Hundreds of county grads gather for reunion

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 8, 2004

Graduates of Culkin, Jett and Redwood high schools sign in at their reunion Saturday.(Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[11/7/04]A folding table covered with 11 yearbooks stirred memories and stories Saturday as hundreds of former Culkin Wildcats, Redwood Rockets and Jett Bulldogs gathered for the first all-class county high schools reunion.

“They all look so darn old,” said Polly Wright, a 1936 graduate of Jett and a Vicksburg resident for more than 80 years, who visited with friends. She said she keeps up with classmates, but enjoyed seeing them Saturday.

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“Some of us look older, some of us don’t,” said Joyce May, one of the reunion’s planners and a 1962 graduate of Redwood High School.

“We have various and sundry ages,” and May said that pleased her and other organizers.

In the first 30 minutes, about 150 cars had filled the parking area at Clear Creek Pavilion, and more were inching in.

The people were “all mingling and slow-moving, which is great,” May said.

The graying Bulldogs, Rockets and Wildcats wore name tags, each including the name of the person’s alma mater.

“Thank God for name tags,” said “Big” Red Kleinman, a 1936 Culkin graduate.

He said he decided to go to the reunion to see his classmates and friends of his son, Red Kleinman, who graduated from Jett in 1962. The Kleinmans moved to the Jett community when Red Jr. was school age. Though a rivalry existed among the county’s three schools, Red Sr. said he supported his son in football.

“I pulled for him all the time went to every game,” he said.

C.T. Thornton was a teacher at Jett from 1959 until the county high schools were consolidated in 1965 to form Warren Central. Thornton talked to Kleinman about how things have changed since he taught math and coached all sports at Jett.

“In 1959, when I started out at Jett, I taught mathematics junior high through high school. I coached baseball, football, basketball and track, took and developed all of the pictures and drove a school bus all for $3,300,” he said.

Thornton said he enjoyed his students, which is why he went to the reunion.

“I haven’t seen a lot of these kids in 40 years,” he said, “It’s important they are enjoying themselves so much when they get around to talk to those who didn’t come, they’ll want to come next year, too.”

Marie McGuffee Johns, Culkin class of ’60, said she was surprised by the success stories from the schools’ grads.

“We have an architect, a space engineer it’s amazing that students from these small schools did that, considering we didn’t have all the things kids have today,” she said.

Gordon Cotton, a 1954 graduate of Jett and a teacher there in 1961 and 1962 and for one year at Redwood, said it is the history that makes the schools so special.

“We owe a tremendous amount of debt to three people,” he said, “John Culkin, who first consolidated the schools in 1916; Sharp Banks, who was the guiding spirit behind getting the three schools into one school; and Kalar Fultz, who was the assistant to Banks and worked behind the scenes.”

Julia Ruth Truitt and her husband, Paul, drove 800 miles from their home in Elk City, Okla., to be at the reunion. It had been 10 years since they visited Vicksburg, where she attended first through ninth grades before moving to Oklahoma. She would have graduated with the 1955 class of Culkin.

They arrived Thursday her birthday and headed straight to Solly’s Hot Tamales.

“We used to have them every Saturday. It’s one of those things that tastes the same as it did back then,” she said.

Butch Thompson, a 1961 graduate of Culkin, traveled 700 miles from Kansas City, Mo., he said, because he’d missed earlier reunions.

“It struck me it was time,” he said, “I haven’t seen most of these people since I graduated.”

He and classmates grouped lawn chairs under a tree to eat the potluck lunch.

“He’s the youngest in the class, and he looks the youngest,” classmate Bobbie McGuffee Abraham said. “He will keep in touch now.”

Othel Mendrop, who began his long career with the county schools in 1949 as assistant football coach at Jett, said he wouldn’t have missed the reunion.

“This shows they all still have friendships and think a lot of each other,” he said.

After four years in the Air Force, Mendrop returned to Warren County schools in 1956 as assistant coach at Culkin. In 1959, he became head coach at Jett and, in 1962, principal. He was the first principal of Warren Central and, in 1974, he became assistant superintendent, a position he held until he retired in 1988.

“You see, I’m connected to all three schools,” he said.

The connections are widespread. Richard Bounds, a 1958 Redwood graduate who married another Redwood graduate, said many people married graduates of a rival school. His wife, Ruby Hintson Bounds, is connected with Bo Cobb Whittenberg, a 1960 Culkin graduate, because their mothers graduated together from Oak Ridge High School.

“When we were going to school, we were such rivals, but now that we’re grown up we’re great friends,” Whittenberg said.

Of course, arguments popped up over which high school was the biggest and which was the best. Bounds argued for Redwood, citing the fact it is the only survivor today, as Redwood Elementary School. (Culkin was closed in 1999, and Jett, in 1993.)

Jim Ferguson, a 1962 Jett graduate who helped plan the reunion, said the turnout dictates a bigger place will be necessary next year.

“I knew we were gonna’ have a good turnout,” said Emma Lee Harrell, another planner of the potluck dinner and a 1962 Culkin graduate. “But, they just keep adding tables for the food.”