By: Gail E. Kirkland
Sixteen Candles—make that One Hundred Candles and four locations. Ten decades ago Daviess County High School opened its doors at 3rd & Allen Street, the former Messenger Building. In 1915, Sarah Lee Coons became the first graduate. In 1919, the school moved to the Armory at 3rd & Cedar Street and then to the Monarch Mansion on the river, where the present Daviess County Middle School now resides. Originally named Owensboro Daviess High School, DCHS became its official name in 1925. Daviess County High School as we now know it has been on New Hartford Road since 1958.
Without hesitation one graduate clearly and emphatically recalled precisely how many were in his graduating class: “Sixty-six.” That was in 1937, the year of The Great Flood. With an incredulous memory for people’s names and events at age 96, O.D. Hazelrigg still exudes loyalty and pride for Daviess County High School, his alma mater. One of his favorite memories remains a Red Letter Day celebrating Daviess County’s basketball victory over Owensboro High School. “Everyone longed to beat Owensboro, and it finally happened,” he recalled with a chuckle. O.D. detailed each person who played, remembered the number of points scored, who put in the winning basket and how an entire school day was dedicated to celebration.
“I knew who he was in high school, but he was 5 years ahead of me,” said Ruth Hazelrigg, a 1942 DCHS graduate. O.D. and Ruth will soon celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary. She graduated with the late Wendell Ford, former Governor and U.S. Senator. She fondly recalled celebrating her 25th Class Reunion at the Governor’s Mansion—then another DCHS class reunion in Washington, D.C.
To sit in the Hazelriggs’ presence and listen firsthand to tales of riding trains, horses and buggies to school took me back more than a few years to simpler days, a genuine treasure. O.D. recalled starting with 125 classmates. Most dropped out to help their families, to work on the farm. It was the era of The Great Depression. Surprisingly, in 1937, DCHS had 5 bus routes. So, what did their school day look like? O.D. recalled 6 periods of classes, sometimes 7; homerooms; changing classes by a bell; and 25-30 students per classroom—not too altogether different from today.
“The thing I remember about school was that I was a little bit lazy. I never wanted to do homework. In high school we had one, sometimes two, study periods. I didn’t want to work at home; I worked my study period. A lot of people had more fun than I did, but I didn’t have to take any work home with me,” O.D. said. Ruth proudly interjected that he was valedictorian and class president. O.D. explained that his first cousin John Hazelrigg (a 1929 DCHS graduate) had been class president and an honor student. “In my mind, I was competing with him,” O.D. said. Question: In those days, when you were valedictorian, did you deliver a speech at graduation? He nodded and said, “I still have a copy of it.” Within minutes he had produced a typewritten (as in typed on a type writer) copy of his speech. Quick wit intact, O.D. said of the speech, “You can see it, but don’t quote me.”
That ability to type landed O.D. his first job—one he kept for 30 years and one that catapulted him into his life-long career as Chief Financial Officer at Green River Steel, which in its heyday was a multi-multi-million dollar business with more than 750 employees and a key company in Owensboro’s economy. “You never know what’s going to open doors,” O.D. said in reference to his typing skills.
This back story highlights the primary story and primary hope that more stories like these will be enjoyed, shared and recalled at Daviess County High School’s Centennial Celebration, August 29, at the Hines Center, 5-10 p.m. Dinner will be catered by Moonlite, with a cash bar available. The program begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 each, or preferred seating (tables of 8) may be reserved for $250 and may be purchased at DCHS, by PayPal on the DCHS Panther Foundation website or by check mailed to DCHS Panther Foundation (117 E. 18th Street PMB #170, Owensboro, KY 42303). With each reservation, names and the year graduated are requested. Tickets are available now through August 22 and limited in number.
“It’s mainly going to be people seeing people. I think that’s going to be the highlight: People are going to see people they haven’t seen for a long time. We’re going to have a program to celebrate Daviess County High School through the years, go back to the heritage, the beginning up to modern times, from 1914 when it started to the present,” said Gary Keller, chairman of the Centennial Celebration.
In his quest to locate as many former graduates as possible, Gary has pulled out all stops. He has culled through the school library’s yearbooks (dating from 1921), attended the 50-Plus quarterly gathering of DCHS graduates at Ryan’s and tapped as many previous class reunion databases as are available. A committee of 25 DCHS graduates is handling decorations (Sally Knight Barker), assembling a database (Karen Baker Gaddis), finalizing the food and programming (Shelia Miller), posting information via social media (Katie Keller) and marketing the celebration to the community and beyond (Molly Newman Roberts). Attire for the evening is business casual.
The Class of 1990 plans to combine their 25-Year Class Reunion with the Centennial Celebration, in addition to hosting a pre-union at Friday After 5. Other classes are discussing this option as well. “Facebook has been tremendous,” said Gary, in regard to reaching out and getting the word out to former graduates.
Six former principals, assistant principals and teachers will be included. Tours of the school will be available the morning of the celebration. This grand birthday party, grand reunion, will be an ultimate “celebration of the heritage of Daviess County High School,” according to Jill Keller.
Gary’s number one goal is to celebrate the excellence of DCHS. “If we start naming all the successful people of Daviess County High School, it’s an amazing group of people; it really is. I can’t even get my head around who has done what . . . the more I find out, the more I’m impressed,” Gary said. Second is making people aware that DCHS needs the ongoing support of its graduates. Lastly, he hopes to establish a means to maintain that excellence forward: “I’m not a graduate of Daviess County High School, but my life has been there . . . I’ll go to my grave loving that school,” said Gary—former DCHS principal, vice principal, counselor, coach and teacher.
“We will have some music and those who choose may dance to music of the ‘30s, ‘40s . . .” Gary said, diverting his conversation and questioning O.D. if he still played the piano. “Oh, very little,” O.D. said, which proved to be humble understatement. Within moments he strode to the piano in their living room and did not miss a chord as he played “On, On, DCHS” by ear. As the music echoed throughout the room, not a dry eye remained of those who were hearing O.D. play for the first time. Simply amazing—no, beyond amazing!
Gary offered O.D. a spontaneous invitation to play the school song at the Centennial Celebration. “If we can get you there, I promise there will be a piano, and I promise if you will do it, we will have The Fight Song played by you.” O.D. immediately said he didn’t know if he’d live that long; he’s often on oxygen and has calcification around his heart valve. Just as quickly, Gary responded, “You’ll live that long, and if you cannot walk, I’ll carry you. I’ll put you right on that piano bench.”
Lord willing, Centennial Celebration attendees will receive that extraordinary treat and more when O.D. pulls up his bench to the piano and nimbly plays The Fight Song for a room full of DCHS alumni and friends. Start lighting the candles.