HISTORY OF ZEPHYRHILLS HIGH SCHOOL

Reflections

At ZHS, I was a history teacher who attempted to follow the chronologies in traditional historical research style. After a lifetime in education, my enthusiasm for history was renewed a few years ago when I discovered the works of historian, Ken Burns, who has reviewed many periods of American History from the viewpoint of ordinary Americans. Burns considers himself a historical documentarian and is probably the most influential historian of our generation. He looks first at the lessons found in music, education, art, film, sports and even trivia of the period before viewing the historical hierarchy of dates and major events. Burns also conveys his own perspective of events and makes assumptions about the character of the time, sometimes addressing regional division, race, gender and social norms.

I approached the history of Zephyrhills education from a Burns approach. Documentation was my first goal. I had a fairly extensive oral history in place from my years as an educator but I wanted to review all of the news coverage and archives to carefully record as much information as possible. I capture in my decade summaries and reflections, the character of students. It was my intent not to focus exclusively on sports or school principals for example, but to capture a taste of each era. I did undoubtedly infuse my own perspectives as I integrated what I found in the archives but I strived always to be objective.

A metaphor—Zephyrhills High for the author is today an intricate “weaving” that is the result of the interlacing on a community loom of many elements. Every student who graced the doors of ZHS campus (any of the fours physical plants) has impacted this tapestry. The stakeholders throughout the 100 years are carefully intertwined in the ZHS character, creating an essential texture to its fabric. With careful analysis of that fabric of ZHS, there are imperfections and intricate examples of numerous weave techniques. The end result which continues to evolve in 2010 stretches and grows to fit the community, educational climate, and student needs.

In this ZHS weave, the “warp” represents the yarns that run lengthwise to provide the foundation of the ZHS tapestry. The warp themes that consistently guided ZHS history included: 1) ZHS as a conduit for the community; 2) The school facility as a key congregational place; and 3) Leadership as a compass of the times.

The horizontal strands of the tapestry (the woof/weft) provide the substance of the piece. These strands are the students and stakeholders over time and include: 1) key people; 2) innovation; 3) milestones; and 4) student leaders.

In unraveling the stories of ZHS, I consistently identified the institution of the school as one that tied everyone together. There was a sense of ownership of the school by everyone. The school provided an outlet for interaction, gatherings, parties and social events. For the groundbreaking of the first ZHS in 1910, Trottman said, “They turned out in buggies, wagons and oxcarts”…the county Superintendent M.L. Gilbert made a talk in which he said, ”the new school represents 42 states and territories.”

Throughout the literature of the first four decades, references address the school trustees. The trustees, unlike today’s county school board, consisted of a local group of citizens, who often met in each other’s houses. As late as 1939, the trustees were meeting informally…on May 12, 1939, the trustees met at the home of Mr. J.W. Collier to select the faculty and were successful in recruiting Thomas Burch Cornelius as ZHS Principal away from Haines City. The trustees were the movers and shakers who made decisions about the principal, appointed the teachers and decided on expenditures. Often, also they legislated the moral and ethical standards of the school. For example, on September 16, 1921, rules for teachers were published and included a long list of expectations such as “To require the pupils to observe personal cleanliness, neatness, order, promptness and gentility of manners, to avoid vulgarity and profanity and to cultivate in them habits of industry and economy…”

The ZHS P.T.A. was formed by Principal Geiger in 1926 and was a critical institution until the 1950s. The P.T.A. hosted forums, advised on curriculum, and had a significant leadership role. ZHS had huge PTA membership drives, formal initiations and acted as a strong advisor to the school.

Zephyrhills was involved in sports at the school from 1910 onward. In the earliest days, the ZHS students often competed in community games with the students paired against the city team. For example in 1930 the Zephyrhills Athletic Association played ZHS at its local court—it must have been quite an event because the newspaper said, “Bragging has been done by both sides and each wants to prove the other one—be sure to come next Thursday and bring a dime.” Later, ZHS had a most remarkable Quarterback Club that guided the sports development of the school and community. The name was changed around 1979 to the Booster Club. This group was responsible for nearly every sports innovation and growth that occurred in ZHS sports history.


