by Sarah Einselen News editor
---- — 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.”
But the tension didn’t stop the consolidation. Ronald Walton was appointed the new corporation’s first superintendent and the old Washington Township High School building was officially dubbed Lewis Cass High School. It’s where Zehring began ninth grade.
Younger students, like Roller, went to Thomas B. Helm Junior High School, formerly the Tipton Township High School, or the elementary schools that remained in Walton, Galveston and Deacon.
But by Zehring’s senior year, work had begun on the corporation’s new high school outside Walton. The building was mostly finished by the spring of 1968 — including the new gymnasium.
The school was glad to move its graduating ceremony into the new building just a little early. Every previous graduation had taken place in the Berry Bowl, the basketball gym of the school’s arch-rivals in nearby Logansport.
That fall, the doors officially opened to the rest of the new school building. The high school gym was highlighted just over a year later, too, when the school hosted the boys’ basketball sectionals. It was the first year the sectional hadn’t taken place in the Berry Bowl since that gym’s 1927 construction.
To top it off, the Lewis Cass Kings defeated Logansport in an afternoon game during the sectional, according to news reports from the time. Roller, who was a cheerleader at that game, remembers fans and players alike reacting to the 1970 win, the school’s first in varsity play against Logansport.
“You would’ve thought that we won the state championship,” Roller said. More than 40 years later, she still gets animated talking about the game.
Younger students got their own new or renovated buildings a few years later. One of the new buildings, Thompson Elementary, was built in 1979 and named for Superintendent Meredith W. Thompson, who died a year before from injuries sustained in a car accident. He had been superintendent there for four years.
When Thompson Elementary was built next to Lewis Cass, an expansion was also carried out at Galveston Elementary and the old Walton school and the elementary school in Deacon were closed.
In the early 1980s, the Lewis Cass Marching Kings began an unbroken streak of appearances at the state finals for the Indiana State School Music Association’s marching band competition. The school made its 32nd appearance at the state finals in 2013.
The schools entered the digital age in 1991 when computer labs were added, according to an article on the corporation’s 30th anniversary in 1993. Galveston Elementary got another set of renovations just afterward, in the mid-1990s, Roller said.
The school’s boys’ basketball team won its first state championship in school history in 2003, the year they also became the state’s seventh undefeated state champion in the 92-year history of the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s tournaments, according to IHSAA online archives.
“It’s absolutely amazing what has been accomplished in 50 years,” Roller said. “Yes, it was terrifying to give up your small schools in your little tiny town, but wow, the progress that has been made.”
“I’m just so grateful to have had a career in education and I can’t think of a better place to have had it than Southeastern School Corporation,” she added.
If you go: WHO: Current and former students, teachers, staff, school board members and friends of Southeastern Schools WHAT: Southeastern Schools 50th Anniversary Celebration WHEN: 2 p.m. April 27 WHERE: Lewis Cass High School gymnasium INFO: Refreshments will be served in the cafeteria following the one-hour ceremony. Tours will also take place at Lewis Cass, Thompson and Galveston schools, and class photos may be taken with personal cameras in the hallway at Lewis Cass.