Old friends reunited, new ones made
By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 29, 2011 1:50 AM
Thomas Spruill waves from the Eastern Wayne Class of 1975 during the Central/Eastern Wayne Reunion Parade.
Saturday afternoon's rain might have sent members of the Central/Eastern Wayne Alumni and Friends seeking shelter under tents and in their cars, but even then they still reminisced as they renewed friendships and made new ones.
Prior to the rain, Alphonso Battle was seated on the tailgate of a pickup truck talking with his Central High School Class of 1959 classmates Edward "Bill" Coley and Charles Braswell and others.
Looking over the field where people were setting up tents and grills brought back memories, he said.
"Back when we were going to school here it was growed up," he said. "They started cutting it down and we cleaned it up and got it clear where we could have stuff out here, but it wasn't this clear when we left in '59.
"We used to grow sweet potatoes over there. That was our 4-H project. We raised chickens. The women cooked the chickens and we liked to get the chickens after they cooked them -- not all of them, but we got most of them. We were Future Farmers of America and that was what it was about. The ag class, somebody gave us a Ford tractor and we rebuilt it and that is what we did the disking with and the plowing."
Central High School operated from 1937 to 1969 before being consolidated into Eastern Wayne High School. The annual parade and reunion are held on Memorial Day weekend at what is now Eastern Wayne Middle School on Central Heights Road.
Battle said there have been some discussions about joining with the Dillard-Goldsboro Alumni to hold one parade instead of two separate events.
"This (parade) goes through the community right here," he said. "You know basically this community was farm right out here around the school at the time I was going to school. People can sit on the porch or yard and watch the parade and that is one reason there has not been more of a move to just one parade.
"We started this organization in 1965. We started as Class of '59 reunion. We formed the Central Alumni in 1967. Years before that, they had an alumni (organization) and it kind of fizzled out. Then we came along and we are one of those classes that will kind of do anything. When I say do things, I mean we try to do things and get them to hold together, and it has held together until now. It is Central/Eastern Wayne, we tried to get them onboard. We need them. That is what the alumni will be. We just don't want to lose Central."
It is the 39th year the event has been held, said Shirley Perry, recording secretary.
"We have people who just travel from miles around," she said. "They start coming in during the early part of the week and we have Friday which is our banquet. We have today, which is our breakfast at Madison's, and from there we come over here to get our parade lined up. From 1937 all the way through '69 we were Central. They integrated and then our kids began to go over to Eastern Wayne High School, and so now we are Central/Eastern Wayne. We are one and we are trying our best to get all of the classes involved. We are gradually getting them to be with us."
People come from as far as California to attend the reunion, and a couple of years ago, a classmate came from Germany where he lives there now, Ms. Perry said.
"It is just one big happy group," she said. "It is just to stay in contact with our classmates who have moved away and who do not live here anymore. It is what we call homecoming, and that is why we set aside Memorial Day weekend as homecoming. They look forward to it. Some of them, we don't even have to send letters. We just know that they are coming year after year after year after year. What we do, classes raise money and our thing is scholarships. That is our main thing, scholarships.
"Now what we are doing is we have a building fund going on. We need our own building. All the other schools (alumni associations) have their buildings. It is going to be a reality one day. We are looking at standing buildings. We are looking at land, so we have not made up our mind yet."
This year's theme was recognizing the ones -- 1941, 1951 and 1961 at Central and 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2011 at Eastern Wayne.
Mattie Jones, possibly the sole surviving member of the Central High School Class of 1941, attended the weekend events.
A graduate of Fayetteville State University, she taught in Georgia and later at Hills School in the Parkstown community of Wayne County and at Central High School. She later moved to Norfolk, Va., and to Washington, D.C., retiring from teaching in 1990.
"I don't come every year, but I come as often as I can get here," she said. "I just love it. I am just sorry that we are not carrying the name of Central High School forward, but I come as often as I can and it is just nice to meet everybody and get together even though I don't have any classmates.
"My family is here, too, and this is the time that I use to come home to visit family and the school reunion. However, there is nobody in my class here but me. I am hoping everybody is not dead. There were around 20 of us as we graduated."
David Simmons, Eastern Wayne High School Class of 1975, president of Simmons Technical Services and local land developer, said the annual event is a way to honor and preserve the schools' heritage.
"I have been coming here about the past 15 years," he said. "I have embraced it to the point that we are part of the executive body here. I am the second vice president of the Central/Eastern Wayne Alumni. It is embracing one's inheritance. For me personally it is an inheritance that I share with all of my brothers and sisters and there are eight of us. I also share it with my cousins and my friends, class members. The list goes on and on.
"Heritage is something that nobody can take away from you. You can either respect it or disrespect it and I have chosen to respect it to the highest."
The annual event also is an opportunity to help support the "young folks" through scholarships and other means, he said.
Thompson said he would like to see more of the white population become involved. It is important, too, that efforts continue to ensure that people never forget the heritage and help protect that for future generations. However, the younger generation has not as fully embraced the heritage as the older generation has, he said.
"We are looking for innovative ways to ensure that the younger generation does embrace their heritage," he said. "One of the primary things this younger generation is interested in is simply history that this organization creates. We are looking basically at putting together historical memorabilia that they can go back to. We are looking for changes to be more adaptable to the younger generation."
Simmons said the group is moving closer to realizing its dream of a building.
"However, we are vigilant to make sure that sure we are not just jumping at something to fill that need or that want," he said.
The alumni also want to fulfill the need of the community at large, he said.
"We are looking at a facility that would be operable 24/7 throughout the year. Something just for the alumni would not be practical or of common sense nature to do that," he said.