BHS Graduates 39 in 1938

By Stephen D. Bowling

The new school brought smiles to most who passed the new brick building on Court Street. The structure was the crowing jewel of the administration of Superintendent Marie R. Turner. Her husband, Ervine Turner, started Breathitt High School in 1926. The small school at Quicksand soon outgrew the building it shared with the Quicksand Grade School.

Under Mrs. Turner’s leadership, support from several Federal New Deal agencies funded the construction of the new school. Delayed several times by the lack of skilled local brick layers, the building was opened and officially dedicated in January 1938 by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt after more than a year and a half of construction.

The new BHS on Court Street boasted 14 classrooms, a small library, shop classes, and a large modern gymnasium. Officials from across the nation came to Jackson to see the new design and the work of the Works Progress Administration. The members of the graduation class of 1938 were the first to attend class in the new building and were excited to graduate in the gym.

Breathitt High School in 1937-1938.

The Class of 1938 was the second class at BHS to graduate in the new gymnasium. The class of 1927, which included 27 students, walked across the stage at the new gym before the High School was completed and opened. Workers stopped construction on the school building to focus on completing the large (96 x 110 feet) gymnasium in time for the annual graduation. The finishing touches of paint were applied to the trim only hours before the graduation ceremonies started on May 20, 1937.

Superintendent Marie R. Turner

Students from across Breathitt County lined up outside the gym’s back doors and waited for the piano music to begin. As Miss Sara A. Waters played the processional on the piano, the graduates streamed one-by-one into the gym and took their places in chairs prepared for them. Thirty-nine Seniors, who completed the requirements for graduation, sat quietly as Principal Robert VanHorne opened the ceremonies and introduced the guests.

The graduates were recognized and heard words of wisdom about the need for education to change the world around them from Dr. John Lang. As Executive Assistant to the Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Lang encouraged graduates to continue their education and return to Breathitt County to serve the community. A large crowd of parents and supporters filled the new gym that Thursday evening to witness the historic event.

The graduation culminated a week’s worth of activities that included the Junior Prom, Baccalaureate, Field Day, a picnic on the Devil’s Backbone, and all the preparations for the graduation ceremonies. The celebration would continue on Friday as the school celebrated the Class Day picnic for all Breathitt students.

Superintendent Marie R. Turner awarded the diplomas with the help of several faculty members and members of the Board of Education. The ceremonies closed with music from the Glee Clubs under the direction of Miss Water.

The members of the first class to graduate from the new Breathitt High School were:

Rollin Bach, John Wesley Baker, Julia Campbell, Beulah Chapman, Cassie Chapman, Oscar Chapman, Roy Cochran, Alva Mae Combs, Noka Louise Craft, Silas Deaton, James Dorsey Elam.

Julia Fugate, Marie Miller Gillum, Robert Gregory, Herman Grigsby, Adeline Gross, John Wess Hays, Bonnie Marie Hounshell, Dosha Leone Howard, Eva Howard, Carlyle Lockard, Luther Martin.

Orville Miller, James Moore, George Noble, Geraldine Noble, Herbert Noble, Earnest Oaks, Earl Pelfrey, Pryse Roark, Marjorie Robinson, Vivian Robinson, Roxie Russell.

Dailey Sallee, Matt Smith, James Strong, Shirley Taulbee, Virginia Taulbee, and Omer Thorpe.

A view of the BHS stage during graduation ceremonies in 1956.

More than 86 classes of students have walked across the stages and platforms on the school’s campus on Court Street during indoor and several outdoor graduations since the first class graduated in the gym in 1937.

Thousands of graduates took Dr. Lang’s advice, and generations of BHS students continued their education and returned to serve the area. Others chose a different route and found their way into vocational schools and the military, while some went straight to work in jobs across the country. Each of the graduates found their own ways to serve, and each has their roots firmly planted in the education they received on the river bank at Breathitt High School.

© 2023 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
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