numbered 250. There are 56 deceased classmates. Attendance at the reunion was 120. “Thanks to the hard work of the reunion committee and the data base they have there are only a few unaccounted for”, Vincent said.
“We have had a reunion every five years since our 25th year out of school. This will probably be our last big reunion. We will probably begin to have a smaller more informal meeting of some sort, possibly every year,” Vincent said.
The recognized alumni were given gifts from donors and there were drawings for door prizes also.
The Class of 1953 appreciates gifts and grants from, Luv Lingerie, Sabine Federal Credit Union, Entergy Orange, Orange Savings and Loan, Memorial Herman Baptist Hospital-Orange, Lamar State College Orange, The Stark House, Orange Convention Center, North Early Learning Center, Central Office Supply, The Classy Peacock, Curves, Sensations Salon, Bobby and Pam Vincent, Thomas “Sleepy” and Alice Smith, Joe and Lou Raburn, George and Johnelle Wilson and Kallie James.
“We especially want to thank Sleepy Smith for the use of his office each Tuesday night for many months prior to this. We can never repay him for all the sheets of paper, soft drinks and cookies he generously provided us for our meetings to plan this reunion,” Vincent said.