On Sept. 30, the spirit of nostalgia and camaraderie filled the air as former pupils of all ages gathered to celebrate the Fayetteville Street School Reunion, a cherished institution that opened its doors in 1926.
The event was a heartwarming reunion for those who had walked its halls, offering a glimpse into the rich history of this beloved school.
The reunion attendees, representing various generations, brought with them a treasure trove of memories. The event was a blend of reminiscences, laughter, and heartfelt connections that transcended time as participants mingled and shared stories.
Attendees received rulers, pencils and crayons as tokens of the day, and class pictures were proudly displayed. The Seaboard Restaurant catered for the event, while Kona Ice served up shaved ice, a treat that evoked fond recollections of childhood for all who attended.
The event’s host and organizer, Jerry Ethridge, stirred memories as he delved into the school’s past. Attendees fondly recalled the school’s nickname, “Grasshopper College,” though the origin of the moniker was unknown to all. Ethridge shared pieces of the past, including the discipline of rulers on the backs of hands for misbehaving students and the traditional approach to education that emphasized the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Byron Caulk, reflecting on his time at Fayetteville Street Elementary, emphasized the school’s unique sense of community. He credited Ernest Sutton, who was the first male teacher and principal, for being a positive male role model. He took a personal interest in the students and was known for tucking in his tie and playing ball with the school children. He is the only principal of the school who is still alive.
“It is nice to be looked up to by so many,” Sutton said. “They are all such wonderful people.”
Among the attendees, Eleanor McLean Wheeler, who held a special distinction as the oldest student present, was born the year the school was built in 1926. Her heartwarming memories included the kindness of teachers who went the extra mile, such as one who warmed her cold feet by rubbing them, symbolizing the school’s nurturing environment. Her four children attended Fayetteville Street as well; her son, Eddie attended the reunion. He had the same fourth-grade teacher that his mom had before him, Ms. Watkins.
Joyce McDuffie Cobb was the second oldest in attendance.
“It was a joy to attend the school from first through sixth grade,” Cobb said. “The teachers were dedicated, and you could feel the love they had for you.”
Throughout the event, attendees expressed a shared sentiment that their experience at Fayetteville Street School was not just unique but supreme. There was a strong sense of community and it provided a solid foundation for their futures, instilling values and principles that guided them to success in various fields.
“Our opportunity is incomparable to the experiences of others,” said Nelson Gainy.
Lloyd Wheeler said he had to attend Fairview Heights once but eventually moved back to Fayetteville Street. Despite being the class clown and always getting into trouble, he loved Fayetteville Street the most, even though he couldn’t put into words why it was.
“There was no cutting up or foolishness allowed at that school; all the teachers except one were old maids who loved us like we were their children; they made sure we learned, and they didn’t put up with any mess,” said Janice Hancock Turner. “I’m thankful for the teachers we had. We had a good, basic elementary education and I fear our children and grandchildren have and are missing out on such a good education these days.”
Curtiss Stubbs Wallace recalled how the cafeteria was located under the gymnasium.
“If you came with no food, you would still be fed, and you’d be fed well because the food was so very good that they offered,” Wallace said.
Ethridge asked the crowd if they remembered how many of them only brought a fried egg sandwich for lunch, but the lunch ladies would add to it by making a huge slab of cornbread and serving up slices with butter. Many nodded in affirmation of the experience.
Linda Seawell recalled all the teachers who worked at the school during her time there. According to her, Ms. Margaret Crowell taught first grade and was the principal, Ms. Snead taught second grade, Ms. Peggy Swanson taught third grade, Ms. Mamiy Watkins taught fourth grade, Ms. Augusta Land taught fifth grade, Ms. Aleez LeGrand taught sixth grade, Ms. Ade Thurman taught seventh grade and Mr. Ernest Sutton taught eighth grade and was principal during his time there.
Originally, there was only first through sixth. Seawell noted that there were just more than 30 students in each class.
Many attendees expressed gratitude for their Fayetteville Street School education, emphasizing its unique and foundational role in their lives. Participants like Linda Helms and Ike Gainy praised the strong values instilled by the school, which helped shape their futures.
In the words of Linda Helms, a reunion participant: “We’re thankful to have this reunion and reconnect. I haven’t lived in Hamlet in a while, but I’m proud to say I’m from Hamlet and went to Fayetteville Street.”
The reunion was not just a celebration of a school but a testament to the enduring legacy of an institution of a special generation of students. The reunion showcased all years of Fayetteville Street School — a place where lifelong friendships were forged, values were instilled, and cherished memories were created.