Reunion Recalls Closing of Aberdeen High School
The building is no longer there, but fond memories live on for those who graduated from the old Aberdeen High School.
Those memories will come flooding back this weekend, like water behind the Aberdeen Lake dam after a heavy downpour, when anyone who graduated from -- or even attended -- Aberdeen High School will have an opportunity to attend a special reunion.
This will be the second all-school reunion, but the gathering this time will have extra meaning for most: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the closing of the high school, which sat near the corner of U.S. 1 and Elm Street on the campus of what is now Aberdeen Elementary School. The two-story brick building with imposing white columns was deemed unsafe by the state and torn down the following year.
The class of 1969 was the last to graduate from the school. That next fall, Pinecrest High School opened, consolidating the high schools in Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Pinehurst and West End. That year also marked desegregation of the schools, bringing in students from the black high schools as well.
"I love hearing all of the stories people remember," said Johnny Burns, class of 1965 and a member of the reunion committee. "The first one was wonderful. This one will be, too."
Burns, Harriett and John Sloan, and Jim Whitlock -- all members of a committee that has been planning the reunion for more than a year, recently gathered for lunch at the Aberdeen Cafe.
The first all-school reunion in 2002 attracted more than 800 former students. Nearly 600 people attended the dinner that year. For this year's reunion, nearly 450 people have registered. Former teachers are also invited back.
The oldest living graduate is from the class of 1929.
Several generations of families, such as the Troutmans, have graduated from the school. Their children and even grandchildren graduated from the shool. Many of them will be at the reunion, Burns said.
Burns said the reunion is open to anyone who attended the school, which goes up to the class of 1972 at Pinecrest. Those students were freshman at Aberdeen High during its final year.
Classmates will gather at 5 p.m. Friday at the brand-new Recreation Station at Aberdeen Lake for food and drink, dancing and sharing memories. The weekend continues at 6 p.m. Saturday with a gala at the Southern Pines Elks Club in Southern Pines. Dinner will be served, with music and dancing to follow.
On Sunday, flowers will be placed in Aberdeen area churches to honor teachers and classmates who have died over the years. The reunion also happens to coincide with the annual Malcolm Blue Festival and Homecoming at Old Bethesda Church.
"This is a big weekend for Aberdeen," Burns said. "This is something we have been looking foward to for some time."
Trip Back in Time
Throughout the weekend, the Aberdeen High Museum in the historic train depot will be open. Harriet Sloan, class of 1957, and her husband John,class of 1950, are the curators. It offers visitors a trip back in time.
Harriet Sloan said Mayor Betsy Mofield, herself an alumna of the school, allowed them to have some space in the depot for the museum, which features an extensive collection of pictures and other memorabilia chronicling the school's history, going back to 1908.
"People just started bringing stuff," Sloan said. "It is just amazing what people contributed."
There are numerous old trophies and pictures of athletic teams, old uniforms, school annuals, photo albums and more.
The Sloans, who moved back to Aberdeen in 1997, contributed a basketball uniform from 1919 that John found while cleaning out some old trunks. He also found his aunt's 1921 high school diploma and a journal she had written during her senior year. Both are on display.
There is a room dedicated strictly to athletics. Burns' letterman jacket hangs there. He proudly points out a football that his brother, Robert, contributed from 1963 when Aberdeen beat its big rival, the Southern Pines Blue Knights, 58-7.
Football was big then, Burns recalled.
"Everyone in town would come to the games," he said. "The games were always packed. The football team was 23-1 my junior and senior years."
The school started its six-man football team in 1948 and won the state championship in 1956, according to records in the museum. It later fielded a full-size team. A number of state and county championship trophies fill the room.
There is a picture of the larger-than-life running Red Devil -- the school's mascot -- that used to adorn a wall in the gym.
Burns said the girls' basketball team excelled under Bob Lee, who came in 1946 as a teacher and coach. He was well-known for his coaching prowess. He later became the principal in 1950, and went onto to become superintendent of the Moore County school system. Southern Pines and Pinehurst had separate school systems until the consolidation in 1969. Lee retired in 1984.
Several photo albums are stuffed full of pictures taken throughout the school's history. There is a photo of the orignal school building on Pine Street that was built in 1893. It later burned and was replaced with a brick building.
The site is what is know known as middle Bethesda, where the Presbyterian Church was located before moving to its present site on U.S. 1. What was then called the old graded school was built on the present site of Aberdeen Elementary School in 1922. That campus became the high school in 1941 when U.S. 1 was relocated from Poplar Street.
"They didn't want the elementary school students being so close to that highway," Harriet Sloan said.
The school building on Pine Street burned down in 1949, and the elementary and middle school was constructed on the same campus as the high school on U.S. 1.
Burns managed to hold on to an old basketball rim from the old school building. It is now on display in the museum, along with a picture showing the basketball goal -- yet another little piece of history from the school that has been preserved.
There is a framed story from the front page of the former Sandhill Citizen newspaper in Aberdeen about the demise of the old high school building. The school board voted in March 1969 to tear down the building, at an estimated cost of $3,000 to $4,000, because it was deemed unsafe. Lee said it would be a hazard if it was left vacant.
Burns said the committee has been working on plans for the big reunion since April 2008. He said it has been a lot of fun, especially as the time got closer.
"The fellowship we have in these meetings is wonderful," he said. "We meet at the bank (First Bank in downtown Southern Pines, where Burns works). We have to run them off when the meetings end. They want to keep talking and sharing stories. I love hearing them all."
Contact David Sinclair at 693-2462 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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