For the past 12 years, Gainesville High School has bestowed honorary diplomas on nonstudent citizens who exemplify the “Red Elephant Spirit,” and 2020 will be no different.
During Gainesville commencement, currently planned for July 24 at City Park Stadium, Ruth Bruner, Robert Ivey and Gene Marlow will each receive honorary degrees in recognition of their high character and commitment to the betterment of Gainesville students and their families.
Bruner came to Gainesville in 1974 when her husband opened a dental practice. She had a 1-year-old son at the time, and Bruner was involved with the Gainesville City School System throughout his and her other child’s elementary, middle and high school years.
She served as band booster president at the high school, as well as president of a parents group supporting the Gainesville High School theater department before being appointed to the GCSS school board in 1991. Getting involved in the Gainesville community was never a difficult choice for Bruner.
“It’s just a great place,” she said. “I think I just always wanted to be involved.”
Bruner had a heavy influence on Gainesville High School during her time on the school board, as she helped select the architects who designed Gainesville’s current campus.
Bruner spent 16 years on the Gainesville City Council following her time on the board of education, even serving as mayor of Gainesville from 2010 to 2011.
She said she’s always felt an attachment to Gainesville High School, and is excited to receive her honorary diploma.
“It’s a real honor,” she said. “It’s like being really made a part of being a Red Elephant and part of Gainesville High School.”
When Robert Ivey first took a job as an assistant professor of music education at Brenau 10 years ago, he brought along a goal that extended beyond his duties with the university.
“I wanted to be a music ed professor that would encourage and support the music educators in the area, and to me that was important,” he said. “It wasn’t just for me to sit and teach the students that came to Brenau. But it was an opportunity for me to make myself available to the music educators in Gainesville and encourage and support what they do.”
Ivey has made his mark through the fifth grade honors chorus, an annual event he has put on at Brenau in each of the last 10 years. The yearly performance brings together fifth-grade chorus students from every GCSS elementary school to put on a concert at Brenau.
“I wanted to engage children and students of all ages to enjoy, learn, to make music, create music, even become musicians if that’s their goal,” Ivey said. “And so that was a way for me to plug in with the schools, is to try to hook those fifth graders into singing, so that if the experience was enjoyable enough, they might realize ‘Hey, I like this. This is something I think I would like to do.’”
Ivey also said he hopes the fifth grade honors chorus will help to improve Gainesville High School’s choral program, inspiring younger kids to stick with chorus through their high school years.
Being named an honorary graduate assured Ivey that his influence on local music and its role in the lives of Gainesville students has been felt.
“I feel very honored to be selected,” he said. “That means that I’m making an impact in the community for the school system to want to recognize my work with the music teachers and the students in their school system.
Gene Marlow only expected to coach baseball for a year or two while his son played in a Gainesville Parks & Recreation-run league for 11- and 12-year-olds.
Marlow decided to stop coaching when his son moved up to the 13- and 14-year-old league, but joined on as a parent assistant when the new coach asked for some help. Right before the start of the season, the coach told Marlow he was going into the National Guard for a short period of time and left Marlow in charge of the team.
Over 50 years later, Marlow is still coaching baseball for Gainesville Parks & Recreation.
“He said ‘I’ll just leave the equipment with you. You can take the team and do it until I get back,’” Marlow said. “Well it’s been 50-something years, and I still haven’t seen him. I don’t know if he’s gotten back or not, but I always tell people if he does come back, I don’t think I’m going to let him have my equipment bag back. It’s mine now.”
Marlow has spent the last 58 years as a volunteer baseball and basketball coach for Gainesville Parks & Recreation and the Boys and Girls club, where he’s been a board member for 50 years. He’s given countless kids in the Gainesville community their first taste of organized sports, including former MLB players Jody Davis and Cris Carpenter, who started their careers under the tutelage of Marlow.
Marlow said he sees coaching as his ultimate calling, the purpose that has driven him his entire life.
“I think that you, I, everybody has been placed on this earth for a specific purpose,” he said. “I think that, in looking back on it, working with the kids has been my calling. It’s something that I felt like I needed to do.”
Marlow said people have been asking him for years when he will decide to stop coaching, but he says he’ll know when the time is right. For as long as he feels he can help out, Marlow intends to continue coaching and making his impact on the Gainesville community.
“It’s certainly an honor to be able to say that I’m an honorary graduate of Gainesville High School,” he said. “It means a lot to me.”