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Gainesville High School marks 125th anniversary with celebration
Edgar Montenegro, 17, plays drums during a performance by the Gainesville High School band during Gainesville High School’s 125th anniversary celebration on Sunday. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

The past meshed seamlessly with the present and pointed to the future during the 125th anniversary celebration at Gainesville High School on Sunday.

Scores of graduates from yesteryear toured the campus, paraded past historical displays and gazed at memorabilia marked by eras — 1892-1949 at the main building’s atrium; 1950s, 1960s and 1970s at the Alumni Gym; and the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s at the cafeteria.

Judi Mauldin Saylors, who lives in Abbeville, S.C. drove 2 1/2 hours to join her friends from the class of 1957 at the event.

“There’s not another place I’d rather be  today than here,” Saylors said. “We had lunch together and got to meet with teachers. We all think we belonged to a special class, but we did.”

It was a special moment for Saylors’ brother, Stan Mauldin, who joined other members from the class of 1964 to dedicate two benches not far from the school’s main entrance.

Mauldin credits his experience at Gainesville High for getting into teaching and coaching.

“Bobby Gruhn was my coach when I played football,” Mauldin said. “He inspired me and so many of us.”

There were many photos of Gruhn on display. He coached Gainesville High to 23 consecutive winning football seasons, 16 regional championships and four trips to the state finals in his tenure from 1963-1992.

Visitors also had the opportunity to tour the Pam Ware Performing Arts Center and catch a sneak preview of the theater production “Fame.” The cast was rehearsing for the first time with an orchestra.

Ware lobbied in 1974 to add theater as a class. Since then, her students have brought eight state championships to Gainesville High. Perched in the control room with students handling sound and lighting Sunday, Ware showed no signs of slowing down.

“We do it because we’re passionate about the arts,” Ware said. “I teach professionalism, work ethic, communication, love of the arts.”

Bobby Lawson, a 1960 graduate, said he enjoyed the opportunity to renew friendships.

“There’s been so many former students, and what a great crowd here today,” said Lawson, a former Georgia state representative.

Lawson’s wife, Emily “Sissy” Lawson, the city’s former mayor, called the large turnout a demonstration of how Gainesville stands together.

“So many people turned out because they want to see their old friends and make new friends,” said Sissy Lawson, a 1964 Gainesville High graduate.

Watching with pride as the Gainesville High marching band performed on campus were Gustavo Montenegro and his wife, Zayda. The pair took video of their son, Edgar, playing percussion. They too felt part of the “Big Red Elephant” tradition.

“We’ve lived here 21 years,” Montenegro said. “We have four children and they’ve all attended this school system.”

Only in his second year as principal at Gainesville High, Tom Smith said even the weather cooperated in making it a festive day.

“I’ve had a chance to appreciate the history of this school during my two years here,” he said.

Erin Still, who co-chaired the committee that organized the event, said she was blown away by the turnout.

“It’s beyond any expectation that I had,” Still said. “I never imagined anything this big.”

Helen Law Perry and Kim Caston Davis, who worked closely with Still on putting the event together, were equally ecstatic with the outcome.

“We started planning in November and we just knew we had to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the great Gainesville tradition,” Perry said.

Davis compared it to a huge family reunion. Her father and her husband graduated from the school too.

“The reason we have the traditions here is part of why this is happening,” Davis said. “There are certain things that make us who we are. I hope this tells the younger kids this is important. We’ve made careful notes so they can take this tradition and keep it going.”