It was an afternoon 60 years in the making. Broadway Diner played host with the Fayette County High Class of 1959’s 60th graduation reunion on the marquee, and old classmates, teachers, friends, and family the stars of the show.
Days before the Class of 2019 walked the stage to celebrate commencement, the Class of 1959 celebrated their own graduation. There were just 41 students in the graduating class, and many filled the restaurant, turning it into a time machine traveling back to the Fayetteville of a bygone era.
The whole school felt like a family back then.
“It was a great school to go to. We loved it. We had great teachers,” said Harriet Hazelton. “It was more like family because we had been classmates since grade school.”
The school isn’t nearly as close-knit now as it was for the Class of 1959.
“Nowadays you don’t know anybody. For our children, when they graduated, the classes were so large our oldest son ended up marrying a girl from his senior class at Fayette County High, and they never knew each other until they went to college,” said Harriet. “We knew everybody in the whole high school. Not just the high school either, we knew the elementary kids.”
The event that most shaped their high school careers happened when they were still in the 7th grade attending school on Glynn Street when the high school burned down. It’s still vividly imprinted in their memories.
“We were at Glynn Street school, and we could look out the classroom windows on the west side of the building and see the flames and the books and paper flying up in the air where the school was burning,” remembered Ken Hazelton. “It made you wonder what your faith was because then high school was 8th through the 12th grade, so here we are getting ready to graduate from the 7th grade looking forward to the 8th grade. It made our class unique because we were the only class that was ever bussed to another facility.”
It made for some challenges, but they made the most of it. First period was spent in Fayetteville, where students were either in band or study hall, then bussed to Woolsey where there were two vacant class rooms.
“In essence, we had 30 minutes in transportation and 30 minutes back, so we lost one complete class period,” said Ken.
He chuckled thinking back to winter time. Four students who lived in Woolsey and didn’t come for first period were tasked with building the fires in the pot-bellied stoves in the classrooms.
“They weren’t dummies. By the time we got down there, they would open those dampers up on them stoves,” he said. “Those things would be cherry-red by the time we got there, and the classroom would be so hot you’d have to open the windows and turn the damper down before you could have class.”
School days were a little blurrier for some. Asked what his favorite high school memory was, Richard Stubbs didn’t have an answer.
“I can’t remember high school,” he said laughing.
Maybe it was from too much goofing off. A classmate reminded him of the time he was acting up and slammed his books down on his desk, and one of them flew out the window.
“I must’ve been a class clown,” Stubbs wondered.
Fred Austin let him have it.
“You were more than that, man,” Austin joked. “You should’ve been locked up
Stubbs confirmed his cut-up bonafides as he popped into conversations around the room, “She was the prettiest one” or “she was real prudish” he added.
Austin couldn’t recall a specific favorite school memory either. It wasn’t the school books that captivated him.
“I was more interested in cars and girls and cars,” he said. “That’s all that was in my head.”
There weren’t too many options for entertainment around town then, Mary-Alice Odom (then Mary-Alice Massengale) recalled.
“There wasn’t a lot to do for fun. We didn’t have a McDonald’s,” she said, remembering Willy Eason’s cafe, Miss Porter’s restaurant, and Melear’s Barbecue as popular spots to grab a bite. “We just didn’t have a lot to do.”
Love blossomed for some. For the Hazeltons, it didn’t bloom at Fayette, but it’s still strong. They were in the band together at the school, but it wasn’t until later that they dated.
“We never took each other seriously until we both graduated from high school, and then we fell in love and got married,” said Ken.
They’ve been married 56 years, with four children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.
“He went off to college, and I did too. He came home one weekend and he called and said, ‘Let’s go to the movies,’” recalled Harriet. “We did, and we’ve been married for soon to be 57 years.”
On such a momentous occasion as the reunion, there was one particularly ballyhooed guest. Marc Bramblett is the only surviving teacher who taught the Class of 1959 at FCHS. He taught World and American History, Government, and Sociology, and he was also the pastor at Lisbon Baptist Church just outside of town.
He has plenty of fond memories, but he cherished bonding with his students most of all. He said interacting with the students at lunch time and recess and playing touch football was his favorite memory. As to the rumors that touch football was often a bit rougher and more physical, he chuckled in confirmation.
At the reunion, he was presented with a certificate declaring him the first and only inductee into the Fayette County High School Lunch Time Football Association Hall of Fame. It reads in part: “His career was abruptly ended when targeted by two burly defensive tackles who simultaneously hit Bramblett from both sides. Knocked out and laying on the ground, the head official, J.C. Booth, declared the end of lunch time football and terminated the program. Bramblett recovered and shortly thereafter changed his career from teaching to preaching. As the sole and only inductee into the Lunch Time Football Hall of Fame, his legend will live forever.”
The school was like a big family, he agreed, and sometimes family plays tough.
“It was a different time. I did things in the class for which I could be jailed or sued at least,” he quipped.
For as much as Bramblett means to his students, they meant the world to him. The reunion class was the last he taught before studying at seminary, but the Class of 1960 asked him to come back to the school to deliver a sermon just a year later. Thomas Farr, son of Floy Farr, presented him with a his own yearbook for the class.
“He said, ‘Mr. Bramblett, why don’t you open?’ I opened it, and there was a two-page dedication to me,” he said, still touched all these years later to find what an impact he’d left at the school.
The bond runs deeper than reading, writing, and arithmetic. For some, it’s the very reason there are able to still be here today.
Geneva McCurry-Neff was a star student, who is forever linked to Bramblett.
“I was not only her teacher, I was pastor, so she got a double dose,” joked Bramblett.
Geneva still has the Bible she carried with her to church filled with notations from Bramblett’s sermons. She holds it dearly in her heart, just like the man himself.
“He saved my life,” Geneva said matter-of-factly.
At the time, the whole school was like one family, and Bramblett’s time as pastor offered him a deeper perspective on his students.
“I had gotten to the point where I really seriously planned to commit suicide, and Mark picked up on that in class,” she said. “He insisted that I stay after school, and he drove me home. In talking to me, he realized what was happening, and he convinced me that life is really worth living.”
She didn’t just survive, she thrived. Geneva pushed herself, and it paid off. She was the valedictorian for the Class of 1959, a fact she beams with pride over.
“The neat thing was, I took chemistry and physics and geometry and trig, and the girl that was salutatorian took typing and short hand and office practice,” she remembered. “And we were less than half a point apart. I mean it was close.”
Perhaps inspired by her beloved teacher, she went into education and taught for 30 years, most of them in Fayette.
After graduation, many stayed in Fayette, or they left and felt called back home.
“I was born in Fayette County. I was born in the same house my daddy was born in in Kenwood. The house is still there,” said Austin. “This is my county. I’ve seen so many changes you would not believe. I remember when 85 highway was being paved. I road my bicycle on it from Kenwood to Fayetteville when it was dirt.”
Many always called Fayette home, and it’s helped the bonds among classmates grow stronger still.
“We have grown closer over the years since we’ve been out, and we’re very blessed that so many of our classmates are local,” said Odom, who noted that one classmate lives out of state and one lives in Athens, Ga., but everyone else is close by. “The rest of them are right here local, and we’re so grateful for that.”
Odom is optimistic that younger generations will also fall in love with it.
“Fayetteville is a wonderful city. It was great when we were growing up,” she said. “It will never be like it was then, but every time I meet a new person I’m thrilled because I love people and I think they’re an asset for our community.”
The day was decades in the making, and it flashed by in what seemed like seconds. Their steps are a little slower and their hair may be a little grayer, but, like the name of the 1959 school yearbook, they all share Golden Memories.