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A Homecoming Trek Down Memory Lane



Article Published: Oct. 21, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

A new high school.

A new homecoming.

This weekend marks a nostalgic affair for grads of old, grads like Jane Penley (1969). Penley was among the first class to finish all four years at what's now been known as "the Old High School off 105." She can still remember the fanfare, holding her father's hand as the court rode by in their convertibles.

"I remember we won the ball game that night," she said.

The scenery was different.

"Crest 5 and 10 Store was there, and Belk's Department Store was still in downtown Boone," she said.

But the parade was still a big part of Watauga High School spirit.

WHS would prove victorious over Taylorsville that day in 1968, 23 to 0.

The queen that year? Ollie Jackson. Her attendants? Dorothy Hodges (senior), Daphne Martin (junior), Nancy Greene (sophomore) and Sharon Blair (Freshman).

While the building may have changed, the same spirit that put the smiles on their faces in 1969 will be alive and well this Saturday. It's Pioneer pride with a double dose of nostalgia and it will fill the stadium.

Then

Ollie Jackson Stanbery can still remember what she was wearing when they put the crown on her head.

"It was sort of a rust colored tweed suit with a skirt and a jacket, and I really thought I looked good," she said. "When I went home to tell my parents about it, they were thrilled, but we were from a modest household, and my primary concern was having something new to wear and, unbeknownst to me, my father sold one of the farm animals to get money so I could get money for a new outfit for homecoming."

Homecoming wasn't about equality in 1969.

"There were no male attendants at the time," she said.

And, while she doesn't remember the name of her date, she does remember the fall decorations, a far cry from the "Jungle Fever" theme dance attendees will find at the 2010 Homecoming celebration.

"You can imagine as a 15-year-old girl it was a big surprise," Sharon Blair said, now known as Sharon Blair Tolbert.

To Tolbert, it was more than a crown. She had lost her father, Palmer Blair, a photographer, to a plane accident in 1957.

"I can remember as a young child, looking through photographs my father had taken ... he used to photograph parades, and I could see pictures of parades he had photographed," she said.

She can't remember the name of her date or all the faces in the crowd, but she can still remember what it felt like to pass the spot where her father had always stood to photograph the parade.

"The experience for me was very exciting and a big surprise, but, as an adult, as a grown woman, what I remember was more related to the loss of my father than actually being on the homecoming court," she said.

Daphne Martin, now known as Daphne Speer, also takes a trip down memory lane this time of year.
"It was very glamorous," she said. "It was fun to be actually in the parade riding on the back of a convertible."

In 1969, games were held at Appalachian State University, then called Appalachian State Teacher's College.

"I was in the band, but of course, that night, I didn't wear my band uniform," Speer laughed. "It just made me feel so beautiful that my classmates elected me for that."

It's a tradition she got to relive when her son, Andy Wilson, was king in 1994. Her son, she said, did not take the honor as seriously, and fled the convertible toward the end of the parade.

Jackson, a teacher for 25 years at WHS, Blair, an art restoration specialist, and Speer, a proud mother, have changed a lot in the decades since the crown, but one thing remains the same.

"I guess we're always Pioneers," Blair said.

Watauga County commission chairman Jim Deal, the "student body president Jimmy Deal" referenced in a 1965 Watauga Democrat as the organizer of that year's homecoming celebration, summed up the reason alumni keep coming back.

"It's the friendships you make," he said. "It's the caring faculty and staff ... It's being able to go back and say 'thank you.'"

And he has a few final words for the new crop.

"Have a great time," he said. "Use good judgment ... and celebrate the time you have now. They'll be out in what we call the real world soon enough. They want to celebrate their teenage years ... And you can always take time to say 'thank you' to someone, and you can always tell your friends how much they mean to you."



Now

This year's Homecoming theme is "Jungle Fever," class president Jessie Nash said.

The school is celebrating Spirit Week, to culminate in the parade Friday at 3 p.m. ("We're meeting at Horn in the West, and it's going to go down King Street," Nash said) and the game at 7 p.m. Friday. The dance is from 7 p.m. to midnight Saturday. The pressure is on, especially since it's the first such celebration at the new school.

"We're kind of expected to make it bigger and better and more extravagant, but it's also a little more freedom because we can totally redefine where it's going to be and how it's going to be set up," Nash said.

Think a waterfall, a "really big tree," and a few surprises. "We're working on a river to go through the gym as well," she said.

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