The following information was compiled for the 2000 all school reunion booklet. Stories are by Barbara (Rackley) Luna, class of 1966, Sue Ann (Luna) Jones, class of 1969 and Janet (Ebrite) Taber, class of 1969.
FROM HITCHING POSTS TO PARKING LOTS, CHALKBOARDS TO COMPUTERS,
Schools in Ozark County ceased to function during the Civil War. Afterward, dozens of school districts with colorful names like Seedtick, Hog Danger, and Brushy Knob operated throughout the county. But these schools only offered elementary education through grade eight. It is not known when Gainesville's first high school opened, but sometime around the turn of the century, as shown in the photograph below, a two-story school stood on the hillside northwest of the square, just below the Harlin house. Different photos of the school, such as the one below, bear the names "Gainesville Normal School" and "Ozark County Institute" and "Teacher Training School."
Records indicate that the first four-year high school class, consisting of four students, was graduated in Gainesville in 1910. The class included Alaska Clute, Helen Ebrite Blisard, Nettie Enloe and Mrs. J.A. Heap. The old frame structure housed classes until about 1918, when a new school building (shown below) was erected on the hillside overlooking what is now the intersection of Highways 5 and 160.
Some alumni remember this "new" concrete block two-story structure as resembling a "medieval castle." The imposing school had four rooms downstairs and one big room upstairs that could be used as an auditorium for graduations and school functions or partitioned off to be used as classrooms. There was no electricity or running water, except for a hand pump. The outhouses--a "six or seven holer," John Luna (class of 1937) recalls--were "off over the hill."
Slowly the class sizes grew, as "country kids" moved into town during the school year to board with friends, relatives, or other residents who rented out rooms. Others walked, rode from home each day on horseback or in early automobiles. Soon after the "new" school was built, Thana Breeding Mahan and her brother, Leslie (both class of 1929) rode into town each day in their family's Model T, picking up other kids along the way. On the other hand, Edith Landers Gaulding (class of 1926) rode her horse in to school. Lile Amyx (class of 1929) recalls that Edith stalled her horse in the Amyx family's barn near the square. M.J. Luna (Class of 1931) and Marvin Kirkpatrick (class of 1932) walked together to town from the Luna community, a distance of several miles.
Some enterprising residents offered private school bus service for a fee. Ruth Enloe, who lived in Almartha, rode on a bus driven by Mr. T.P. Reed in 1934. Paying $3.00 per month, she joined fellow students on an early forerunner of today's modern buses. There were three long benches running the length of the bus, with the one in the middle called the "straddle board." Mrs. Enloe recalls that the boys sat astride the straddle board, while the girls sat on the outside benches with their backs to the wall of the bus. John Luna remembers that Lanza Pitcock "fixed up a pickup truck to haul kids to school for a nickel a day."
During this era, Leonard Ebrite (class of 1922) and Fay Bushong Ebrite (class of 1924) were respected teachers. Leonard served as superintendent, taught classes, and also coached the basketball team, which played on an outdoor court. It was Mr. Ebrite who gave the mascot name of "Bulldogs" to the team, a name which has continued until today. Mrs. Ebrite taught the teacher training class and wrote the original school song, to the tune of "On Wisconsin."
In about 1929, residents started worrying that the "new" school was becoming dangerous. Some mischievous boys climbed on the roof one day and managed to topple one of the concrete blocks off to the ground. Whether the cause was shoddy construction or whether, as some alumni believed, blasting to build the new Highway 5 as it skirted the east side of town had damaged the structure, the building was torn down. During the 1930-1931 school year, as construction on the new cut-stone school proceeded, high school students attended classes all over town--in the courthouse, in the back of the bank, above Amyx Auto, and other sites.
Classes for the grade-school children were held in the McClendon house, where Flo Bushong Edmonds (class of 1927) was one of the primary teachers. John Luna remembers that Flo's husband, Rolen (class of 1923), taught intermediate classes on the square, and Flo would send her troublemakers to him to be whipped.
