Roanoke High Centennial: School closed in 1966, but memories live on for former students

Former alumni of Roanoke High School gathered Saturday to reflect on the school’s history and time spent there as they marked the former school’s centennial.

“This is a once in a lifetime event, getting to celebrate the 100th anniversary of your school,” said Margie Moore Benoit, Class of 1965. “It’s been good catching up.”

The legacy of the school has never died despite being closed in May 1966 and its students bused to schools in nearby Welsh. The school was reopened the following year as Welsh-Roanoke Junior High School which remains open today.

“Its nostalgic,” said Judy McMillin Tracy, Class of 1957, as she stood in the school’s old home economics classroom with her husband Dale Tracy, also Class of 1957. “Not much has changed except a few of the rooms have been moved around and the trees out front have grown a bit.”

For Linda Lavergne Moore, Class of 1966, the school was a good, safe place growing up.

“We had school and church, that was it,” she said. “That was our social life and that’s why this place is still important to us.”

Moore, who served as the town’s postmaster for several years, said it was fun getting to see former classmates and friends.

“I just hope everyone takes home some good memories because we’re all getting older now and there won’t be any more reunions,” she said.

The alumni have held reunions in the past, but they have been held at other places, according to Glenn Miller, Class of 1965. This is the first year the group has met at the old school, he said.

The oldest person to attend the reunion was 99-year-old Doris Carter Burrow, Class of 1941. She was part of the school’s state championship basketball team.

“I’m just glad I made it here,” she said. “We drove by one day and stopped out front. I had tears in my eyes. It was the first time I had been here in a long time.”

It was a step back in time as Mildred Young Sonnier, Class of 1950, walked through the halls of her old school. It was Sonnier’s first time returning to the school since she graduated.

Among her memories, Sonnier recalls students playing in the school’s basement when it was raining or too cold to go outside for recess. She also remembers how each classroom had two classes and the “big” stairs leading up to the auditorium on the second floor.

Porky Moore, Class of 1955, recalled growing up behind the school and what the school meant to him and his family.

“This place was more heartwarming than any other area or school I have been in,” Moore said. “Everybody knew everybody and you didn’t do anything without your parents knowing it.”

Retired priest Charles McMillin, Class of 1964, said the school’s library was his favorite place.

“I remember me and Ms. Josie Maxwell, who was our librarian for many years,” he said. “We got along really well. I still love to read and it helped me as a Catholic priest.”

McMillin said it was amazing to see all the people and reminisce about the past.

“It is great to celebrate the reunion with so many who have been beneficial to society because they got their start right here,” he said.

The school has not changed much for Terry Hargrave, who still holds a special place in his heart for his old school.

“I have a lot of memories growing up here in this little town of Roanoke and all the friends I had,” Hargrave said “All the neighborhood kids used to play football and basketball together. We spent a lot of time outside without any computers.”

Shirley Lewis Barras, Class of 1959, remembers playing basketball for the “Wildcats.”

“I loved everything about it,” she said. “We’d play here and travel and we used to practice with the boys.”

Betty Ann Clement, Class of 1947, attended the school through the 11th grade.

“We were the last class to graduate after 11 years,” Clement said. “They added the 12th grade the year after we graduated, but I think we got just as good of an education.”

The celebration included displays of old photographs, newspaper clippings, yearbooks, school jackets and other memorabilia.

Roanoke Junior High School Assistant Principal Chris Humble also presented a powerpoint presentation featuring old photos of the school, students and staff. It also included videos of the campus today.

“I’ve been here 23 years and I’m still learning about the old school,” Humble said. “It has a lot of history and the people of this community continue to be passionate about their school.”

In researching the school and gathering old photographs from the presentation, Humble said the school has not changed much over the years. It has been repaired several times and portions of the original brick exterior, including the gym, are still standing.

“The front of the school has not changed except for a coat of paint and an awning,” he said, noting that the front of the building still says Roanoke High School although it is now hidden by the awning.

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