Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina ...

This year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the beautiful building which is on the historical registry in North Carolina. Designed by a famous New York architect, Hobart Upjohn, with 25 classrooms, an indoor pool, gymnasium with an elevated track, and a 2000 seat auditorium, it has endured majestically and is still in use as a high school.

Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, was an energetic small, mill town when I was in high school. Businesses seemed to thrive, albeit small enterprises. No Walmarts or Costcos, but plenty of interesting shops to frequent. Churches were filled several times a week, and all of them offered youth activities that welcomed all teenagers: skating and bowling parties, hayrides, plus Bible studies with social time afterwards.

In the late 50s our high school was still one of the top-rated ones in North Carolina even though our town was smaller than many. We had a reputation for being progressive. Our classes were 90 minutes every other day, three one day, a different three the next which carried over through Monday. It has held its prestigious position since it was opened on Sept. 19,1921.

This year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the beautiful building which is on the historical registry in North Carolina. Designed by a famous New York architect, Hobart Upjohn, with 25 classrooms, an indoor pool, gymnasium with an elevated track, and a 2000 seat auditorium, it has endured majestically and is still in use as a high school. The campus has expanded across the street with other buildings adding to its usefulness, but the modern adaptation of the Elizabethan Gothic façade dominates the complex. Viewed from the front, with the football field to the left, it remains identical to when I graduated in 1959.

The Masons officiated at the ceremony to open the cornerstone and view the items placed there long ago. The Masons, in all their regalia, performed the ceremony flawlessly. The ritual and symbolism were impressive as we witnessed the identical ceremony performed when the cornerstone was laid 100 years ago, the same ceremony used at the U.S. capitol and the N.C. capitol for their cornerstone celebrations.

The item retrieved first was a Bible, followed by the Masonic Code from 1915, a 1920 copper penny, a Sept. 24, 1920, newspaper with the headline “Nationwide Fight Against Disease” and an announcement of the laying of the cornerstone, and various letters. Those items were replaced, and 2021 items were added: photos of students’ activities, RRHS key chain and coffee mug, current newspaper, Masonic Ceremonies book, community letters, and a mask.

When the speaker announced the new items to be placed in the cornerstone, the audience started yelling, “Where’s the Bible?” They explained the old, tattered 1921 Bible would still be there which satisfied the crowd.

The longest held enlisted POW in American history, William A. Robinson, a 1961 RRHS graduate, was honored. He said, “I always say it was four faiths that played an important role in my survival. Faith in myself that I had the tools to get the job done. Faith in each other that we would stand together shoulder to shoulder or wall to wall and return with honor. Faith in our country that it would not abandon us under difficult circumstances. But most of all, faith in our God that he would see us through.”

The ceremony lasted only an hour, even with eight speakers, all of whom had short but entertaining speeches: a representative for Senator Tillis who presented a flag which had flown over the capitol to honor the occasion, a representative from Raleigh, community leaders, and the secretary of the Student Council. The choir and band performed, and everyone was respectful and polite.

As I watched the proceedings, I thought, “This could have been set in 1959.” The patriotism of the presentation of the colors to begin the ceremony, prayers, the Masonic traditions, and the affirming speeches were comforting and what we expected.

My class returns each October to our hometown. At our 50th high school reunion, we could acknowledge that we were finally old and would be regularly losing classmates, so meeting each year seemed reasonable. The planning for the annual gathering evolved into simplicity with one person volunteering to make the same reservations from one year to the next and to send out emails. Now at our 62nd year, the event is somewhat on autopilot although someone still needs to be in charge.

We meet on Friday night at a large Chinese restaurant for the buffet, and anyone is welcome to pop in. The Hampton Inn, where those without family accommodations usually stay, offers us the hospitality room for two days equipped with supplies: ice, water, cups, and sodas. That becomes our meeting room for downtime and to socialize. We meet each morning at the Inn’s complimentary breakfast bar and are never at a loss for conversation.

Saturday lunch is at the favorite burger place which was recently taken over by the son, renovated, and, consequently, lost its 50s appeal. Most spouses cannot understand why the burger is special to us since it is thin and topped with slaw, but we never miss buying it when in town. Before the tables and chairs became stationary, we would push tables together and take over the small establishment while hoping friends from other classes would drop by.

For those not visiting family, the hospitality room was available for congregating. We spent the two days circulating and catching up with classmates’ families, hobbies, and travel while passing pictures around. We usually enjoyed a private catered dinner in the hospitality room Saturday night, but with the All-Class event gathered for the anniversary celebration, this year we attended a buffet with other classes.

Our 12th grade English teacher, who had taught there for many years and retired soon after we graduated, once said we were her best class ever. We still like and are genuinely interested in each other. Until COVID we had a realistic attendance for our 99 graduates even with deaths each year. This year was different. We had several reservations that cancelled at the last minute, which left us with only 13 of the 53 remaining classmates plus some spouses. While other years we have alumni from various states, most of this year’s classmates were from North Carolina.

The last morning at breakfast, we expressed our sorrow at missing the absent ones, especially those who normally would be there; however, we all felt we had gotten to know those present better. We had more time with fewer people to share life stories. With the country slowly returning to normal activities, we have a year to encourage classmates to make the 2022 trek. Our weekend, reuniting with friends from 60 years ago, was a highlight. I plan to attend each year until it becomes entirely impossible because returning home recalls fresh memories and gives a stability to old age.

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