Last week I purchased two paintings by Josh Meador, Walt Disney’s longtime head of animation effects who called Columbus home. The paintings had probably been painted at or near Walt Disney’s Smoke Tree Ranch around 1950. I took the paintings out to show Uncle Bunky. Bunky, also a Meador fan, had been offered a job at Disney Studios but chose to stay in Columbus to work with young people instead.
I remembered having been told that Meador had given a beautiful painting of a ship to a teacher at the old Lee High School, which stood at the present location of the Columbus Lowndes Library. The old school burned in 1959, and the painting was lost. Bunky remembered the painting being in Mrs. Raper’s social studies classroom during his junior year in high school. Meador had given the painting to her. Our conversation drifted from Disney and Meador to Mrs. Raper’s classroom and then to the students who became the Lee High class of 1949.
Bunky told me he clearly recalled both the painting and the classroom it was in. Bunky got to work and what started out to be a recreation of Meador’s painting became a drawing of Mrs. Raper’s classroom and the young men and women of the Lee High School who were in that class in 1949. When Bunky showed me his drawing he could not help but tell me stories of his friends of years past when they were young and foolish but ready to take on the world.
1949 was a much different time than now but one thing has not changed. High school students enjoy life and the students in Mrs. Raper’s class sure did. There was Joe Alford who loved to play pranks on Mrs. Shaw when she kept study hall. He was a master at cutting up and then looking totally innocent when Mrs. Shaw would turn around and usually blame someone else.
Bobby Brown was a master engineer creating paper airplanes he would throw during class and could “shoot a mean spitball too.” Harvey Cromwell was dangerous shooting rubber bands and could “burn you up with his pea shooter.”
Peggy Beasly (Cantelou) and Betty Wallace (McGee) were never seen if not nicely dressed and always happy.
Many of the girls played basketball but it was a different game. They only played a half court game but on the full court. Five girls played defense on one half of the court while five girls played offence on the other half. Each team had ten players on the court though only five could play on each half. There was a jump ball at center court after each score.
Rodney Granger was good at anything he did and he did a lot. He was a master at stirring things up. Among Rodney’s many successful escapades was filling a teacher’s desk draw with crickets. Bobby Jones was not only one of the more intellectual students but also an excellent tennis player. The best tennis player was probably Harold Goldstein. None, though, were more interested in sports than James “Punchy” Walters. He had three interests — hunting, fishing and football. Merle Fraser got into body-building and weightlifting.
A.L. “Bam” Williams was good at basketball but less successful at hiding in the back of the room so that the teacher would not see him and call on him. No matter how hard he tried to hide behind other students his red hair always gave him away. Hunter Gholson must have been the smartest in the class. He “never had to open a book and never did” but was a straight-A student who was willing to help other with their work. Grinning from ear to ear, the only thing Bunky talked about doing himself was drinking a R C Cola at end of each school day after dropping a handful of peanuts in it.
Bunky said he can not think of old Lee High without recalling fun times with Gene Williams, who graduated in 1949. Gene was the ultimate spitball shooter. He had taken a large pencil and removed its lead center leaving a hollow tube and perfect shooter. With it he could “shoot the meanest spitball at the teacher” but look totally innocent with only a pencil in his hand when the teacher would turn around and look for the culprit. As soon as the teacher turned her back he would shoot another spitball at her.
Possibly the best story of all that Bunky told was about a joke Rodney Granger and Ed Prescott pulled on him. They all enjoyed going and hunting Indian artifacts together. On one occasion Ed and Rodney bought a cheap Mexican pot and filled it with half melted very shinny brass. They took it and buried it in a field where they were going arrowhead collecting with Bunky. Just part of the rim was left showing above ground. The next day Bunky found “the pot of gold” and for several days thought he had discovered a fortune. A man saw Bunky with it and offered him several hundred dollars for it but Bunky turned him down because the price was way too low and his golden find was much more valuable. Only after showing it to a professor at Mississippi State did Bunky realize he had been had. How young and foolish we all once were.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.