Central’s inaugural class reunites

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The first graduating class of Central High School celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday in Lunenburg County.

The merge of high schools in Kenbridge and Victoria resulted in the Class of 1967 spending its final year of school in a brand new building after they were uprooted from their respective high schools in Lunenburg’s two towns.

Though there was a rivalry between the two schools, namely in sports, when the students came together, new friendships were created, resulting in bonds that have lasted five decades.

“(We’re) proud to be here,” said Linda Newcomb Rivers, who now lives in Norlina, North Carolina. “I was a

majorette,” she added.

“I played the tuba,” reminisced Roger Pendergrass, who lives in South Hill now.

“It went by awfully fast,” Rivers noted of the one year at the new school.

“We were thrown together with the whole (county). It was just so much going on,” Pendergrass added.

“It was so much bigger,” said Rivers, “because when when we were in Victoria, we only had 40-some (students) … It was so much more chaos to us because we had been for four years — eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th (grades) — we’d been at Victoria High School. So we knew where everything was and we knew everybody.”

“Everybody knew everybody,” said Cheryl Barlow Winston, who now lives in Rustburg, regarding their former high school prior to their senior year.

The graduating class numbered in the 90s — a much larger class than the smaller classes in Kenbridge and Victoria before the big move to a central high school.

Pendergrass said he enjoyed the lunches the then new Central High offered. “Yeah, lunch was good; I liked lunch,” added Winston, noting she enjoyed goulash.

The experience was much different for Violet Johnson Harris, the first African-American graduate from the new school. According to Harris, Freedom of Choice had been instituted in Lunenburg County in 1967 — the precursor to full integration between the black and white schools — which resulted in her leaving the all-black Lunenburg High School.

“That’s my nephew,” she said, pointing to a sports photo on display among the vintage photos, athletic uniforms, yearbooks, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia set up around the school’s cafeteria.

“This is my first reunion,” said Harris, who now lives in Washington, D.C. “It’s good, it’s good to come back. I was wondering yesterday how it was going to be because they had like a meet and greet type thing … but it was actually nice,” Harris said.

She said it was nice to see people who “weren’t necessarily that friendly to me. I had doors closed in my face; (I was) called names, but yesterday, (it) really made a difference, you know, they welcomed me yesterday.”

“My father said, ‘You’re going to Central (High School.)’ I said, ‘It’s my senior year.’ He said, ‘Yes, you’re going to Central, get an education. You have a choice and that’s it.’”

“I wasn’t happy,” she said of her father’s decision to uproot her from Lunenburg High School before her final year in school, leaving her friends and classmates.

“Years later, I had to go back to him and thank him for sending me to Central … It was good. It made a whole difference on my outlook in life. It changed my course of life and what I did with my life. So, I’m thankful … It made a whole world of difference in my life.”

Al Vaughan was president of the Class of 1967.

“It’s great. It’s really great. Jonathan Clarke that put this together is just amazing,” Vaughan said of the displays of memorabilia, which he said allowed the memories “to start flowing.”

“We graduated on this day, June 10. And that’s why we chose this date,” said Margaret “Woody” Wright, who played a large role in organizing the reunion.

“It’s really making my heart flutter,” she said, “because we’re going to do a tour of the school and meet the principal, but look at this,” Wright said of the display. “I look at our class. We set the example, and look what’s come afterwards. It’s just been absolutely breathtaking and amazing.”

“When we graduated, we didn’t know what we were going to, but we’ll always know where we came from,” Wright said.

“The accomplishments, the memories and the friendships of this class have been woven into the fabric of everything that’s Lunenburg County,” Principal John Long told the members of the Class of 1967. “I want to thank y’all for being the first group of Chargers and really for setting the tone for all that has come after your class.”

After reminiscing over the memorabilia, the group went to the home of Chippie Chappell to celebrate.

Classmates pose for a photo. Pictured are, from left, seated, Ed Daniel, staff members Tom Palmore, Hazel Fisher, Shirley Haag, Frank Warren, John Griffith, Barry Carnes, second row, Pat Crymes Wright, Cheryl Barlow Winston, Peggy Glasscock Benton, Violet Johnson, Linda Newcomb Rivers, Judy Bailey Smith, Gene Hart, Nancy Hardy Vogt, Margaret Wright Hornbeck, Chuck Johnson, Carolyn Lewis Vaughan, Dwight Hardy, Wilbur G. Smith, back row, Eddie Dupriest, Al Vaughan, Jane Morris Vaughan, David Arthur, Roger Pendergrass, Dickie Jeter, David Hawks, Jack Dickerson, Gregory Hardy, Franklin Barlett, Louie Love, Rennie Tisdale, Burnice Dooley and Nancy Snead Chappell.

Violet Johnson Harris, the first African-American graduate of Central High School, stands with Al Vaughan.