Columbia High School graduates share 100 years of memories

Well, it wasn’t exactly like the good old days.

But the days were good, and they weren’t forgotten Saturday night when hundreds of Columbia High School alumni came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their alma mater.

Most of them remembered – and mourned – their beloved downtown school building, which was demolished in 1984 to make way for the expansion of First Baptist Church. Nine years earlier, the class of 1975 had been the last to graduate from Columbia’s only downtown high school.

More than 900 people, spanning decades of the school’s classes, signed up for the multi-class reunion.

When they reconnected, it was “almost like you pick up from where you were” back then, said Ched Spangler, of the class of 1975, who helped organize the event.

Some of them shared their memories:

Ched Spangler, class of 1975

“Across the street was a graveyard with a wall. And that’s where everybody hung out. Did legal things, illegal things, whatever. ... That’s just where kids did what they did. ... You were cool if you were in front of the wall.”

Ernest Zeigler, class of 1938, and his daughter Emily Zeigler Royal, class of 1968

At 94 years old, Ernest Zeigler may have been the oldest alumnus at Saturday’s gathering. He remembers playing saxophone in the school band.

“It was great,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”

Thirty years behind him, his daughter followed his footsteps as a Columbia High graduate.

Gene Varn, class of 1951

“I can tell you about one thing we did one day at Columbia High. We had a physics class, and it was all boys in that physics class. It was being taught by the assistant principal.

“And one day we were there and had a substitute teacher. And somebody picked up my books off my desk and tossed them out of the top window. So, next thing I did was picked up another guy’s books. And then after about five minutes every book that everybody owned was on the ground (outside).”

Wallace Stokes, class of 1951

“The biggest thing is at recess we’d go to the sports center and get two hotdogs and a Pepsi for a quarter and go to the pool tables.”

Hal Price, class of 1973

“I think the high school and our integration really prepared all of us to go in the world a whole different way with a lot more confidence about how to work with people. ... We come from humble beginnings, but we learn to really accept people as everybody’s family.”

Wayne Dodgen and Cheryl Baker Dodgen, class of 1975

The couple first met in kindergarten at Virginia Wingard United Methodist Church’s school and started dating their senior year of high school.

“This is a thing that absolutely terrified me,” Wayne Dodgen remembers. “Cheryl and I actually started dating over the Christmas holidays our senior year. So the first day back in school after the holidays ... I got to school, Cheryl was already there, sitting with her group of girlfriends. And I’m sitting there going, ‘OK, what do I do now?’

“So I walked in and I sat down, and Cheryl turned around and gave me this one eyebrow – Give her the look, honey. C’mon, the one eyebrow raise. And I knew right then that I had to go and sit with her and her girlfriends. So then after that it was easy, though, because it was like every day I knew what I had to do.”

They got married after college, 35 years and 11 months ago.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC