Price High alumni meet at their ‘one common denominator’

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — In the front yard of the old J.C. Price High School on West Bank Street stands a historical marker, erected by the Price Alumni Association several years ago, which tries to sum up what the school meant to its students between 1932 and 1969.

“A school of great heritage and academic success in times of repression,” the sign says.

The 100-plus people who show up annually for the Price High School Reunion — all classes are invited — don’t dwell on the “repression” part of that description. Rather, they are quicker to speak of their teachers, sports teams, fellow students and the African-American community as a whole that made Price what they believe was an exceptional school.

Every summer when alumni meet in Salisbury, they make sure some of their activities revolve around the school building, now city-owned.

“The one common denominator is J.C. Price,” Evelyn Morgan McMahon, Class of 1964, said during an early Friday evening fish fry held at the back of the school grounds.

Today will include an Alumni Association business meeting inside the school, now used for Head Start and other community service functions, and reports from alumni chapters up and down the East Coast. This unique high school alumni association has chapters in Salisbury, Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland (Ohio) and the Washington, D.C., area.

An evening banquet and dancing will be held at the former Black Box Theatre at 405 N. Lee St. later today. Some alumni members will attend church together Sunday morning before heading home and preparing for the fall gathering this November in Maryland.

Not only are graduates of Price High School members of the alumni association, but the association also has “associate” members who feel a close connection to the school. Luvenia Coleman Rippy graduated from Price in 1952, and she serves as chapter president in Cleveland, Ohio.

Jacqueline Easley, a friend from Cleveland, started attending the Price reunions with Rippy and her late husband, James, several years ago. Now Easley is an associate member and the group’s recording secretary.

Rippy’s son, Derrick, a federal bankruptcy attorney, also is attending the reunion this weekend as an associate member. “The only reason he joined,” Luvenia said, “was because we were a school with a purpose.”

That purpose is to preserve the historic school building — it closed because of integration after the 1969 school year — and also award scholarships to graduating high school students in this area.

This year’s “Golden Graduates,” the Class of 1965, have just created the Anthony Standifer Scholarship, which will be announced at the gala tonight. It’s named for a deceased class member who used to be president of the national alumni association, a position now held by Eleanor Qadirah of Salisbury.

Because it’s their 50th reunion, the Class of ’65 has close to 20 people attending this weekend. Wearing their Golden Graduate T-shirts, they come from as far away as Texas, Minnesota, Virginia and Georgia and as close as Charlotte, Salisbury and Durham.

“’65 was the best class that ever was,” James Hopkins of Charlotte said.

“According to us, definitely,” Jerry Dillingham of Houston, Texas, agreed.

Copies of yearbook pictures from 1965 were being passed out for name tags.

“I think that’s me,” Hopkins said, holding up his senior high photograph to a face that is 50 years older.

Quentin Woodward, a Class of 1965 member who lives here, said a memorial has been set up at the Marriott alumni headquarters for the 29 class members who already have passed on.

The friendships made at Price stuck with everybody long after graduation, Woodward said.

“And we had such excellent teachers,” added Charlotte Wheeler of Atlanta.

Ted McClain, a 1965 graduate who now lives in Charlotte, said he grew up close to Price High School because his father, Theodore Roosevelt McClain, managed the Livingstone College farm. Livingstone is in the process of bringing that farm back to life, and McClain said there’s a chance it will be named for his dad.

As for Price High, “It was special because it was the only black high school on the West End,” McClain said.

David Boger, a 1956 graduate, walked to school daily from his home on the eastern end of Salisbury in Fairview Heights, unless he caught the city bus. He missed only one day of school in four years. Students judged the weather by Boger.

“It must be cold because Dave Boger took the bus,” they would say.

Boger, who is retired and living in Greensboro now, is a good example of the many doctors, lawyers, educators and other professionals who used their schooling at Price High as a strong foundation.

He eventually earned a doctorate in chemistry and taught higher education in Texas and at Fayetteville State and N.C. A&T.

McMahon went on to the University of Hartford and worked many years for the Cigna Corp. As a middle manager for the company, she remembers winning the praise from a colleague one day for how well she had written a report.

McMahon said she knew any expertise she displayed in writing had been earned in the Price High English classes of Abna Lancaster.

“The education we got here was special,”McMahon said. “And you know, you feel pretty good when you’re smart.”

McMahon returned to Salisbury for five years and served as executive director of the Elizabeth Hanford Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross. She went back to Connecticut before retiring in the Raleigh area.

Qadirah hopes she can persuade McMahon to start a Price Alumni chapter there.

Allie Gilmore, Class of 1959, met her late husband, Steve, at Price High, and the couple were married 56 years. Both were outstanding athletes at Price. Allie said she was no slouch at basketball. Her coach was the late Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, who became a nationally known educator and knocked down a lot of barriers for African-Americans and women.

Allie Gilmore also was a cheerleader and part of the Big Sister program at Price High. She walked every day to school from her home on West Street. Price included the seventh through 12th grades.

Qadirah set up Friday evening’s fish fry at the back of the school building so alumni could see some of the structure’s challenges, as well as improvements made over the years.

“We’re back here for a purpose,” she said.

Some of the immediate needs are an updating of the bathrooms inside and deteriorating windows in the back. Qadirah hopes she and other members of the Price Alumni Association can meet in July with new City Manager Lane Bailey to discuss the old school building.

“The school is still here, because we are the school,” McMahon said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.