The 2009-2010 term of Williamson High School is expected to be a banner year and enthusiasm already is gaining momentum as word spreads that the school will be celebrating its centennial.
No one is more enthusiastic about the possibilities for the school’s celebration than Principal Johnny Branch.
He is a member of the Centennial Planning Committee also composed of June Blevins, Sherry Hatfield, Sue Keesee, Machelle McCormick, Nancy “Bunky” Smith, WHS faculty members and students who will be members of the school’s 100th graduating class next spring.
Branch appeared before the Mingo County Board of Education at its regular meeting Aug. 11 and requested that it issue an official proclamation for WHS’ Centennial.
A number of activities have already been planned. including a “Meet the Pack Kickoff” at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21, at the Lefty Hamilton ball park in West Williamson. “This will be a big get-together, so we are encouraging everybody to attend.
“We are inviting all alumni and former athletes of Williamson High to be present and be recognized at the kickoff,” Branch said.
He plans to display a huge centennial banner from the side of Williamson High School to remind everyone in the community of the 100th birthday of the high school.
Jimmy Wolford, area singer, guitarist, radio announcer and entertainer, is writing a special song for the centennial event, Branch said. An official logo also is being designed.
“The 100th graduating class will serve as ambassadors throughout the coming school year, which begins Aug. 26,” said Branch. He said he understands there are different class reunions being planned for the centennial year.
Meanwhile, planning is in progress for the WHS Memorabilia Museum, which will make its debut at some location during the King Coal Festival in September. The WHS Committee is working with the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce on this project.
October 2 is another date to remember for a WHS Homecoming Parade is scheduled for noon on that day. Branch referred to it as “The Parade of the Century,” for it will feature alumni floats and other special things.
The 100th class graduation on June 4, 2010 will officially mark the centennial’s conclusion and will kick off an “All Class Reunion” in the city.
Branch said he feels highly honored to be the principal during WHS’s 100th year. He and his wife, Jacqueline (a member of the Mingo County Board of Education), moved here 17 years ago and have adopted this as their home. He has been involved in the field of education since serving as a teacher in 2003 and as principal of WHS since 2008-09.
He said special efforts will be expended to impress upon members of the 2010 graduating class that they are a special group – a good group of students privileged to be part of the school’s centennial.
“Not many schools survive 100 years,” said Branch. “Williamson High has a rich tradition, having been established shortly after the turn of the century (1900). We want to give this community an opportunity to share in our celebration by bringing themselves and their school experiences to enrich this event. It isn’t just for students but for everyone.”
The present school system in Mingo County began with a special act by the West Virginia Legislature in 1905, the year the city of Williamson was incorporated. Åt that time, the Independent District of Williamson was formed.
There was no major high school building in Williamson at the time. Williamson High, then a three-year institution, graduated two students in 1910. They were the late Mary Belle Culross, who later taught in WHS for 40 years. and the late Okey P. Keadle, who became an attorney in Huntington. Keadle was a son of Mingo County’s first sheriff, N.J. Keadle, and member of one of this city’s most prominent families.
Miss Culross, whose father was an early grocer in Williamson, had a sister, Martha Culross, who was one of eight members of WHS’ 1917 graduating class and taught Home Economics for many years.
The building now referred to as the “old Williamson High building” was constructed around 1915 or a little later during World War I and occupied by 1918. Its cost, including equipment, was $40,000 to $45,000.
The two-story structure housed classrooms on three floors and boasted a gymnasium and auditorium. An indoor swimming pool was added later in the early 1920s. It was recognized as one of the most, if not the most, modern in the state of West Virginia when the school opened. It featured, among other things, a modern ventilating system and plumbing fixtures that included sanitary drinking foundations.
The swimming pool was, for many years, the only such facility available in summers for supervised swimming for children and adults. Williamson’s first municipal pool was not built until the mid 1930s and was replaced by the present Z-shaped Olympic pool a few years ago.
Razing of that high school strucure in the late 1980s caused a few tears to be shed by former students.
Today’s modern high school building rests on part of the site of the old Main Building Grade School with the middle school located to the rear.
During the coming year, no doubt many interesting stories from alumni of the high school will surface as part of the centennial year. Branch said alumni and non-alumni will be a major part of the event along with the students.
Meanwhile, don’t forget: everybody is invited to the Meet the Pack Centennial kickoff next Friday.
The Williamson Daily News invites alumni to send in accounts of any special experiences they had while attending Williamson High School, along with photos or memorabilia of any event. The Daily News address is 100 E. 3rd Ave., Williamson, W.Va. 25661.