The Zephyrhills Quarterback Club was organized in 1941, to promote athletics in an athletic-less Zephyrhills High School, with Charles E. Gibson as first president of the club.  Some reminiscences from a September 21, 1945, Zephyrhills News article:

Members headed by Lester Bales, Jr. as president, worked on bleacher repairs at Krusen Field Saturday morning, and had a remember-when gab session. Some recalled that in the beginning there was nothing in the way of organized athletics—the few boys who went out to practice had no suits and other equipment was not in existence locally. This was taken care of gradually. Then, World War II came and a stand still for the local program. After the war new life was breathed into the organization and its program. Many recalled the first Quarterback Club banquet for football players, now named the “Bulldogs.” There were no trophies presented in those days and with dollars hard to come by, the club felt elated to be financially able just to host the squad members at the dinner. Little by little the back-stopping movement grew and spread and as time went on business and professional men and women, church leaders, farmers, and others pushed forward the program. The need for a coaching staff at the local school was pointed out. Quarterbackers work in cooperation with the coaches.

Krusen Field was dedicated with the Quarterback Club being instrumental in securing the lighting system for the field, as well as metal portable bleachers. A shower building was renovated and toilet facilities added; assistance was given in purchasing uniforms and equipment, providing insurance coverage for squad members and helping “keep the show on the road” generally.

Also after normalcy returned after the depression time, Quarterbackers began hosting the football squad at a major gridiron event in the state, usually at Gainesville.

Not only has the club been interested in football, softball, and little league; athletics generally have been sponsored, with emphasis always on good sportsmanship and encouraging youths who will be citizens of tomorrow in the know-how of playing and working together today for the good of the entire team.—1956

There were many sports accomplishments throughout ZHS history. Several individual athletes have become famous in sports and are chronicled in the news article archives of each decade. Stars have included Ryan Pickett, David Reutimann, David Eiland, Keathel Chauncey, Andra Douglas, Erin O’Neill, Erin Dodd, Robyn Rinaldo, Brett Cimorelli and many more. Numerous teams have excelled. A few that are noteworthy include two significant baseball teams-the 2000 ZHS Baseball Team was the first national ranking team for Pasco County, designated as one of the top 25 teams nationally; this team had a school record of 49 home runs and won 23 of their 24 games and made ZHS proud in the 2000 State Baseball Championship Game. The other standout baseball team was the 1970 ZHS baseball team who went to the state championship with Ricky Giles, Rick Moore, Keathel Chauncey, Rubin Pickett, Bill Porter, Jeff Brown, Cliff Brown, and John Harrelson. The 1999 Girls Volleyball Team was in the State Final Four. The 1978 Girls Golf Team won the Class 2A State Championship. The 1929 Basketball team went to the State finals and was the runner up. The decade of the 1960s saw the basketball team go to state five times with three championships under the coaching of Jack Wilson, Chuck McKinney and Morris McHone. There are so many more milestones in ZHS sports history that are captured in part, by the decade summaries and the news articles which were prominent in the literature during each timeframe.

As the conduit, ZHS offered the community entertainment. Annual operettas and drama productions provided entertainment that brought together the entire town and surrounding areas. Every year a play was featured—in April 1927 for 25 cents, you could see, “For Love of Money,” in February 1932, it was “Fickle Fortune—A Comedy in Three Acts” and in January 1935, “Black Eyed Susan.” For fifteen cents, you could hear songs and laugh at the era’s jokes. Often the pageants and plays incorporated numbers from community musicians or one of the several community bands such as the 1933 Wright’s Orchestra, the 1933 Skogstad’s Orchestra, 1919 Hawaiian Orchestra, and the Zephyrhills Cornet Band. Civic leaders participated along with students in the productions, as well.

