Classmates renew friendships as 300 gather for largest reunion yet
By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times Leader
Sunday, November 11, 2018
WINTERVILLE — Approximately 300 people gathered in the South Central High School cafeteria recently to celebrate their time as students at Winterville High School. The school, which was built in 1935, has served as A.G. Cox Middle School since 1971.
“The first Saturday in November has become a very special day for Winterville High School attendees,” said Leck Keeter, a member of the class of 1954 and chairman of the reunion committee. “Renewing friendships is our goal for our meeting here today. I hope you get to talk to many people who you spent hours with many years ago.”
This was Winterville High School’s 17th all-school reunion, and it had the biggest turnout to date, according to Keeter.
“We had 284 people to pre-register for this event today,” he said. “We ended up with about 300 people registered today, so that’s 300 ‘Wolves’ and ‘Wolverines’ you get to sit and talk to today.”
Winterville Mayor Doug Jackson, a class of 1954 graduate, was delighted with the turnout.
“It is fantastic to have this many people here,” he said. “It really shows how much some people really do love Winterville and the Winterville High School. For some of us, some of the best memories we ever had were at Winterville School.”
He has been to all 17 reunions because he loves getting to reconnect with people from the past and seeing what they’ve “gotten up to” over the years.
The reunion committee recognized Gene Manning, class of 1941, as the oldest person in attendance at 94 years old. He and his wife Barbara, a class of 1947 graduate, came to visit with old friends.
“I figured this would be my last time to see everybody and talk to them,” Gene said. “I liked the mystery of science. I had a teacher, Mrs. McLawhorn, who went out west to the Petrified Forest, and that was so interesting to me that Barbara and I went out to see it.”
Barbara remembered working in the cafeteria as a student, taking lunch money and studying with Gene.
“I used to call out her spelling words (to Barbara) so she could graduate and we could get married,” Gene said with a laugh.
Barbara said, “In those days, you only had to go to 11 years. Then they changed it on me and made it 12,” Barbara said.
Under the old rules, she would have graduated in 1946, but graduation requirements were changed that year, so Winterville High School did not graduate a class.
The committee also recognized the class of 1943, which was celebrating its 75th reunion, and the class of 1968, which was celebrating its 50th reunion.
Gary Riggs came from Massachusetts to celebrate with his classmates.
“We weren’t allowed a baccalaureate sermon, but we fixed that,” Riggs said. “We were able to get Coach ‘Bones’ McKinney from Wake Forest (University) who was an ordained Baptist minister to give us a combination baccalaureate sermon and graduation talk, which was very inspiring.”
Riggs also reminded the class of their love of pranks as he spoke of teasing a math teacher, Mrs. Julian.
“She was a calculus teacher, and she brought two bananas to school every day in case she forgot one the next day. So there were a few forgotten bananas and a nice colony of fruit flies around her desk. We thought it would be nice to tease her by giving her some more bananas,” Riggs said. “As a group, we bought 35 or 50 pounds of bananas and in between classes, we hung them up in her room. Mr. Moye (the principal) didn’t think that was a very good thing, so we got in a little bit of trouble. But we were mostly good kids.”
He reminded his classmates of their motto, “Not merely to exist but to amount to something in life,” and hoped they had all lived up to it.
Winterville Councilman Tony Moore, also Class of 1968, tried his best to live up to that motto, he said.
“I wanted to come and visit all my classmates. It’s been good to see how things have changed,” he said. “I was one of the slowest people academically in my class. I quit school with 30 days to go. But I did come back and graduate.”
Moore’s favorite memory in high school was dating his wife. They started dating at 12 years old and got married at age 19.
“We had our first kiss April 8, 1964,” he remembered. “We loved to go to the Dixie Queen restaurant. I drove a 1967 Ford Mustang that I still have.”
Ten people, including Riggs, came from out-of-state to attend the reunion. Lee Worthington, class of 1960, and his wife Kathleen came from Colorado.
“This is what we do. We love to come to these reunions and talk to people he used to know,” Kathleen said. “We’re up here for a couple of weeks in North Carolina; we combined some things, so it’s a vacation for us.”
Evelyn Hodges Finch, class of 1949, also traveled a significant distance, coming from Tipton, Ga.
“I’ve come every year that we’ve had a reunion. I didn’t want to miss it,” she said.
Billie House of Raleigh added, “I was right behind her in the graduating class of 1949, and it’s great to see all of us who are still living.”
While everyone had great memories of Winterville High School, not everybody enjoyed school.
“My favorite (high school) memory was graduating,” said Eugene Oakley of the Class of 1968.
Roy Elks of the Class of 1961 agreed with Oakley.
“To be honest with you, I hated to go to school,” Elks said. “I stayed out all I could.”
He came to the reunion to see old friends.
“It feels pretty good reconnecting with people. I don’t recognize all of them because it’s been 57 years,” Elks said.
The Times Leader serves southern Pitt County including the towns of Ayden, Grifton and Winterville.