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Gainesville High alumni replace missing elephant art
Gainesville High students enter the school cafeteria Wednesday afternoon past a new class of 1963 elephant art piece on the building’s side

Counte Cooley was tired of driving by Gainesville High School and not seeing his elephant.

Cooley is part of the 1963 class from the high school, which donated a metal elephant to the school after graduation. In the 1970s, the elephant was stolen, and it’s been missing since.

“It was sad,” Cooley said. “Each time I would drive by the school over the many years, I kept looking up there and our letters were there, but the elephant was gone.”

The original metal elephant was mounted on the exterior wall of the school with letters reading “Red Elephants Class of 1963.” After the elephant was stolen, only the letters remained.

Nita Baker, member of the ’63 class, said class members made efforts to recover the original elephant.

“When we had our 50th reunion last year, the Times ran several articles for us, asking everybody if they had it. We’d heard that it was in someone’s basement, so we asked if they would please return it, no questions asked.”

Cooley said they even got a letter of immunity from the city, ensuring that whoever returned the elephant would be immune from any prosecution.

“But we never got (the elephant) back,” Baker said.

Instead, the class decided to collect money at its 50th reunion last year to fund a new one. The class passed around a hat and raised approximately $1,500.

Cooley said he went to Board of Education member Sammy Smith about the idea.

“I said, ‘Sammy, this is a crazy idea, but we’ve had this lost for 30 years now and we want to put this elephant back up there where it rightfully belongs,’” he said.

The new sculpture is of three elephants: a mother elephant and two elephant calves. Baker said the three elephants together represent the high school, middle school and elementary schools.

“(The elephant) got pregnant while it was gone and brought a bunch of little ones back,” Cooley said.

Cooley said he got a “good deal” from LaserCraft Technologies in Gainesville to create the elephants out of aluminum, then had them sealed at Georgia Powder Coating, where his son works.

The elephants are in place at the school now, mounted on the exterior wall near the cafeteria and visible from the road. The original letters were rescued by Dr. Bill Morrison, class of ’63, when the original building was demolished, and they are mounted with the new elephants.

“When they tore down the old building to build the new high school, the elephant had been on the end of one of the buildings facing the parking lot,” Baker said. “After it was stolen, the letters were still there, so Bill kept them all these many years in his basement.”

In the new year, the high school will host an official unveiling of the elephants, with a pizza party for students. Cooley said he and Principal LaCrisia Larkin believe the elephants are a good way to connect current students to the alumni.

“We want these students to know a legacy from the 1963 class,” Cooley said. “That’s what we left it there for anyhow. ... And they are carrying on the legacy we started.”

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