Smithville Academy holds first reunion
Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2016
LAKE BLACKSHEAR — More than 100 former students, faculty, staff and parents of Smithville Academy enjoyed a day of reminiscing on June 4 at the Anchored Flint at Lake Blackshear. The schoolwide reunion was the first ever held for the private school, which educated students from 1970 to 1975 in neighboring Lee County.
Students from at least six different states, including Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vermont, were in attendance.
Anita Gillis Johnston, chair of the organizing committee, welcomed guests at lunchtime, and again at dinner. Johnston, a registered nurse who now lives in Moultrie, was a 1974 Smithville Academy graduate. She praised the academy’s “family-like” atmosphere, Christian principles, and success in academics and athletics. During its five years of operation, the school awarded diplomas to 90 students.
Special recognition was given to Betty Bailey Todd, a former school secretary and wife of first headmaster, Ed N. Bailey. Teachers recognized included Claudia Copeland and Sylvia Eubanks.
Parents in attendance included Mr. and Mrs. Harold Israel, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Short, and Tulula Cosby. Harold Israel is one of only three surviving members of the school’s board of directors. Tulula Cosby is the wife of Julian Cosby, a member of the first board and an instrumental figure in the school’s founding. Frances Short is the sole surviving member of the school’s lunchroom staff. All had children who were graduates of Smithville Academy.
Those who assisted Anita Johnston on the organizing committee included alums Terri Lacy Jones, Tracy Johnson Israel, Florence Usry, Brenda McGlamery Lawson, Nancy Cheek Smith, Billy Varnum, Billy Harper, Gene Hobgood, and Steve Short.
Nearly 500 photos from previous yearbooks were projected onto a video screen throughout the afternoon. Lunch and dinner were catered by Southern Elegance of Albany.
Memorabilia ranging from cheerleading banners to scrapbooks to sports uniforms to championship trophies were on display. The floor space was attractively decorated throughout in the school colors of blue and gold. Entrance into the spacious building was highlighted by the original ticket booth wooden sign that sat on the school’s gymnasium entryway and included a painting of the school’s popular mascot. It read, “RAMS / Welcome to Smithville Academy.”
A special memorial table containing photographs paid respect to former students and teachers who have passed away.
Take-home souvenirs included blue and gold Rams cups, compliments of former Coach Eddie Ward and Betty Anne Ward of Draw Products in Americus; and replica blue and gold pens from an original 1972-73 pen that included the school’s home-and-away basketball schedule.
Carol Wooley Steele, Class of 1971, and the school’s first “Miss Smithville,” was recognized for traveling the greatest distance to attend — more than 1,050 miles, from Colchester, Vermont. All other former Mr. and Miss Smithvilles also were recognized. Those present included Cathy Cook Williams, Florence Usry, and Charles Israel.
Special recognition was given to the 1970-71 Class A girls SEAIS state champion basketball team. Five members of the team — Jackie Fore Wilson, Gloria Moorman Ammons, Pam McTyeire Oakley, Susie Melton Zemblowski, and Cathy Cook Williams — were present and posed for photographs. A special word from former Coach Donnie Crawford of Blakely, who was unable to attend, was shared.
Other sports teams, including football, boys’ basketball, baseball, and track, in addition to cheerleading, also were recognized. Of special interest on display was the school’s original basketball scoreboard, which was rescued before the academy’s gymnasium was torn down years ago.
Photographs were made of each sports team, and photos were made of each class by Sherri Stephens Lovett, Class of 1982 and a first-grader the year that the school opened. CDs will be available. The photos also are available on the school’s Facebook page.
Smithville Academy’s original board of trustees consisted of nine men — Jimmy Jones, Raymond Cannon, the Rev. W.L. “Bill” Wooley, Geise Usry, Charles Rhodes, Thad Gibson, Claude McRee, Bill C. Deriso, and Julian Cosby. The school graduated its first class of 20 members on June 1, 1971. This year marked the 45th anniversary of that commencement. The school’s last class graduated on May 26, 1975, and consisted of 15 members. At its peak, the school’s largest K-12 enrollment was 265.
Alumni living today include leading educators, businessmen and women, pharmacists, attorneys, Christian authors, farmers, and those working in numerous other fields. Notable alumni include a female vice president of a Sumter County bank; the district attorney for the Southwestern Judicial Circuit in Americus; the Recorder’s Court judge in Savannah-Chatham County; and the brigadier general and commander of the Georgia Army National Guard.
— Submitted by Steve Short