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As time goes by, memories linger for Clermont's class of 1948

POSTED: August 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Rex Rogers, a Clermont High School graduate of 1948, watches as his wife, Francis, a graduate of Dawson County High School, tries to locate Rogers in a graduation photo Thursday as part of the class' 60th reunion.

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With 30 classmates, it was the largest of Clermont High School’s history, and they still have the newspaper clippings to prove it.

Sixty years after they were handed their diplomas in green, leather-bound covers, 14 of the 22 remaining members of Clermont High School’s class of ’48 gathered Thursday in Trinity United Methodist Church to remember a tightly knit Clermont that was not nearly as "metropolitan" as it is today.

Mostly the children of farmers, they praised the rural reputation of their alma mater.

"There was such a closeness and love of family in such a small school," 1948 graduate Peggy Oliver Lattanzi said. "Now, schools have 3,000 students; we just had 30 in the class. ... It was such a different world."

As a sign of their times, group members stood to say "The Lord’s Prayer" before having a meal together Thursday afternoon.

"This is like we did in school, isn’t it?" classmate Elizabeth Nix Davis asked before the group prayed. "Then, we could all say a prayer in a public school."

Davis, now a retired teacher from Hall County schools, watched as the federal government placed more regulations on school systems that kept them from requiring students to pray Christian prayers or pledge their allegiance to the flag.

Clermont High School, which opened in 1901 and closed almost 60 years later, afforded the students the luxury of playing baseball, basketball, acting in school plays or having a membership in the BETA club. In their final days at the school, the class of ‘48 had a handwritten newspaper, The Clermontonian, that reported brief accounts of such events.

School, no doubt, was different in 1948 than in 2008.

"The reason we were so smart — or not so smart — is we just had 11 grades to go to," Lattanzi said.

At the end of those 11 years, it was commonplace for many of them to take their diplomas straight to the hosiery or the textile mills in Gainesville and Cleveland and work for decades, but some were afforded the luxury of attending nearby colleges.

In their spare time, the members of the class of ‘48 remember having to work on the farm or sneaking off to Glade Shoals for a picnic. There was not much time for gallivanting, however.

"The teachers pretty well kept us busy," Davis said.

While memories of their school days are not always the most vivid, many classmates clearly remembered their teachers at Thursday’s reunion. Many of them recalled their English teacher, the one most called their favorite, Miss Clara Head.

Davis brought along Miss Clara Head’s old hats and briefcase she got from Head’s estate as a reminder of her favorite teacher’s fashion sense.

"She always wore these hats," Davis said.

One classmate, Jack Dempsey Little, said Clermont "was the best school in the area."

Although he could not quite recall what possessed him or who helped him to dismantle the principal’s wagon and put it on top of the school gym, he could recall many of his old teachers’ names.

"... The teachers, they were excellent teachers," said Little, a former basketball player.

Classmate Betty Harwell Haynes was one of the school’s best basketball players, according to her husband, in a time when there was no fancy athletic equipment, just a ball, a gym and a goal.

Surrounded by her classmates with her basketball career more than half a century behind her, Haynes said it did not seem like it had been 60 years.

"Do I feel like it (has been 60 years)? No, not when I get with you kids," she said.

The number of years since their graduation is only a number, Lattanzi said.

"I still feel young," Lattanzi said.



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