The new building was built from limestone blocks that were quarried north of town. The contractor, B. E. Downard, was awarded the job on a bid of $12,500, but was unable to complete the project at that figure. The bonding company was required to finish the building, which contained six rooms on the first floor, the gym and two rooms on the ground floor and an office.
The original 1931 structure opened without bathrooms, but it was far superior to anything students had experienced in the past. It would remain a Gainesville landmark for more than 60 years as students in all twelve grades passed through its doors and, during their school career, probably had classes in every room in the building.
Kindergarten, when it was offered in the 1950's, was held in various sites, including what is now Gainesville City Hall. Tornado drills (or were they air-raid drills?) sent students marching across the street to the basement of the First Christian Church, which was also used as a classroom at times.
It was in 1957 that GHS's feisty boys' basketball team garnered wide attention. The team finished their exciting season with a fourth place finish in the state competition in Columbia, and drew broad support from the community, with many fans attending every game, both home and away. Louie Joe Scott broke scoring records, not only for Gainesville but later at the University of Missouri, where he was a member of the Tiger team in Columbia.
The rock building was enlarged over the years, beginning in 1940 when increased enrollment made it necessary to add three large classrooms and modern restrooms. This was a WPA project and only cost the local district about $800, with the balance of funds coming from the federal government. In 1952, another addition on the west end of the gym added the stage and classroom, two basement rooms and an office, later occupied by the school nurse.
Further additions were made through the years to accommodate continued growth and added kindergarten rooms, music and art rooms, special education facilities and a lunchroom.
Enrollment continued to increase as country one room schools were gradually consolidated into the district, and every available nook and cranny--including a windowless third-grade room in the attic and the stage--was used as classroom space. It finally became necessary to fund a building project for a new high school.
But getting the necessary public support for such a project was not easy. Even students got involved in a campaign to drum up support from voters. Barbara Rackley Luna (class of 1966) remembers her sixth grade class marching in the town Christmas parade, singing, "All we want for Christmas is a new school house!" Finally, after nine attempts, a bond issue was passed around 1960. Sue Ann Luna Jones (class of 1969) remembers being with her dad, superintendent M.J. Luna, at the courthouse on the night of that ninth election and hearing her dad say, as the final votes were being counted, "Boys, it's gonna pass!"
The rest of the country one-room schools were closed and those students were bused into Gainesville when the new high school opened in 1963. The new school, located on highway 160 east of town, opened with about 275 students. It had a feature Gainesville's previous schools had lacked: a library. It also had a "real" cafeteria and modern kitchen, where cooks prepared hot lunches for the high schoolers, as well as tubs of food that were trucked to the grade school students who remained downtown in the old school. Total enrollment in both buildings was around 600 students.
The new high school has continued to grow, just as its predecessor had done. Vocational subjects--agriculture, home economics, and carpentry, for example--were added in the 60s and 70s. Another bond issue paid for the addition of a junior high wing to the high school. Various building projects through the years have added several wings and outbuildings to the campus. After the building trades class was added to the curriculum, students were actually a part of the building process.
In 1977 Gainesville initiated its first football program. The hardworking varsity team members struggled through several years without a single win. But when their first victory did come, in the Bulldogs' 1985 season, a national TV news camera crew was here to record it. The football program was later suspended in 1991. Gainesville's largest class was in 1983 with 95 graduating.
Another bond issue resulted in a new elementary school building, as shown below, that was opened in 1995. Now, once again, all twelve grades, plus kindergarten, are instructed on the same campus--although in two widely spaced buildings. The 1931 school was purchased by First Home Savings Bank and demolished, except for the gym, which has recently been remodeled as Gainesville's new post office.
What a fascinating history our school enjoys! And how far-flung its graduates are today. Many of Gainesville High School's graduates went from the classroom to war, serving in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, and other battlefields. They have entered every profession and vocation and worked and served in every corner of the globe. Today we gather to celebrate our heritage, and we eagerly look forward to watching each new year's class of graduates move confidently into the future from our alma mater. May our school continue to evolve and grow to meet future challenges while continuing its tradition of providing an excellent education for Ozark County youngsters.
Thursday, April 27th, 2017