50 for 55: LDHS Class of ’73 set for 50th reunion
Fifty years ago, the Laurens District High School Class of 1973 was preparing to graduate from a place its members hardly knew.
The new school represented a seismic shift for the county as District 55 abandoned its community high schools – Laurens, Ford, Gray Court-Owings and Hickory Tavern – and consolidated them into Laurens District High.
The Class of 1973 was the first to graduate from the new school with its comparatively massive layout of then cutting-edge “pods,” an architectural education concept that was designed to foster learning but ended up confusing new students as they arrived on campus for the first time in 1972.
“It was exciting. It was overwhelming because we’d never been to a place that large,” recalled Catherine Evans, who arrived at LDHS from Ford High School. “We’d been there for the entire year, and I never got to know my way around the entire school.”
Evans and her classmates are returning to Laurens this weekend for their 50th reunion, which is scheduled for Saturday at The Ridge. The reunion will unofficially begin Friday as classmates gather at Laurens’ Sip & Stroll and a performance by the former band “Circus,” which was made up of four ’73 classmates, performing at the Roseland (the former John Graham Department Store on the square).
Mary Fortune, one of the reunion organizers, said she expects over 100 of her 299 classmates to attend the reunion with their spouses. She said 65 members of the class have passed away and will be remembered during the reunion Saturday.
Memories will flow. The laughs will come easy. Members of the Class of 1973 will note time and again how quickly 50 years flew by.
“I’m very happy to have graduated from Laurens District High,” said Alton Davis, president of the Class of ’73 who remained in Laurens and still operates Davis Business Systems. “Being the first graduating class, I think that’s pretty neat, and we’re the only ones who can say that.”
If some students, who were comfortable in their community schools felt they weren’t ready for the move to LDHS, it became clear from the outset that LDHS wasn’t quite ready for them either.
Construction was still being done on campus when the Class of 1973 arrived for its one and only academic year there.
Chemistry labs were still being finished while classes were going on around the workmen, the noise and the dust.
“There was work going on all over the place,” recalled Fortune, who came from Laurens High.
The student parking lots had yet to be paved.
“I remember pulling in that first day, and the parking lot was just mud,” said Davis. “But the biggest change to me was the size of the school and the pods. When we were put in there, it was a big, big change.”
K.C. Hanna Stadium, which would become the home of three state championship football teams since then, was not yet built, and the newly minted Raiders were forced to play home games at the old Laurens High School.
Tim Mahon arrived at LDHS from Hickory Tavern where he played football and said high expectations for Hickory Tavern’s football program in 1973 were interrupted by the move to LDHS.
But he credited the coaching staff and head coach Mike Lindley for building an LDHS football team from groups of former rivals, such as Hickory Tavern and Ford. Mahon had been a part of that one.
“Ford and Hickory Tavern were big rivals in football, so it was very strange uniting on a team with people you had grown to not like,” said Mahon, a former nose tackle recalling daily practice battles with Rossie Meadows, a junior center from Ford who was now his teammate. “(The coaching staff) just did a really good job of uniting the team. Looking back as an old guy, they did a great job because we started out and weren’t very good but by the end of the year, we were a really good team.”
Just a move
Jerry Elmore made the move from Laurens to LDHS with little more than a shrug, he recalled.
He had changed schools within the Laurens district before, ending up at Laurens High, but his one year at LDHS was a little different, maybe because of the note of finality with the impending graduation ceremony.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to think of it,” said Elmore, who went on to S.C. State and became a financial executive in Dallas, Texas. “I lived in Washington Heights at the time, which was the other side of town, so I’d never really seen the building. I just thought it was big and it was kind of curious, and then we had all these kids from all these different schools, so it became a bigger curiosity for me. I was saying, ‘Wow, how is this going to work out?’”
LDHS was created amidst the constant backdrop of racial tensions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Classmate Catherine Evans said she led the first walk-out over racial discrimination at Ford two years earlier.
But LDHS was also the new home of geographical rivalries and sometimes hard feelings over the end of the county’s community high schools, perhaps among adults with strong ties to the schools as much or more than the students impacted then.
“Some of our classmates have never come to reunions because they don’t feel like Laurens District High School is their high school,” Fortune said.
But Elmore said he is made LDHS his high school and is looking forward to making the trip back to his hometown from Dallas for the 50-year reunion.
“I guess I really had my eye on what was next instead of just my senior year,” he said.
One more party
Evans will be celebrating her 69th birthday Saturday at the Class of ’73 reunion, a party she said is overdue since her only other birthday party happened when she was 5 years old. She had chicken pox then.
“I had to watch threw a crack in the door while everybody ate ice cream,” she laughed.
Evans, who is now a pastor at Beaverdam Baptist Church in Enoree, also said there are no doubt some of her LDHS classmates that she never met, but she is excited to both meet them now and renew old acquaintances this weekend.
Evelyn Stoddard Duncan returned to Gray Court after a long career as an educator in Georgia and said she is excited about the reunion. She is now semi-retired and working as a permanent substitute at Gray Court-Owings, the same school where she spent most of her high school years.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone who can possibly attend” said Duncan. “I haven’t seen hardly anyone in almost 50 years.”
She recalled fellow students and educators at LDHS as being incredibly “kind” during what could have been a much more challenging year.
“There wasn’t just any one group hanging out by themselves,” she remembered. “Students mingled. It was certainly different, but I wish I had been able to spend all four years there.”
And Evans said she is looking forward to sharing her birthday with the Class of ’73.
“We have a great number of successful people and many of them have always given back to the (Laurens County) community, and I am so proud to be a part of the Class of 73,” Evans said.
Won state championship in baseball. Jim Hall greatest Coach ever should be in Laurens hall of fame
It was wonderful seeing my classmates of 73 the band was phenomenal I think more people would have danced if we could’ve dim the lights other than that The Ridge on Laurens is a wonderful place to have events can’t wait for my 75th Reunion I will be 91
Forgot every one that organized our Reunion did a fantastic job I know y’all put long hours into organizing what a wonderful job love ❤️ you all