|Watertown High preps for centennial bash, alumni share memories|
|Wednesday, March 28, 2012|
By KEN BECK
WATERTOWN – As alumni of Watertown High School prepare for their alma mater’s centennial celebration on May 26, Elmer Marler, the oldest known surviving graduate, hasn't yet made his reservation.
“That’s just too far away for me to plan,” said Marler (class of 1933), who turns 97 in early May. But, if he doesn't make the fete in person, he will be there in spirit.Born in 1915 on a farm on Statesville Road between that community and Watertown, Marler learn the “3 Rs” from first through third grade in the one-room Mt. Vernon schoolhouse. But in 1924, he recalls, “The school buses started running,” thus he entered the fourth grade in Watertown and nine years later graduated in the 33-member class of 1933.
“School was very pleasant. There were no problems whatsoever. No dope in that school, nothing like today,” Marler said. “We had some good teachers. We had a principal (W.E. Williams) who was out of this world. He tried to treat everyone just alike.”
It was current Watertown High Principal Jeff Luttrell who conceived of the centennial celebration.
“There is a cornerstone in our building that has the date 1911. I got to looking at that and thinking of the history of the school and the theme of 100 years, and I thought it would be a good idea to involve the community,” said Luttrell, a Kentucky native who taught at WHS for seven years and serves in his fifth year as principal. (His wife, the former Tiffany Allison, is a WHS class of 1985 graduate.)
“Jeff Luttrell realized, ‘Hey, this building was built in 1911. That means the first graduating class was in 1912, so 2012 would be the 100th anniversary,” said Becky Fields Taylor, class of 1962 along with husband William. “He really started thinking about this two years ago.
“We have had a homecoming inviting alumni about every two years, so Jeff requested we wait until this year. Throughout this school year, Jeff has emphasized a hundred years and students have been participating. Their annual is dedicated to the past and present, and on May 26, the homecoming will be a culmination of the whole year. We’re celebrating 100 years of excellence in education,” said Taylor, whose parents and son are WHS alumni and her granddaughter is a current student in the school.
“We are trying to see how many alumni that we can find over 90 years old, so that we can give them special recognition. The hardest thing is trying to contact all the graduates. We have limited lists but have sent letters to about 300 graduates. We’re hoping for 500, but it will probably be more like 300 alumni attending.”
Among those serving with Taylor on the planning committee are Linda Allen, Brenda Griffin Allison, Glen Beard, Paulette Floyd Dorris, Ken Fountain, Keith Harrison, Jean Jennings, Jeff Luttrell, Ben Powell and Charlotte Huddleston Johnson.
Allison is organizing historical displays, while Fountain is in charge of the sports displays. Powell is working on the program of which Taylor said, “We hope to keep it lighthearted and not long and drawn out. We also hope to include the high school and want the band and chorus to be involved.”
As for what made her Watertown High experience unique, Taylor said, “The closeness of the people that you went to school with. You’re in a small-school atmosphere where your teachers and your fellow students are just like a family.”
As for the biggest changes in school between then and now, she opined, “Electronics. When I went to school it was manual typewriters with carbon paper and erasers, and now you have a laptop, and you backspace when you make a mistake. And there is the Internet. Communications today is just unreal. I think we had one electric typewriter and that scared me to death.”
Among those who dug back into the 100-year-past of Watertown High School was Glen Beard, class of 1955 (his wife Joy is a member of the class of 1957, and his mother attended WHS in the early 1930s).
“Last summer I was given a postcard-size photograph of Watertown High School made in 1916. We believe this was the first four-year Watertown High School. Before 1911 it was probably a two-year high school (Watertown Training School). That building burned or was destroyed. We don’t know exactly where it was located, but the original high school was started in 1910 and dedicated on Sept. 6, 1911,” Beard said.
“What was unique about the building is the fact that it was built of brick, which was unusual at that time, and it was built with no taxpayer dollars. It cost about $10,000, which was raised by donations and subscriptions.”
Beard said the original high school was a two-story rectangular structure. Just a few years after it opened, wings were added for more classrooms. The basement held a cafeteria, classrooms and the heating system. An auditorium and two classrooms were on the top floor.
He attended this school during the 1940s when it was used as the elementary school.
“Allie Coe Baker taught all the fifth graders for years,” Beard recalled. “You couldn’t get through Watertown school without Miss Allie Coe Baker.”
While Beard bears precious memories of his school days, he looks forward to a new Watertown High School.
“We were told we’re going to have this fourth high school built across Highway 70 in the very near future. We always thought the old school was a pretty building and especially nice for its time. I hated to see ’em tear it down, but it was a fire trap. The wooden floors were oiled, which would have been extremely hazardous.
“They tell me the current high school facility will be used as a middle school. They’re not going to tear it down. It’s too good a building. I think we’re really gonna be proud of the new school. They say it’s gonna resemble the original 1911 building,” said Beard, one of several thousand who owe their education to dear, 100-year-old Watertown High.