Founders Day, Black History celebrated in Cottage Grove
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Pictured from left are special guest speakers Levi Leonard Sr., Willie Dean Riggins, Joseph McKinney, Ruby Johnson Hardman, and Izora Hill Maxwell. Photo submitted
Special to the News
On Saturday, February 25, the J. D. Thompson High School Alumni Association welcomed visitors to the Founders Day/Black History program.
The combined Founders Day and Black History Program was an opportunity for everyone to honor Mr. John R. Savage, who made history when he founded the Coosa County Training Academy in 1899. This was also an opportunity to celebrate the memories of the teachers, principals, school staff, students, the Cottage Grove community, and those that continued the work that Savage started.
The interior of the old school building is decorated with photos of former principals, teachers, students, and furniture from its former days, but on that Saturday one of the classrooms became a museum. Visitors attending the museum area were excited to see the exhibit of quilts, oil lamps, dishpans, wash tubs, black wash pots, kettles and irons, sedge brush brooms, and water dippers, just to name a few of the items. The items brought back memories of the old Cottage Grove community. Our ancestors would be in shock at the technology and conveniences we have now.
The speakers for the event shared reflections with the audience of their school and life experiences in the Cottage Grove community.
Mrs. Izora Hill Maxwell shared with the group that she and Ms. Lillie Bell Drake worked with Principal Adams and the PTA to raise money to purchase drapes and bleachers when the J. D. Thompson High School Gymnasium was built. Financial support for the drapes and bleachers came from the community, as well as churches in the Morning Star District, and Mr. John Smith Jr. (little John) gave $200 to the cause.
Mr. Willie Dean Riggins, class of 1959, shared with everyone information about how the Alumni Association started from the first school reunion held in 1985. The reunion committee members included Mrs. Curry Bradley Glenn – chairperson, Ms. Barbara Whetstone, Mr. Booker Brown, Mr. William Bradley, and others.
The reunion was a success, and former students realized they should form an alumni organization to host and manage events at the old school. The J.D. Thompson Alumni Association was born, and Mr. Riggins was the first president.
Mr. Levi Leonard Sr., our oldest speaker, did a show-and-tell moment with attendees that was serious, but with some humor.
Mr. Leonard told us that when he attended the Coosa County Training School he only had one pair of shoes for the school year. When the shoes came apart, he would wire them up and wear them to school. When it started thundering and lightning, he would take them off because he feared the lightning would strike him. Mr. Leonard brought a pair of wired-up boots for us to see.
Mrs. Ruby Johnson Hardman shared her memories of Mrs. Levelma Simmons, the English teacher that encouraged her to write. She also spoke of Mrs. JoEtta Maxwell, Mr. Tilman Hardy, Rev. Earlie Leonard, Mrs. Frankie Maxwell, Mr. Levi Leonard, Mr. Robert McKinney, Mr. Willie Lee Maxwell, Mr. Willie Dean Riggins, Mr. Jimmy Parker, and others she feels made an important impact in the community.
The last speaker to share reflections with us was Mr. Joesph McKinney, class of 1947 and former alumni president. After sharing some school history with everyone, Mr. McKinney challenged the alumni members to locate former school graduates and add their stories, past and present, to the C.C.T.S./J.D. Thompson High School archives.
The reflections shared from the guest speakers was an opportunity for each of us to learn something new about our school.
The J. D. Thompson Alumni Association members would like to thank the residents of Coosa County, all our program participants, volunteers, and attendees for continuing to support our efforts of “Preserving our Legacy while Restoring our Community.”