ZHS had a variety of different Glee Clubs throughout its early history. Imagine the melodious singing! Prevalent in early ZHS history, the Glee Club provided not only musical education but community entertainment. For example, in the 1956 and 1957 ZHS Baccalaureate Services, ZHS Music Teacher, Alice Zimmerman, led the ZHS Glee Club in religious songs such as “God Be With You Until We Meet Again,” and “Halls of Ivy.”The 1954 graduating class enjoyed three community matriarchs, Mrs. Roy Beddingfield, Mrs. Charles Campbell, and Mrs. P.H. Murphy Jr. who presented musical selections with the Z.H.S. Glee Club. The Glee Club’s recital in 1947 was described by the News as, “A fine program of vocal and instrumental music was given at the local high school auditorium last Friday evening by the students of the high school Music Department under the direction of Miss Hoffman, Supervisor.” Frank Hanson, President of the ZHS Glee Club, acted as Master of Ceremonies with students, Jean McGavern playing a piano solo and Barbara Sabin, a violin solo accompanied by Martha Mae Keller.” The ten graduates in 1943 enjoyed their baccalaureate on Sunday, May 23, with Reverend Mathis and music furnished by the High School Glee Club. A series of Glee Club musicals/operettas were community hits in years 1939 to 1942. The News reported in April, 1942 that Mrs. Mildred Byrd, Director, promised a good performance from the Glee Club and for 15 cents you could see the Glee Club’s Musical Comedy, “Pickles.” In 1940, the ZHS Glee Club presented the Operetta, “The Belle of Bagdad,” while in 1939, the News reported, “You have a chance to see this story in action with good music in “Hollywood Extra,” with several new voices being introduced in the operetta with sparkling humor.” In 1938, the Glee Club appeared to be gender-specific with the Girls ZHS Glee Club entertaining at the graduation.

In regard to bands, ZHS has had stage bands, concert bands, symphonic bands, jazz bands, marching bands and more. In 1982, the News reported,

The Stage Band will open the evening with five selections, “Peter Gunn” by Mancini, “We’ve Only Just Begun” arranged by Schaefer, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” arranged by Christopher, “The Brass Movement” by Cacavas, and “Starburst” by Wall. Next on stage will be the Concert Band, also playing five compositions including, “The Go-Go Generation,” by Roulier, “Kentucky 1800” by Grundman, “Kingswood” overture by Ployhar with Allyson Mullins as student conductor; “Brittania” by Edmunds and “cherish” by Kirkman. After intermission the Symphonic Band will open with, “Them Basses” by Huffing and “The Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel” by Simon, and then play “The Original Dixieland Concerto” by Warrington and Malinda Ashcraft as student conductor. Featured musicians on the Dixieland number will be Debbie Hunt, Kim Whitworth, Steve Kretschmar, Don Geiger, Scott Natali, and Rick Steuart.

In 1976, the symphonic band played at Kennedy Space center…Bandmaster C. Paul Steuart said about 80 students will perform during the afternoon concert, although 140 uniformed students will attend. In 1964, the News reported, Zephyrhills High School Band and continually plays a leading role in school and class activities, meantime maintaining a high scholastic standing with John T.V. Clark as Director. Lee Fox started the initial Zephyrhills School Band years ago with only 16 instruments in 1943 and John T.V. Clark developed the modern ZHS band with uniforms and cohesiveness in 1948. The tradition lives on today with Russell Schmidt as band director.

Promotional articles in local newspapers and real estate fliers consistently mention the great schools of Zephyrhills with pride. One of the first examples in the historical archives is the “The Zephyrhills Florida 1912-13 Picture Book—Information for Homeseekers Concerning Zephyrhills, On the Backbone of the Highlands of Florida,” which features a very eloquent promotional book of the city of Zephyrhills. In regard to Zephyrhills High School, the 1913 picture book depicts a photo of the new school and says,

Few places the size of Zephyrhills can boast of as good a school, and four years ago there was only a little shack for a school house and no teachers. Two years ago, a good school building with four rooms was erected. When two terms were taught in this building, it was found that some room was necessary, so two more rooms were added a few months ago. There is a faculty of seven teachers prepared for full high school work. The Trustees of the school are enthusiastic and very particular to get good teachers. There is twelve grades taught and are now over 200 students enrolled.

Times have changed in many regards— consider that the flier, from which the above was taken, also advertised land at a price of $30 to $50 per acre in 1913. It is timeless however, in regard to real estate companies having an interest in the quality of the schools as an enticement to new community recruits, and one would find that real estate companies today still feature flowery overviews of the merits of the community schools. One of the more prominent real estate companies in the Zephyrhills area, Bill Nye’s Century 21 had its roots in the Zephyrhills schools. The 1972 highlights section features the announcements of the addition of Bill and Andy Nye to the teaching staff at ZHS in 1972.

