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‘We share a bond unlike any other’: Class of ’59 was the last to graduate Rockwell High

ROCKWELL — As a teenager attending Rockwell High School, Ann Brown Miller drove a school bus, her route taking her along Old Beatty Ford Road and around the Gold Hill area.

She thought the pay was good — $25 a month. And she knew how to discipline the kids, some who might even be her age or older. If things became too rowdy, she simply stopped the bus.

“We will continue when you get quiet,” Miller would announce. It worked every time.

If she had one complaint, Miller said, it’s that her lumbering, stick-shift bus had a hole in the floor near the clutch pedal. In the winter, her feet became so cold she could hardly walk when her route was over.

“I asked the principal, ‘When are they going to fix this?'” Miller said Saturday night.

These were the kinds of memories flooding back for her and fellow classmates at the Rockwell High Class of 1959’s 60th reunion.

The Class of ’59 has always considered itself part of history.

The seniors belonged to the last graduating class of Rockwell High. That fall began the first year of East Rowan High School, which represented a merger of Granite Quarry and Rockwell highs.

“We share a bond unlike any other,” reunion chairwoman Sybil Penninger Baker said, echoing a sentiment heard often Saturday night.

Baker thinks the quote, “Life’s truest happiness is in the friendships we find along the way” especially applies to the Class of 1959.

“And we did have some good times, didn’t we?” she asked her classmates.

Starting with their 50th reunion in 2009, the class has held a reunion every year, meeting at the Organ Lutheran Church fellowship hall.

Saturday’s 60th reunion had door prizes, a catered meal by Debbie Suggs, a history talk from classmate John N. Trexler, a tribute to the Class of 1959’s military veterans and a memorial ceremony recognizing those who have died since graduation.

With everyone now in their late 70s, it’s more than you might think.

Sandra Beaver Mills and Carolyn Cauble Hartung remembered 25 names by lighting a candle for each set of five.

More than 40 people, including several spouses, attended the reunion. Mary Ida Hodge Yost and her husband probably came the farthest — from Brighton, Michigan.

The Class of 1959 had 53 graduates, but the reunions have been open to all classmates from the old Rockwell School. In those days, not everybody stuck around for the senior year or graduation.

The 25 names of classmates who have passed include 20 of the 53 graduates and five others who were part of the class for most of their 12 years in school together.

“Do you remember when we thought 30 was old?” Hartung asked.

In sports, the Rockwell High teams were known as the Rockets, and the school colors were green and white. The class flower was the white carnation; the class motto, “Not merely to exist, but to amount to something in life.” The name of the yearbook was “The Rocket.”

Most members of the Class of 1959 attended all 12 grades at Rockwell School or grades one through eight at Morgan School before transferring to Rockwell High.

Tony Lyerly, who is deceased, was class president; Joe Freeze, vice president; Jimmy Shaver (deceased), secretary; and Baker, treasurer.

Sandra Mills’ husband, R.L. Mills, was recognized as one of the class’ eight military veterans. Marvin Brown, Shirley Shuping Rogers, Jimmy Shaver and Byron White all served in the Army and all are deceased.

Air Force veterans Mills, Robert Goodman, Lee Roy Kirk and Eugene Wagner attended Saturday night.

Wagner said much of his stint in the Air Force was spent at a base in Texas and on an island (radar site) in the Pacific that he reached via Okinawa, Japan. He acknowledged his “hard life” in the Air Force included many days on the beach.

“I’ve seen the world — Okinawa and Texas,” Wagner said.

R.L. Mills served 26 years in the Air Force, and he married Sandra after they saw each other again at the 40th reunion.

They had been sweethearts back in school, and Sandra remembers taking him to the train depot when R.L. enlisted in the Air Force. “Then, he just up and dumped me,” she said, laughing.

A “memories” table at the reunion held numerous photographs from the Class of 1959’s experiences at Rockwell School. After East Rowan High opened for the 1959-60 school year, Rockwell School covered grades one through eight until Erwin Junior High opened for grades seven through nine in 1967.

One photograph showed the class in third grade participating in a “Tom Thumb wedding.” Another depicted their second-grade operetta of “Mother Goose” fairy tales.

Still another photograph lined up the sophomore girls and guys who served as waiters and waitresses for the Rockwell High junior-senior prom. That must have been 1957, Baker said.

Mary Ida Yost brought her notebook for a project she did in French class. She noted the “A-plus” grade she was given on the inside cover.

The memories table also held an “RHS” letter for band and an “R” varsity letter for sports.

Every year, the class hangs a banner in the fellowship hall that includes all their signatures. When someone dies, the date of his or her death goes next to the name. A date went up on the banner this year next beside the name of Larry Shipton, who passed away in June.

His wife, Iris, attended the reunion.

“In the end,” Baker said of the day when the class won’t have any more reunions, “that (banner) goes to the Rockwell Museum.”

For now, Freeze keeps it at his house.

The class also passed around a get-well card for Dwight Morgan, who will be having back surgery soon.

The reunion planning committee included Baker, Freeze, Miller, Sandra and R.L. Mills, Hartung, Brenda Heglar Cooke and Christine Bame Graham.

Christine and her husband, Bob, decorated the tables and provided everyone with a green pen that said “Rockwell High School 60th Reunion.”

Miller made a green-and-white punch for the opening reception, and she also used her considerable decorating skills for the class cake, which featured a rocket carved by her husband and covered in fondant.

By the way, Miller kept lobbying for a warmer bus some 60 years ago, but it did not affect her driving skills.

“I never had a wreck,” she said, “and I still have a certificate for being the best driver.”

The best — just like the Rockwell High Class of 1959.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com. 

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