Class of 1966
The last class to ever graduate from the little high school in Noel, Missouri, walked across the stage and received their diplomas fifty years ago this evening. That day in 1966, like today, was also a Tuesday. The following year Noel students were consolidated into a large county high school.
Our class was very small, even by the standards of the time. I have always had it in my mind that there were twenty-two of us, but the official class portrait panel shows only twenty. I visited with one of our classmates just a few days ago, and she said that she thought there were only seventeen who went through the graduation ceremony.
The graduates pictured on the panel included Anna Harmon (our class president), myself, Abe Paul (the salutatorian), Mary Riley, Doug Morriss, Dick Easter, James (Jim) Riggs, Jerry Brooks, Ivan Jones, Lynda Latty White, Marvin Gilming, Jim Durham, Sandra Epperson, Tim Shields, Sharron Brackeen, Wilbur Payton, Denice Nations, Elizabeth Abercrombie, Mike Carr, and Cheryl Henslee.
There were others who were members of our class for several years, but had moved or for various reasons were not still in the group at the time of graduation. In particular I remember Dan Abraham, Inge Brubaker, Tom Whitten, Larry Higgenbotham, Connie Howard, Jean Osterloh, Mike Poynor, Jolene Brown, Fred Puryear, Ellen Holland, Peggy McNeley, Jim George, and Larry Huber. One member of our class, Linda Merchant, was killed in a tragic car accident early in our senior year. Linda's younger sister, Susan, a junior at Noel High, was also killed in that same wreck.
Also pictured on the panel were three staff members: Miles Elliff, the superintendent, Patrick Laurie, the principal, and Jennibel Paul (Abe's mother), our class sponsor.
Several members of our class have passed on during the intervening years. Of the twenty pictured on the panel, Wilbur, Dick, Sharron, Denice, and Marvin are gone - and among the others we have lost Tom and Larry. There may be others who are no longer with us, but those are the only ones I know about.
I don't remember great deal about that night, but a couple of things have remained with me over the intervening decades. My first memory is of stepping through the doors at the back of the gym - as a part of the processional - and looking up at the bleacher seats which were furthest from the stage. There sat Lil and Bill Bunn, an older couple who cleaned the Ozark Theatre where I worked each weekend. I remember smiling and waving at them, and Lil beginning to sob.
I also know it was a windy spring evening, because the old curtains on the gym windows were flapping in the breeze and creating large dust-balls which floated across the audience and upon the stage where they drifted among the graduates.
My parents were there, along with my sister Gail and my paternal grandmother, Hazel Macy. In my mind's eye I see them sitting on about the second row in the center. Being the valedictorian, I gave a speech that night. I remember my mother staring up with pride in her eyes as I spoke. Sometime that same week her niece (my cousin), Nedolyn Sreaves, was also giving a valedictory speech at nearby Seneca High School. I don't remember what I said to the graduates and families at Noel High that night, but the next day my friend, Roseann Harmon, told me that it had been a very good speech.
After that night we split up and began charting our own courses through life. Some went to the military and did tours in Vietnam, others headed to college, and still others hit the local job market. Most of us married and raised families - and today we have grown kids and grandkids. Our group produced career members of the military, school teachers, nurses, postal workers, business administrators, entrepreneurs, a lawyer, at least one PhD, and even an impoverished social worker. We have seen the world, and the world has seen us - and now many of us are leaving the workforce and slipping quietly into retirement - slowly creating room for younger graduates to make their marks on the world.
During one of my several careers, I had the pleasure and privilege of going back to the old Noel School - by then a K-8 - where I served as the principal. One member of the staff at that time had been with the school since we were in high school - Coradell Alexander was still there teaching music. Mrs. Alexander retired a year or two later, but she returned many times to substitute teach - and it was always a pleasure having her there. Our staff and students loved her very much.
The beautiful native stone school was razed several years ago and replaced by a modern eyesore, but the spirit of the old school still lingers. Here for those of you with ties to Noel High School, is our school song. It was composed by the Music I Class of 1938-39 - and we dutifully sang it at the end of every school assembly.
"In a green Ozark valley - surrounded by hills
Stands a school with a purpose, a school with a will
'Tis sure to be Noel, the students all cry,
Hail! Hail! Alma Mater! Hail! Hail! Noel High.
Through all of its hardships our school still remains,
School spirit has done it, let's hope it won't change.
Our students can keep it if they'll only try,
Hail! Hail! Alma Mater! Hail! Hail! Noel High."
(Note: I understand that the upcoming all-school reunion at Noel will be at the new school on Saturday, June 4, 2016, from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. I plan on being there and hope to see many members of the Class of '66.)
Fifty years have raced by!