700 sign up for Carr Central reunion

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 27, 2004

Ethel Lagrone Pickens looks over an old school newspaper.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[9/27/04]Downtown Vicksburg has changed again, and Ethel Lagrone Pickens thinks the people who knew it in the past should see those changes.

“When downtown Vicksburg started coming back to life, I thought about how many people like me who have grieved over Vicksburg’s dying, would be so thrilled about seeing it come back to life,” said Pickens, a 1953 graduate of Carr Central High School and the main organizer of an all-class reunion.

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The Carr Central High School All Alumni reunion kicks off Friday, and Pickens said about 700 people have already signed up to participate in a weekend full of activities for those who graduated from 1933 to 1959.

The planning has been going on for two years, but in the past six months, she said, everything has started to come together.

She has joined individual class reunion organizers from most of the classes and formed a committee to put her plan into action.

“This is not a one-man show,” she said, “All we had to do was get out the word.”

Originally, Pickens expected about 250 people, but after contacting individual classes and posting information on her five-year-old class of ’53 Web site, www.cchsclassof53.com, the number grew. The Web site gives updates on the weekend and tells who from each class has signed up.

“This will be the event of the year for the state, not just Vicksburg,” said Althea Murphy from the class of ’58.

The reunion intentionally was scheduled for the same weekend as the annual Old Court House Museum Flea Market, RebStock and downtown’s Fall Festival. Those events are set at the 1858 Old Court House, which has undergone an $800,000 renovation during the past year, and downtown, which has seen $2.6 million spent for reconstruction of Washington Street and its interchanges.

Along with the changes and renovations, Pickens believes, the pure “magic” of their alma mater is drawing the grads.

“Carr Central was the most magic place in all the world,” she said, “The minute I walked into the hall, it was like walking into a magical wonderland it made you feel that you were important and special,” she said.

Pickens is doing everything she can to bring back the magic from the now condemned building on Cherry Street.

The class of 1953 has purchased and will put together a 12-foot-high, 8-foot-wide cardboard tree that resembles the huge oak tree that still stands in front of the building now owned by a private developer. The Flower Center has donated concrete benches to put around the replica tree to make it that much more like the real thing.

Pickens has also bought materials to make a replica of the wall in which classmates took pictures for “The Tattler,” the school’s newspaper, and later the annual, “The Cannon Roar.” She is using a 10-foot screen backdrop decorated with corrugated paper that looks like brick.

“We are going to reproduce our Carr Central High School,” she said.

The Vicksburg Auditorium, built about 1950, will have a similar nostalgic feeling for some classes that had glee club events in the building, Pickens said. Members from all classes will mingle there at 5 Friday evening at an informal program.

About 10 teachers will be seated on the stage, Pickens said.

A jukebox will play songs reminiscent of sock hops and Carr Central proms with a mixture of World War II, Big Band and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, and a 16-foot table will hold copies of the “Tattler.”

“We’ve been working up a storm it’s a labor of love,” said Mary Helen Temple from the class of ’55.

On Saturday, classmates will be on their own to visit around Vicksburg.

“I want people to take advantage of the festival weekend,” she said.

The auditorium will be open for meetings, resting and bringing in food and drinks from the festival and flea market, but no activities are scheduled. After 6 p.m., classes will group together or meet separately for separate reunions.

The all-alumni reunion is funded by $100 donations from classes 1940 through 1959. The classes of the 1930s will combine their $100 donation. The cost of both days is $10 for each person, and that money will be used for future reunions.

As Sammie Haney of the class of ’57 said: “It’s important to stay in touch with people who influenced your life so much our teenage years are the years that form us.”