HISTORY OF ZEPHYRHILLS HIGH SCHOOL

The Decade of the 1940’s at ZHS

1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1949

In the decade of the 1940’s ZHS was changing and her changes reflected or were affected by what was occurring in the country and world. Pasco County now had a total of 19 schools throughout the county. After two previous decades of school plants at ZHS being destroyed by fire, the 1940’s brought a time of stability and by 1947, a new school annex with six additional classrooms was added to the school campus to accommodate growth and the unique addition of a fish pond located on the school grounds was a signature feature.

Technology was on the rise and the school district boasted 39 total school buses—quite a change from the days of struggling to get to school by horse and buggy or having to board with a family near to the school in order to attend.
Printed in 1941 in the Zephyrhills News, there was an official school song for both the school and the school bus song that was written to the tune of Home On The Range. Students were encouraged to sing while riding the school bus. “We sing of a school where the teachers all rule, in a building of brick and so grand, whose corridors long, often echo with song, or the notes of a musical band…”  

Some school enrollments decreased at times during the decade. The smallest graduating class of the decade was only 12 in 1949. A prevailing belief was that ZHS was not quite up to par as Pasco High in the larger populated county seat, and some families chose to drive their students to Dade City for a few years. Because of the ravages of two school fires and the displacement of students from the school, in the absence of a school building during part of the 1930s, a challenge was to restore faith in the schools of Zephyrhills.

The central theme of the decade was World War II. ZHS graduated its first war-time senior in 1942—with a similar situation as those graduated in 1918 in absentee. In 1942, the president of the senior class was awarded a diploma in absentia because of enlisting in the service to serve in World War II.  

World War II with war production had pulled the country out of the Depression. With this production, women were entering the workplace, primarily to replace men who were in the war. Rationing of food, tires, nylon stockings and many other items was common place. Perhaps the most innovative ZHS affect of the decade in WW II USA, was the purchase of an air plane by the school’s senior class and the introduction of an aeronautics class at the school. “On February 14, 1946, the ZHS Senior class purchased and presented the school a BT-13 Vultee Trainer airplane for the purpose of teaching aeronautics to both girls and boys of the upper classes.” The plane was purchased from the War Surplus Board and was flown to the Zephyrhills airfield by Mr. William Krusen, a local pilot.

Two highly influential faculty members who were to have a long tenure and tremendous influence on the unfolding ZHS came on board in the late 1940’s and the impact they leave on ZHS are significant in 2007 in the legacy of sports and music—these individuals were none other than John T.V. Clark and Coach Johnny Clements. ZHS was able to recruit a coach of high stature who was himself a professional athlete prior to coming to ZHS. Johnny came in 1948 and did not retire from ZHS until 1983.

1948—that was the year Clements took the job at ZHS and moved to Zephyrhills. Throughout his career Clements achieved many distinctions. He was a senior class sponsor for 20 years…In 1952 Clements organized Zephyrhills First little League beginning with six teams. In 1957 he was named Pasco County Teacher of the Year. He was president of the West Coast Athletic Conference for two years and president of the Tampa Bay Athletic Conference for one year and in 1973. He was one of three Florida High School coaches to receive a lifetime membership in the Florida High School Coaches Association. In 1988 his record was recognized by the FHSCA with a plaque for being only one of five high school coaches with a winning record of more than 400 games.

The other influential staff member was John T.V. Clark who establishes the formal marching band program for the school. His first act was to lobby for “real band uniforms” of which money was raised and ZHS was able to purchase the used Lakeland High School Band uniforms as their first official marching attire. He also worked successfully on the purchase and funding of band instruments as well.
Lots of community camaraderie revolved around this band development. Glee Clubs were prominent in the literature—for example in April 1942 the ZHS Glee club produced “Pickles,” –a musical comedy about a millionaire who arrive in Vienna with several unlikely plots developing along the way!

The 1947-48 term was the first to see employment of a full-time agriculture instructor at ZHS and the donation of a 20-acre tract of land by the City of Zephyrhills for the use of the agricultural students was well received.

Principals during the decade served many roles. The first football team came to fruition in 1941 and the principal, Thomas Burch Cornelius, served as their coach. What an exciting time to finally organize a football team after so many years of planning, fundraising and hoping for it. That football team was composed of fifteen players and they concluded a ten-game season with a perfect record—that is no wins! Thomas Burch Cornelius left ZHS to become the principal of Pasco High and then Gainesville High School A somewhat primitive outdoor basketball court still served as the high school sports area. The ZHS Quarterback Club of influential parents and community members was first organized in 1941 with the first president, Charles E. Gibson. One of the members of that first football team, Judge Richard Kelly gained state and national fame as a marine, circuit judge, west central Florida Congressman and ultimately as a victim of the FBI Abscam sting; his affiliation to ZHS was something that Kelly prided himself on until his death in 2005.

Leon Luckenbach served for the last few years of the decade as principal, and had a bit of a controversy over the male students who wished to leave ZHS to join the armed services.  Luckenbach resigned and refused to attend the graduation ceremony because of this philosophical dispute. An interesting anecdote throughout the decade was the discussion in news articles about the ZHS “fish pond” which was beautifully sculpted in front of the school building—the responsibility for care of the ornamental fish pond was that of the school principal. For many years, a signature feature of the school was the decorative fish pond in front of the school. The school newspaper of this era is called The Bulldog Bulletin. The school annex was originally named the “Leon Luekenbach Educational Annex”--one wonders if the philosophical dispute he became embroiled in may have also lead to the name change of the Annex to simply the “annex.”

The first official yearbook was printed in 1946 and in 1948, the school hosted a “naming contest” to come up with a unique name for the annual or yearbook; Betty Jo Turner (now Betty Jo Hyder) won the contest and conceptualized the name of the yearbook, “Zephilsco.” With the yearbook, an annual contest to crown a queen and king were instituted by the end of the decade, and the unveiling of the yearbook becomes a quite significant annual milestone each year. The senior notables became quite involved and creative and were featured in the yearbook and published in the newspaper as well.

With the homecoming of the GIs, the baby boom began and along with this came the first GI bill and a greater availability of college. In fact by 1949, college degrees were increasing three-fold over the beginning of the decade. At ZHS, student council came into existence and is discussed in archives as a significant organization with some real power in the school operation; in 1948, the September 17, 1948 article states,

This year Principal L.R. Luckenbach has announced a number of undertakings for the Council such as painting the auditorium, the dressing room, etc. The student council is an organization of the students which oversees the student body and strives for improvement of the school.

Homes first began to have televisions by 1947—an invention that had been introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Graduation continued to be a significant life event for graduates. Some of the junior-senior banquets were hosted at homes, rather than the Hotel Zephyr, which had been the frequent location for many years. The institution of “Senior Skip Away Day” first emerged in the 1940s and was a popular school-sponsored event in which select teachers chaperoned a special senior day or days away from school. The May 22, 1942 Senior Skip Away Day included a trip to Clearwater Beach and then an excursion as a group to the Tampa Theatre to see Bob Hope in My Favorite Blonde. In 1941, a similar Skip event was hosted on the beach with seniors seeing Bette Davis in The Great Lie.

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