HAMLET — More than 350 former students, staff and spouses celebrated the 100th anniversary of the former Hamlet High School this past weekend.
The reunion, held Saturday, May 21 in the gym of Hamlet Middle, was planned by Jerry Ethridge with help from other members of the Class of ‘68.
Ethridge, an elected member of the Richmond County Board of Education, said the planning for the reunion took about nine months.
Graduates currently living in Gastonia and Georgia assisted with promotion and name tags and around 20 volunteers helped Rita English decorate the gym the day prior to the event, Ethridge said.
“I’m really, really surprised (at) the number of people who have come,” Ethridge said while his fellow alums — most of whom he didn’t know — stood in line for the meal catered by Seaboard Station. “I never thought in my wildest imagination that this would turn out like this here.”
But not everyone was there.
Ethridge said the cut-off date to register for the reunion was May 1 and he had to turn some fellow graduates away because there wasn’t enough room.
“I just think it’s really something.”
Hamlet High School opened in 1922 and was active for 50 years until the county’s high schools — also including Rockingham, Ellerbe and Rohanen — were consolidated to form Richmond Senior High School. Ethridge said he was unsure if the first graduating class was in ‘22 or ‘23.
The school rivalry between Rockingham and Hamlet back then was much like the one between Richmond and Scotland now, Ethridge said.
One student athlete, Woody Wright from the Class of ‘67, once scored 55 points in a basketball game against Scotland, and averaged 37 points per game his senior year, according to Ethridge.
“(He was) probably one of the best high school basketball players I’ve ever seen,” Ethridge said of Wright.
According to Ethridge, the oldest known living alum is from the class of 1939 and resides in Florida. The oldest graduate registered to attend was 93-year-old Earline Byrd from the Class of ‘39.
In addition to the students, Ethridge said there were 16 former teachers and other staff members including Carson Oldham, who is the oldest living principal of the school, present at the reunion.
The stage was covered in memorabilia, including school annuals, a HHS band uniform, a ram’s head, copies of the Hamlet News Messenger with stories about the sports teams, photos of those who have since passed away and balloons which were given away.
Etheridge also had a few surprises for his fellow graduates.
One was a show choir, which performed a few songs including the HHS Alma Mater. There was also the unveiling of a monument stone, marking the school’s history and the planting of a Celestial Shadow kousa dogwood tree from Korea.