ASHEBORO — The Asheboro High School Class of 1947 held its 70th reunion on Saturday.
Juanita Jackson Kesler said this week that no one has a definitive list of how many of the 116 class members are still living. She thinks it’s fewer than 40. About 15 were expected for the gathering.
“Some are out of state,” she said. “Some are in nursing homes. Some we couldn’t locate.”
Those making the longest trips back to Asheboro for the reunion live in Concord and Charlotte. Kesler said that doesn’t sound like a long way, but most of the members of the Class of 1947 are in their late 80s. Some classmates were a few years older, including those who left school to do military service and then came back to earn their diplomas.
The 1947 school annual — the Ash-Hi-Life — includes a photograph of young men returning from service: There are 18 in the picture. Among them are Merton Branson and Max Morgan, who later left marks in education in their hometown.
A different world
Kesler, who will be 88 next month, wrote an essay about the Class of 1947 for “The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina (Vol. 1)”, published in 1993.
She recalled that World War II was raging in the fall of 1943 when she and her classmates arrived at Asheboro High School, which stood at the intersection of South Fayetteville and Academy Streets, where The Carolina Bank is today.
Club meetings were held after school, not at night, due to gas rationing. Students collected stamps to fill bond books — a filled book equaled a war bond. They collected aluminum scraps and tires for recycling for the war effort.
When they went to movies at the Sunset, Capitol or Carolina theaters, the presentation included “War News” and then a short about Red Cross needs. When the lights came on, they passed around cigar boxes to take up a collection for the cause.
But all was not doom and gloom.
“We did not have to stay in school the whole time,” Kesler said. “During study hall, we were allowed to go uptown as long as we were back in time for our next class.”
Going uptown — during study hall, at lunch or after school — meant hanging out at one of the drug store soda fountains; there were several. Kesler recalls times when her father, Dan Jackson, saw her downtown, raised the window to his office and called down to her: “Hey, hon, let’s go get a Coke.” Jackson was the manager of the Durham Life Insurance Co. His second-story office was over what is now The Flying Pig restaurant.
When the traveling Barter Theatre Repertory of Virginia visited the school, students received extra credit if they attended the performance of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” They also received an early look at some future stars: The cast included Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and Ernest Borgnine.
There were no athletic fields on campus. Baseball and football games were played at Lindley Park in what is now referred to as the Greystone neighborhood.
“There were no bleachers and no lights,” Kesler wrote in the Heritage book essay, “and the games were played in the afternoons until Oct. 4, 1946, when the first night game of football was played ‘under the lights’ on Lindley Field. Admission was 75 cents, children 35 cents. The Courier-Tribune proclaimed there was the largest turnout ever, ‘conservatively’ estimated at 2,000.”
Apart from the movies, radio provided the primary entertainment. Saturday night ment “Your Hit Parade” was on the air, with the big band sounds of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo and singing stars that included Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Perry Como and Bing Crosby; a skinny newcomer who always wore a bow tie was a crooner named Frank Sinatra.
The foreword of the Ash-Hi-Life of 1947 notes that “we are presenting, for the first time in five years, the story of a school year unmarred by thoughts of a world at war …” The annual is dedicated to C.W. McCrary: “He has been instrumental in keeping our school property in good repair, and as chairman of the school board he has manifested a genuine interest in all school activities, scholastic and athletic.”
The Class of 1947 was the first required to complete 12 grades, not 11, to earn a diploma. Guy B. Teachey was the principal.
Who’s Who Among the Seniors — the senior superlatives — included:
* Mr. and Miss AHS: Merton Branson and Neal Garner.
* Most Likely to Succeed: Mary Ella Hall and John Randolph Ingram.
* Biggest Flirts: Peggy Morgan and Ervin Frye.
* Most Studious: Mary Elizabeth Hamilton and Mexton Elliott.
* Wittiest: J.C. Hammer and Betty Jean Causey.
* Best Dressed: Evelyn Blalock and Lewis Campbell.
* Class Babies: Julia Ross Lambert and Billy Bullard.
* Laziest: Mack Patterson and Ruby Moffitt.
* Most Athletic: Melva Burrows Cox and Ferree Burkhead.
* Most Dependable: Buddy Willis and Louise Poole.
* Best Looking: Harold McRae and Gilda Burrow.
* Most Talkative: Johnny Myers and Mary Jane Ross.
* Most Conceited: Bill Lloyd and Mary Edythe Maness.
* Class Pest: Janey Smith.
Class of 1947 member M.H. “Mert” Branson was president of the senior class. He was also the first president of Randolph Community College. He served as associate director from 1962-1964 and president from 1964 until his retirement in 1988, helping to guide the institution’s growth from Randolph Industrial Education Center (1958-1965) to Randolph Technical Institute (1965-1979) to Randolph Technical College (1979-1988) and finally to Randolph Community College (in 1988). Branson died in 1992.
Max Morgan was an All-State football player at AHS. After college, he taught and coached at Randleman High School. In 1960, he began teaching at his alma mater and served in numerous coaching positions, including head football coach from 1967 until 1974, when he became the athletic director. He retired in 1988 and died in 2003.
In addition to being tapped as “Most Likely to Succeed,” John Ingram, who died in 2013, was president of the Beta Club and the Boys Monogram Club. He played football, basketball and baseball and was captain of the football team as a junior, co-captain as a senior. He was the countywide winner of the American Legion Oratorical Contest as a sophomore, and winner of the Declamation Contest as a junior. He practiced law in Randolph County for more than 50 years and was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives, serving in the 1971 session, where he introduced House Bill 1414 to establish the state zoo in Randolph County. He was elected as the state insurance commissioner in 1972. In 1978, he ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic challenger to take the seat of Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.
Class member Arthur Ferree Burkhead died in July 1, 2015. His classmates called him Ferree; in later years, he was known as Archie. His classmates voted him “Most Athletic”; he played football, basketball and baseball all four years and was captain of the basketball team as a junior. After high school, he ran a little store on Church Street in downtown Asheboro. It was called The Bargain Warehouse. He sold used furniture his father took in as trade on new furniture at his store on Fayetteville Street. He established The Record Shop after finding that some 45s — which a downstairs tenant who serviced juke boxes had left behind — sold like hotcakes. He ran the store for more than 50 years.
Then, not now
Kesler summed up the formative years she and her classmates experienced.
“Believe it or not, but we were born before TV, penicillin, polio vaccines, plastic, frozen food, microwaves; before radar, credit cards, laser disks, split atoms, ballpoint pens, drip dry clothes and pantyhose; automatic dishwashers, clothes dryers, computers and men on the moon.”
“Made in Japan,” she wrote, meant junk. Cigarette smoking was fashionable. Pot was something mom cooked in.
“We never heard of FM radios, tape decks, portable phones, plastic surgery or artificial hearts; yogurt, pizzas, instant coffee, electric typewriters, word processors or McDonald’s! Guys did not wear earrings or ponytails! We were born before sex changes, and time sharing meant ‘togetherness’ not condominiums. We got married first and then lived together. We were so naive as to think you had to have a husband to have a baby! My! My! How quaint we were!”