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Big Red family tradition is handed down over 125 years
Embrys among multiple generations to graduate from Gainesville High
0219Generations 1
Cooper Embry and daughter Charters are part of five generations of Gainesville High School graduates from their family. The school celebrates its 125th anniversary with a reception next Sunday at the school.

Gainesville High history

Gainesville High School, 830 Century Place, celebrates its 125th anniversary with reception and tour from 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26. Here are some of the school’s historical highlights:

1892: School at the old Gainesville College Building opens in September at Main Street and College Avenue with a first term enrollment of 330 white students and 120 black students

1894: First graduation held at Hunt Opera House on the Square

1898: New high school built for black students

1903: Main Street at College Avenue school is replaced by new structure that was to become “Main Street School”

1905: GHS loses to Locust Grove Institute in the first recorded game in school history on Nov. 21

1914: The first annual yearbook, called “The Scrapbag,” is published by students

1916: The first football season is played at City Stadium

1922: New GHS built on Washington Street just off the downtown square (the old school was renamed Main Street Elementary School, which was used until 1972 when it was razed to make way for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office in 1982)

1935: An Atlanta sportswriter coins a new nickname for GHS Red & White, calling them “Red Elephants.”

1936: The city of Gainesville is ravaged by a destructive tornado; GHS is severely damaged and GHS football player Ernest Hancock was among the 203 casualties

Compiled by Jeff Pierce

When Isabelle Charters Embry dons her cap and gown to receive her diploma with the rest of the graduating class of 2017 at Gainesville High School in May, she will take her place on a distinguished family tree — the fifth generation to graduate from GHS.

Charters, as she is called, is the daughter of Cooper Embry, who graduated from GHS in 1988. Embry and his wife Elizabeth have two other children — Price, a freshman at GHS, and daughter Margaret, a seventh-grader at Gainesville Middle School.

Embry said the family traces its GHS roots to 1903 when his great-grandfather, Sidney O. Smith Sr., a prominent businessman and civic leader in Gainesville, graduated from the old high school on Main Street.

Embry’s grandmother, Charters Smith Embry, continued the tradition. She graduated in 1932, and Embry’s father, Sterling Charters Embry, graduated in 1965.

Charters said she’s proud to be named after her grandmother, and of the close ties her family has with the school.

“I know that I’m the fifth generation to come through Gainesville High School,” Charters said. “My grandmother Charters taught history and geography here. My dad played football.”

Charters plans to attend the University of Georgia after she graduates from GHS. She plans to major in biology and pursue a career in the medical field, hopefully in her hometown.

“I would like to find work around here and my children do the same,” she said.

The Embry family is not alone in deep-rooted Red Elephant traditions.

Erin Still, co-chair of the committee organizing next week’s commemoration of the high school’s 125th anniversary, said there are quite a few other families that have ties to GHS going back many generations.

“It’s been a delight working on the 125th celebration simply because I’ve gotten to sit and listen to all of the history,” Still said.

Still’s family is working on a bit of school history of their own. At 4 p.m. Monday, she and her immediate family will be on hand for the formal dedication of a 5-ton marble statue of an elephant donated to GHS by Jack Frost, owner of Memorial Park Funeral Home.

The dedication will be held at the City Park Stadium where Gainesville teams play football, soccer and lacrosse.

Still said the dedication is special to her family because Frost is donating the marble statue in memory of her late father, James “Bimbo” Brewer, who handled public relations for Memorial Park Funeral Home.

Following her father’s Jan. 5 death, Still said her co-chairs, Kim Davis and Helen Perry, worked tirelessly to pick up the slack.

“I have got an extraordinary group of folks helping me with this celebration,” Still said. “I have 10 different committee members that are all putting this together. They have worked to the grind since all of this happened with daddy.”

Herself a 1992 graduate of GHS, Still said her father and mother both graduated from the school in 1961. Her son Benjamin, currently a sophomore at GHS, will graduate in 2019. Her other son, Jackson, an eighth-grader, is expected to graduate from GHS in 2021.

Embry said the connection to GHS has been a common thread that has kept the Gainesville community intact through the years.

“That’s why people come back,” Embry said. “They love the tradition that we grew up with, and it’s something that we want to pass down to our children. That’s why we continue to go to school here and live here and try to make the community what it is. That’s the beauty of Gainesville. Yes, we’ve gotten larger, but there’s still a lot of small-town feel to it.”