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Jasper class of ‘54 still meeting...
L-R: Mary Lou (O’Cain) White, Gynelle (Johnson) Lundy, Dottie (Goosby) Bond, Betty (Yates) Adcock, Sally (Malpas) Sapp, Lillie Mae (Tompkins) Martin. -Photo by Elwyn Lavelle Bembry
By Elwyn Lavelle Bembry
- Class president
Late on an October day every two years the class of ’54 from old Jasper, Florida High School come together in a reunion more resembling a family of siblings visiting than a high school class. Born in 1936 in the depths of a great depression when many parents were wondering if the country would long exist, this class is smaller than any that have come later, there were thirty one that we count as classmates.
There were the usual decade reunions, the last in 1994, but some conversation got started because there was a general recognition that by age 65, the bell would begin to toll. The decision was made to commence in 2000 and meet every two years. Our first loss from natural causes occurred in 2001. A classmate, Lester Scaff, had built a farmhouse in the woods west of Jasper that he offered as a meeting place. We have met there for a total of nine times. The lunch is catered, we munch on a local delicacy known as boiled peanuts while the recollections of past times roll in like a wave with a lot of laughter about our aging faulty memories. When asked, “how long will this go on?”, the youthful Dottie Bond was prompt, “As long we are vertical.” The bonding of a small group that had no cliques, clubs or other factors that would divide is the only rational explanation for the desire to come back together so often and for so long. And we genuinely liked each other. There were no secrets about who we were, we had our share of low income folk, country boys and girls, and working class folks; in fact, that would be an apt description of everyone.
In point of fact, the class was not particularly exceptional, if at all. This story could be the story about coming of age in small town America during that era. The Diaspora commenced in the late ‘50’s, very few remained near the home town. Of the 18 surviving members, all of whom were contacted, six could not make it due to distance, medical conditions or family events. Classmates came in from the surrounding area, Pensacola, mid Florida, Atlanta and points south while the Bembry cousins came from Nashville and western North Carolina. We have classmates located in northern Virginia, Louisiana, and Colorado among those missing. Another had a family wedding, one had a broken arm and one was limited by family caretaking. There has been no meeting in which everyone is there, missing for reasons beyond their control.
Lives have been lived as; a farmer, several small business owners, a surveyor, nursing , a deputy sheriff, an engineer, a city manager, five who trained for the education profession, several worked as administrative assistants and many who lived as home makers. Of the thirteen boys, seven served in the military, two were commissioned officers with one serving a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. One was a career army sergeant. Patriotism ran deep during that time. But no group can exist without tragedy, there was suicide and one who spent most of his adult life in prison. There are no answers to explain this, only questions.
This writer reflected upon the prior 62 years in an attempt to understand it all. After visiting the Hamilton County Museum, guided by our own Sally Malpas Sapp and finding names of historical people of the county whom we knew personally, thus realizing we are also history, he could only conclude that the answer is in the old spiritual: ‘Cheer up my brother live in the sunshine, we’ll understand it all by and by.’