Celebrated community events and locations are reflected throughout ZHS history. One human interest item was a coveted spelling contest hosted by the Crescent Theater in Dade City in 1932. This was “the” social location for east Pasco in the 1930’s and Crescent Manager, H.G. Moore, sponsored the innovative spelling contest among the county high schools which then included Gulf, Pasco and St. Leo Prep in addition to ZHS in 1932. The winners got a treat of seeing the screen feature of the “Fireman, Save My Child—Sizzling” a comedy containing the laughs of a lifetime with Joe. E. Brown, a then famous comedian. Imagine in 1932 that an excursion to Dade City, the populous county-seat, was quite a treat for any high schooler!

Graduation ceremonies were community events in which all members of the community celebrated often for a week-long time frame with dinners, senior nights and culminating events and picnics. Throughout the 1950s the Home Movie Theatre hosted the graduation ceremony in the downtown movie theater which still exists today. The 1959 graduation ended this decade-long tradition and was hosted at the brand new Zephyrhills Municipal Auditorium. The Baccalaureate and Commencements were social events of great significance and involved performances from key community leaders, church musicians and others. An enormous religious focus was incorporated into both ceremonies. Baccalaureates were in fact, occasions for one unified community church service—sometimes at the school or GAR Hall and often at one church (usually Baptist or Methodist) and represented a significant community occasion. The soloist and speakers were often community members of stature who somehow christened the occasion. Community leader, Jean Murphy, was often a soloist in the 1950s. Graduations often marked school milestones as well. The first graduation in the new ZHS gymnasium took place in May of 1967 for a 63-member senior class. The ZHS Commons area of the new high school plant opened in 1975 did not provide adequate air conditioning until a change of venue occurred again in 1979. The 1979 graduation was held outdoors (a first) in the brand new football stadium dedicated to Coach Johnny Clements and Principal Ray Stewart was not pleased with some of the students more relaxed antics at that event, resulting in the 1980 graduation being the inaugural event for the brand new ZHS Activities Center. From the early days of the Zephilsco, named by student, Betty Jo Turner, in 1948 through the 1970s the Zephilsco Yearbook featured an end-of-the year ceremony which announced the king and queen of the yearbook as a culmination of graduation events. A unique feature of the 60s and early 70s was to arrange for a well-known movie star/celebrity to select the royalty from among yearbook photos; ZHS was able to solicit John Wayne, Red Skeleton, 1967 Heisman Trophy Winner-Steve Spurrier, Jackie Gleason, Richard Chamberlain, Rock Group-“Chicago” to name a few as the celebrity judges. The judges then penned a letter and signed photo which was incorporated into the yearbook.

Alumni were significant and began in 1931 when classes met for a New Year’s Eve reunion/celebration at Sunset Beach in Lake Pasadena for a New Year’s Eve Party. Another example of the community involvement was the long standing American Legion project (begun in May of 1939) in which good student citizens were acknowledged at ZHS. Later the modern-day alumni group was born out of the class of 1950. While at their twentieth reunion, wishing to get together with friends and former classmates from other classes as well as their own the class of 1950 started the ZHS Alumni and Friends to meet with them on the last Saturday of June for a Dutch treat picnic at Crystal Springs Recreational Preserve Park. The next year in 1971, the group decided to hold their third meeting at the Bank of Zephyrhills Community Room, then the next year to the Municipal Auditorium. Then for many years the group gathered at the Alice Hall Community Center in Zephyr Park. Jaynell LeHeup was responsible for this modern-day Alumni movement which continues to thrive today.

The ZHS building (or campus) has been a pillar of pride and a theme of triumph and tragedy throughout ZHS history. When ZHS was constructed in 1910, Rosemary Wallace Trottman wrote eloquently about a sense of loss that students felt in leaving their one-room schools to consolidate.

At the end of the 1909-10 term the one-room schools in the area closed forever…they said subdued farewells and took each his trail toward home while the teacher locked the door and thanked her older nephew who had harnessed her horse to her buggy.--Trottman

The very first ZHS building was a badge of pride when in 1910 it was opened. At both the 1975 and 1977 Alumni banquets, former ZHS student, Simon Geiger, recalled with joy how he hauled the logs for the construction of the wood building in the early 1900s from Greer’s Mill with a team of oxen. The first ZHS building in 1910 was divided into two rooms. The building was sometimes maintained by the parents and they helped to clean the building.

