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How Gainesville High School is ‘building on a legacy’
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Susie Mayes O’Dell, the oldest living Gainesville High School alumni at 104, helps unveil the school’s legacy wall mural on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. - photo by Kelsey Podo

Susie Mayes O’Dell graduated from Gainesville High School in 1933. On Friday, the 104-year-old gazed up at a newly unveiled Gainesville High School mural detailing 125 years of the school’s history. 

“It’s beautiful,” O’Dell said. “It’s bringing back a lot of memories. I had a lot of good times here.”

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Sammy Smith, longtime Gainesville City Schools Board of Education member, reminisces with 104-year-old Susie Mayes O’Dell, who graduated from Gainesville High School in 1933. - photo by Kelsey Podo

The Legacy Wall Mural was unveiled Oct. 11. The high school’s logo and the words “Building on a Legacy,” sit in the center of the mural, surrounded by old and new photographs.

Jamie Green, the high school’s principal, came up with the idea to make the wall. His goal was to challenge students to think about what it means to build on a legacy. 

“I enjoyed being on the periphery of this and hearing the stories,” Green said. “They would find a picture from some dusty old yearbook and I would hear 10 stories of the person and find 10 students here who that sounded like. And, that was just great.”

The team working on the wall included Sammy Smith, a member of the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education; Sarah Claussen, fine arts chair; Lynn Jones, community and communications coordinator; Susan Wooten, media specialist; and a group of Gainesville High School students. 

Claussen said collecting the photos proved fun and tedious. Her photography students looked through yearbooks ranging from 1914-2019. 

Some of the prominent Gainesville High School figures on the wall include Mike duCille, who won a Pulitzer Prize; Robert Park, Gainesville City Schools’ first superintendent; and poultry pioneer Jesse Jewell, who graduated in 1918.

“We got to see quite a bit of history and interesting things throughout the decades,” Claussen said. “After that, we worked closely with Gainesville Signs to do the layout … It was neat to see it go from a tiny format to a large-scale production.”

Smith, who is known by many as a local historian, was tasked with sorting out the history of the wall. 

He attempted to balance a photographic history among academics, the arts, activities and athletics. 

To no one's surprise, sports photos encompassed a majority of the pictures found. They also account for most of the images on the mural.

Before drawing back the black tarp, revealing the wall, Smith took a moment to reflect on the legacy of Gainesville High School.

With emotion in his voice, he reminded everyone of last May’s graduation. 

“Our valedictorian spoke and said he came from Ghana with his mother and daddy and one suitcase,” Smith said. “That’s who we are. This week in the fabulous “Footloose,” performed here in our theater, two members of the cast are fifth generation Red Elephants. That’s who we are.”

Gesturing to the legacy wall, he looked at the crowd and said, “So, we’re going to see who we are.”

The tarp dropped, revealing the faces of the past and today — Gainesville High School’s legacy.

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