WALTON — Dean “D.A.” Zehring graduated from the current Lewis Cass High School, but he never attended classes there.
It’s one of the unique characteristics of the graduating class of 1968, the first class to complete all four years of high school under the auspices of the young Southeastern School Corp. The corporation’s students, teachers and other connected individuals are the focus of an upcoming celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the corporation’s first graduation in 1964.
Zehring is one of several committee members planning Southeastern’s 50th anniversary celebration scheduled for 2 p.m. April 27 at Lewis Cass High School. The celebration will include performances from a variety of school ensembles, as well as reminiscences and photos from the school corporation’s history.
Southeastern Schools formed from the consolidation of several township schools, Zehring said — as of Jan. 1, 1963, five townships comprising four high schools and four grade schools merged, turning into a group of one high school, one junior high school and three elementary schools.
At the time, tensions were high among the towns in Deer Creek, Jackson, Tipton, Washington and Miami townships, Zehring said. Some residents in New Waverly camped in front of the New Waverly elementary school to protest the consolidation, he said. That school was the only elementary to close in the consolidation, along with high schools in Young America and Galveston.
Thompson Elementary teacher Pam Roller, who was in seventh grade in 1964 and is now on the committee planning the school’s 50th anniversary celebration, said she later came to understand how the merger had rocked the area’s small towns.
“I didn’t realize, it was like the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Roller said.
Current Southeastern Superintendent Trudie Hedrick said tension over the consolidation even attracted the attention of national newsmagazine LIFE.
“The school is the heartbeat of the community,” Hedrick said. “When they lose their school, they feel like they have died. ... So when those consolidations were happening back in the 60s,... those small communities were feeling the pain.”