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It’s all about ‘family’: Henry County Training School class
celebrates milestone

 

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent
 

  High-school reunions sometimes involve groups of people who only see each other once every few years.

  For the Henry County Training School class of 1963, however, that just won’t do, as evidenced by the close relationships they’ve strived to maintain for more than 50 years.

Members of the 1963 graduating class of Henry County Training School are shown at their 2013 Christmas gathering.                                            Photo by Jason Smith

  “We celebrate all year,” said Homer Cook, 69, of Macon. “We’re gonna be close. It’s been a long time.”

  Cook is one of 15 former classmates at the school who recently gathered at the Golden Corral in Stockbridge in celebration of the golden anniversary of graduation day. He lived in Hampton at the time he was a student at the school, which was located where Henry County Middle School is now.

  Cook said he and his classmates, who hailed from all four cities in Henry, have shared a special connection for more than 50 years and have continued to meet on a monthly basis for the last several years.

  Simply put, Cook – along with his classmates -- described the group as a “family.”

  “That’s that love we had for each other in high school,” he said. “We had that togetherness. It’s just amazing.”

  The monthly gatherings for the class were the brainchild of Christine Burns of Locust Grove. Members of the group credit Burns as the foundation of the class and say she took on a motherly role over the years.

  Burns, downplaying such praise, said she just wanted to preserve their connection as much as possible.

“We stayed very close together, and I decided to have a luncheon once a month to stay in contact,” said Burns. “The main thing is to stay together. We’re all in this together.”

  In addition to gathering at Golden Corral every month, the class also has a picnic every year in October at Memorial Park in Stockbridge.

  Burns acknowledged that the class of ’63 has seen each other through both good and bad times since their school days. Of the 73 students who graduated from Henry County Training School that year, 26 have passed away – including, most recently, Vera Pittman Wise and David Parks, who each died in October of 2013. Classmates honored Wise, who was a breast-cancer survivor, by walking in the Henry County Relay for Life in May of this year.

  Cook added that one element of the class which stands out to him, even today, is their shared commitment to education and the positive influence their teachers provided.

  “We actually got it,” he said. “Not only that, but our parents got it. Quitting was not an option.”

  Some members of the class developed a stronger bond than others after leaving Henry County Training School. Robert and Mildred Byrd of Atlanta were high school sweethearts who met in ninth grade while attending classes there.

  The Byrds have now been married 49 years and are planning to renew their wedding vows next year for their golden anniversary.

  Mildred Byrd, 68, was living in Locust Grove when the Hampton boy who would become her husband first caught her eye. She said she was determined, from the start, to make him notice her.

“He was a hall monitor,” she recalled with a smile. “I would purposely get out of line so that he would tell me to get back in line. I wound up putting little notes in his pocket. He couldn’t do nothing with me then, and he can’t do nothing with me now.”

  Robert Byrd, 69, said he also has maintained a strong bond with others in the class.

  “I know more of my classmates that I do just about anybody else,” he said.

  Classmates say the former training school has seen its share of changes since their time there, thanks to various additions that have been made. Christine Goggins, 70, of Stockbridge said the Henry County community, as a whole, is different from the old days as well.

  “Everybody knew everybody, from all over the county,” she said with a touch of sadness in her voice. “Now, you hardly know anybody because a lot of new people have moved in.”

  One person who looks forward to the class gatherings wasn’t even a student at Henry County Training School with the rest of the group. Terri Binder of Stockbridge has worked as a waitress at Golden Corral for two years and always waits on the class when they come in.

  Binder, 48, said she enjoys spending time with the class as often as she can.

  “They’re my people,” said Binder. “I’m working my vacation around them so I don’t miss them.”

  Ralph Wise, 68, of Jackson said when he and his classmates attended Henry County Training School, it was the only high school of its kind in the county. As he thought back to those times, he said the school sometimes got a bad rap because of its name.

  “Whenever we went to an event at another school, they thought we were bad children,” said Wise with a chuckle. “I never have understood why they named it ‘training school.’ It was a high school.”

  Wise said seeing his classmates every month means a great deal to him.

  “We’ve been together for 51 years, ever since we graduated,” he said. “When we’re having an event at church or something, we invite each other. It’s important to me that we stick together.”

 

 

©Henry County Times, Inc.