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As reunion nears, old classmates reminisce

As their 50-year reunion celebration approaches, members of the Mary Bethune Class of 1963 reminisce about their times as students at Mary Bethune High School.

The class of 1963 will come together to celebrate their reunion on June 28, 29 and 30 at the Berry Hill Mansion and Resort. 

Local residents Ray Pannell, Vennie Richardson, Lula Anderson and Connie Miller all agreed that Mary Bethune prepared them for the world and gave them key values they would take with them for the rest of their lives.

They all remembered the teachers who made a difference in their lives and encouraged them to be the best they could be at all times.

Richardson said biology teacher Harry Wilson was his favorite teacher, and Miller said algebra teacher Mary A. Brooks was her favorite teacher even though she is quick to admit she wasn’t a very good algebra student.

Lazarus Bates, the history teacher at Mary Bethune, was Pannell’s favorite teacher. 

Miller and Pannell recalled their fondest memories as students of Mary Bethune High School were hanging out at lunchtime with friends and attending football games.

“At lunch time we would gather around the H-shaped building and sit and talk and laugh,” Miller said recalling some of her fondest high school memories.

Attending assemblies was also one her fondest high school memories. 

“We were excited about those assemblies and behaved ourselves,” Miller said.

 Pannell’s favorite memory was getting out of class for the football games held during the school day.

“We had day games and after lunch we all could go out and pay a fee, I think it was 35 cents, to go to the football game. Believe it or not a lot of people did not have the 35 cents to go to the games and that affected me because those people had to remain in their homeroom and could not go to the game, but that was an enjoyable day. They were always on Fridays, and we would go out and have a lot of fun. Our teams weren’t that good, so they were a losing team, but we had great times,” Pannell said.

 The group reminisced about some of the extracurricular activities they were involved in.

“I played football my ninth and 10th grade years,” Pannell said. “ I was in the choir and couldn’t sing a lick.”

“I was in the speech club,” Miller said.

“I was too,” Anderson added.

The two recalled Mr. Wilson as the teacher in charge of that club.

The classmates remembered how much fun they had during homecoming their senior year.

“My senior year at the football game, Vernessa Freeman was the queen, and I was her escort. So I was the king at our homecoming game,” Pannell said.

Miller described the excitement of the homecoming parade.

“They had floats that would go around the school and the football field, and they were beautiful floats,” Miller said.

Pannell said as homecoming king during the parade, he was able to ride a float onto the football field.

“It felt like I was being honored because I was on the float, and I was waving back at people, and they were yelling. Some of them were saying any and everything, and it was an exciting day because it was homecoming,” Pannell said. “It was always a lot of parties after the parade and the game. Everybody was very upbeat.”

Miller added, “The best thing for me about anything was the idea of going to the game and homecoming. The idea there was something I could go to during the school day because afterschool and going out, that was out of the question.”

The four giggled as they reminisced about their prom experiences.

Pannell recalled taking Mary Carter as his date to the prom, and Anderson remembered attending the prom with William Moorman.  Richardson said he took Carolyn Stanfield to the prom.

Miller however did not attend the prom because she wasn’t allowed to attend school activities held at nighttime.

“Back in that day, a lot of the girls couldn’t go out. They weren’t allowed to date as they do now, so prom was a very big thing because their parents would entrust them just that one night,” Panell said.  

“So that was a big night for them. Everybody was all dressed up, full of fun, and it was exciting simply because it could’ve been someone you’ve wanted to take out for a long time and wasn’t able to, and she was allowed to go out on prom night. That made it so exciting that you had her out alone at prom night.”

Pannell added a few after parties were held following the prom, but most of the girls couldn’t go anyway so the guys would take their date home and head to the after party.

The four Mary Bethune graduates also remembered where they went on class day, now known as senior skip day.

“I caught the bus from Halifax to South Boston and went down to the stores and looked around,” Pannell said. 

Miller said she just walked around campus and talked with her friends, and Richardson said he went to Robert Gaines’ store.  Anderson said she went to class.

Old high school sweethearts and crushes also were a topic of conversation as the four recalled high school days.

Pannell said Cynthia Sims was his high school sweetheart, while Anderson admitted she had a crush on Herbert Logan. 

“My daddy wouldn’t let me date him,” Anderson said.

Vennie said his high school sweetheart was Odella Harris.

Richardson remembered how much he enjoyed religious week. During religious week, a special guest was invited to speak each day.

“The best pastor I thought we had was Doyle Thomas because he used to always tell us a joke to get everybody to laugh, and then he’d tell his sermon,” Richardson recalled.

The four agreed the fresh homemade hot lunches were something they missed about Mary Bethune along with the fact that a school lunch was only 25-cents in 1963.

“Mrs. Poindexter was the cook back then,” Miller said.

Mrs. McCargo was too,” Anderson added.

“They had great meals,” the four said at the same time.

“They had some of the best rolls you want to eat at school, and the warm potato salad was delicious. It’s the only place I’ve ever tasted warm potato salad. I would always get two servings. I would always go back,” Pannell said.

Graduation for these four was described as “bittersweet” when they realized it was the end of the lives they had known, enjoyed and loved and the beginning of their adult lives.

“We wore white dresses,” Miller said.

“It was a very sad day for me. I felt like my world had ended, and all the people involved, I knew I wasn’t going see them anymore. I wasn’t going to be around them anymore, and I had been with these people for the last five years. It was like something was just lost. It was like I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I hadn’t even decided what school I was going to go to the day I graduated. I was just standing in limbo,” Pannell said.

 Anderson said she was sad because her dad told her she couldn’t go away to college, but she ended up going to business school, while Miller’s father told her she should attend college, but she had no idea where she wanted to go.

 “It was one of the happiest days of my life because of the young fellows my age, most of them had dropped out of school,” Richardson said. But he had made it through to graduation day.

Anderson, Miller, Pannell and Richardson all went on to have successful lives and careers.

Anderson attended Durham Business College majoring in accounting and then went on to become the first African-American to be hired in  South Boston’s Department of Agriculture  as a federal employee until she retired in 2004. She is now the secretary at the South Boston Church of God.

After graduating, Miller got married and became a housewife before attending District of Columbia Teachers’ College where she received her bachelor’s degree in English and speech arts. She later went on to become an English teacher for the Halifax County Public School System until her retirement four years ago. She is now a substitute teacher.

Pannell attended Durham College and majored in accounting. After attending college, he worked with the Retired Teachers’ Association before being drafted to Vietnam. When he returned from Vietnam, he worked as director of transportation for the Marriot Corporation. 

He joined the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office for a brief stint before transferring to the Richmond Sheriff’s Office where he retired. Pannell was among the first African-Americans to be hired in the police or sheriff’s department in Halifax and South Boston.

Upon graduating high school, Richardson started working at Daystrom. He later went on to work at ABB where he retired.


Plans continue to be made for the 50th anniversary of the Mary M. Bethune Class of 1963, and all classmates are asked to contact Gloria at 423-326-2871, Mollie at 804-639-0734 or Blanch at 678-524-6059.