RHS~Remembering 1951

November 1, 2013 | By More

High school reunions can be compared to birthdays. Young people look forward to them, middle agers tend to avoid them and golden agers cherish them best of all.

The Russellville High School graduating class of 1951 held their 62nd reunion in October and those able to attend were thrilled to be there. “Once you reach this age, you are just so happy to still be alive that a reunion with old high school friends is a truly wonderful occasion,” said Ruby Rawls, a 1951 graduate. Rawls coordinated the October event and is a resident of Russellville. Rawls is still active in the community and works part-time in Russellville as a real estate broker for Boyd Osborne Realty, where the reunion luncheon was held.

“We started having reunions every ten years, then every five years, but now we have them every two years. You just never know if this will be the last time you’ll get to see these people again, so it becomes something really special,” Rawls explained. Out of 73 graduates in 1951, 45 of us are left and considering that 41 people including spouses came to the reunion, we had a real good turnout, she added.

The Saturday reunion was filled with activities from morning to night. On Saturday morning, members of the group took a boat ride on the Arkansas River and toured the new Performing Arts Center at the high school before they went to Rawl’s office for a tasty lunch. Then it was time for afternoon naps before the big reunion dinner at Lake Point Conference Center.

Ok. Maybe these born-again teenagers didn’t dance all night like they might have in 1951, but they sure had fun. Perhaps spending quality time with childhood friends really does make a person feel younger, even if just for a day.

The Good Old Days

Reminiscing about the ‘’good old days” was a popular topic of conversation throughout the reunion and all agreed that high school in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s was much different than it is today.

First of all, Russellville High School was considered “huge” compared to the small rural grade schools many students had attended. “Coming to Russellville High School as a freshman from a two room country school at Gumlog, I was very nervous,” said Patsy West Ables. Fortunately, wonderful teachers and friendly students made her transition easy, she added.

Mary Lee Richardson Turner, who now lives in Oakhurst, CA agreed. “RHS, at the time I was attending, seemed very large and I was terribly intimidated by its size. I came straight off the farm and attended a small elementary school in the Center Valley community where I had my life-long friends that I grew up with. High School for me was stepping into a much bigger, unknown world.”

In 1951, Russellville High School and Junior High School was in the same building that still stands on South Arkansas, said classmate Bob Moore. “The stage in this building was also the basketball court and the cafeteria was under the stage, with the football field directly behind the building. In cold weather you could drive cars into the field and park on the track that circled the field,” said Moore.

There was no Physical Education or Sports for girls expect for cheerleading, and the school’s dress code was quite different, remembered Ables. “We (girls) were only allowed to wear slacks to school if it was an ice or snow day.”

Classmate Mary Taylor, who went on to teach business and accounting at Russellville High School and become head of the business education department until she retired in 1983, has witnessed many changes at the school over the decades. “I think our education was just as good or even better than it is today,” said Taylor, who still has a business in Russellville.

Of course, high school was a lot different then, too. “It was a lot smaller so it was real friendly because everybody knew everybody,” said classmate, Jack Price.

The high school curriculum was limited and most students took “trade” classes that concentrated on practical life skills. Boys took Shop and Agriculture classes and many joined the service to fight in the Korean conflict. Girls took Home Economics classes where they learned to cook, sew, do laundry and raise children; all things young women were expected to do in the 1950’s.

Bookkeeping (now called accounting) used manual 10-key adding machines and ledger pads. “We wrote with a pen and ink in bookkeeping. If you made an error, you almost erased a hole through the page to correct it,” noted Moore.

Secretarial courses taught stenography (Shorthand) and typing on a manual typewriter with carbon paper for copies. “Our manual typewriters would hardly compare to the computers today. And shorthand…I wonder if the kids have even heard of Shorthand!” said Ables.

Moore, who still works part-time as Administrator for the United Methodist Church in Russellville, noted big changes in the communication styles of teenagers today. “We didn’t have TV’s, smartphones, or tablets to converse with,” said Moore. “If we wanted to communicate with someone, we usually did it in person,” he added.

A teen with a car was a very big deal then, agreed several classmates.

“Everyone walked to school or rode the school bus. There were no Driver’s Education classes at the school and those who were fortunate enough to drive parked against the wall of the school in the parking lot,” remembered Moore.

However, some things never change and high school athletic events have always been popular. “The big highlight of our week was going to football games,” said Rawls.

’51 classmate, Joe Pat Clark played high school football for Coach Shorty Salmon. Clark said that Coach Salmon and Coach Martin, along with two other teachers, “contributed to what I am today.” Clark’s youngest son, Jeremy, played football at ATU and was awarded the Marvin “Shorty” Salmon Award. “I think the award meant more to me than it meant to my son, knowing Coach Salmon’s good character and compassion toward people.”

Elisabeth (Canerday, Womack, Rider) Kimball said she played French Horn in the high school band and marched in half-time shows at football games.” We made different designs at half time which I enjoyed,” said Kimball, who after losing touch with high school sweetheart, Bobby Rider, re-connected with him 40 years later and spent 22 years happily married.

And, although teens were definitely more innocent in 1951, they still liked to party. “After football games we had dances at a Quonset hut, where Sorrels Body Shop is located, or at the Legion Hut. I remember one dance after a game where the heater in the building did not work. It was so cold we had to dance in overcoats and gloves to a record player,” said Moore.

One after-school hangout was Boswells Café, a block from the school, said Turner. “We kept the jukebox busy with pop hits then. I remember my mode of dress was simple, being a straight skirt and a pull over sweater. Next came blue jeans rolled up to just below the knees and a big sloppy shirt.

Bobby socks along with black and white saddle oxfords made the outfit complete,” Turner added.

Rogers Drug Store on the 200 block of West Main, where Arvest Bank is now located, was another gathering place. It was the only drug store (of three in town) that had a soda fountain with tables for congregating. He also noted that West Main street had three movie theaters at that time—the Ritz, the Lowery, and the Joy. Abrams remembered that the Ritz Theater would have Talent Nights and winners would get free passes to the Movies. “The competition was always fun,” she added.

Moore summed up the mind-set of the Class of 1951 like this. “At that time we accepted things as they were without questioning. We did not have the mass media that drives all of our lives now. It was a much simpler time in a laid-back atmosphere. We simply accepted our lives as they were,” said Moore.

Despite the cultural differences between teens then and now, the graduating class of 1951 had big dreams and ambitions and probably tested their parents patience as student’s do today. “The Old School stills stands and I am sure within her walls are many hidden secrets,” said Turner.

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