Zephyrhills suffered several fires that devastated their school buildings. When the first ZHS two story building located between 7th and 8th street was burned to the ground in 1926, a bond issue was passed and a new $50,000 building was opened at 10th Avenue and 10th Street in Zephyrhills. At the time, the local newspaper reported on August 27, 1926, “It is a very pleasing structure—practically fireproof.” Like the Titanic (whose builders boasted of being unsinkable), these words would prove to be somewhat prophetic for the community which suffered another loss during the difficult years of the depression in 1935 when the “new” brick building also was severely damaged by fire. The city stepped in collectively (after the fire) and for two years, classes were held in local businesses who offered to host grades. Imagine the era, 1935-37—the high school students attended classes in the local bakery while the seventh and eighth grade were in session at the New England Hotel; sixth grade went to class in the grocery store, third through fifth attended in the city hall and first and second grades were schooled in the schoolhouse annex. The third ZHS building was reconstructed with the help of Roosevelt’s WPA project and opened once again in 1937 with great pride at 10th Avenue and 10th Street.

Wonderful quirky ZHS building attachments and nuances fill the history pages. A fish pond in front of the school building was maintained by principals in the 1930’s and 1940’s and was a signature piece for the school. Often the principals lived on the school campus similar to a parsonage on church grounds. Ritual surrounds the many building additions: 1967-the first gymnasium, after so many years of playing basketball outdoors; the annex building in 1947, the new campus on the Hercules property on 12th street in 1975; the football stadium in 1979 and the ZHS Activity Center in 1980.

I think one feels the sense of “home” in regard to the pride of the school building when they recall the visit to the 1926 building at 10th Avenue (what is now Raymond B. Stewart Middle School) upon its final open-house in 2005 just before it was demolished. Former students visiting the building recalled school and developmental milestones—their first kiss, a dreaded test, a school fight, a pep rally and so much more. 1955 Alum, Craig Miller, shared a folksy story in which he was asked by the school principal, Mr. McPherson, to rid the school of a skunk in exchange for some vacation from school; the story illustrates how the school was seen as an extension of home and stakeholders had somewhat of a collective sense of ownership for the school building. Transcript of the visit is included, beginning on page 22.

The third strand in the vertical wharf was leadership. A theme that ran certainly throughout the 1900s until 1980, was the all-encompassing reverence and esteem given to the role of the school principal at ZHS which was analogous to a clergyman or judge in stature. It was interesting in fact that the very first principal of ZHS did go on to be a School Superintendent in Pasco (elected at age 25) and later, a County Judge; that was J.W. Sanders who by all accounts was an unusually ethical and honorable individual. In the early days of the school, the role of the principal was all-encompassing one that reflected the community norms.

The selection process for the school principal appeared to involve the entire town. From the school's beginning until the mid 1940s, the Zephyrhills newspaper discussed meetings at the home of the local school trustees for the sole purpose of selection of the principal and teachers. The selection of a school principal was similar to the committee selection process of a church selecting a new pastor. For Example, Thomas “Burch” Cornelius was selected in May of 1939 at the home of Mr. William Hamilton where they met to discuss candidates. Principals have been in the schools of the United States since the early 1900s and originally served as “middle person” who was a liaison between the district school board and teachers. The original principal was a "Principal teacher” who was required to fill many roles in the school and community. This was so evident in the history of ZHS as the principal was seen as one selected with great input from the community. A news article of March 1933 discussed Principal C. D. Johnson teaching a business class and taking the students on a field trip to the then Tampa Times where they saw the Associated Press Tickers and watched the printing of the newspaper. There were also accounts of Mr. Cornelius and Mr. Nally serving as teachers while principal in the 1940’s. Principal Walter Roberts coached basketball in 1919 and Principal Thomas Burch Cornelius was the school’s first football coach.

Principals changed frequently during the first four decades. The tenure of the school principal was also contingent to a large extent on the satisfaction level of the teachers. Two incidents in school history, 1943-Joel Nally and 1919-Professor Walter Roberts, were influenced by teacher dissatisfaction . A controversy over the departure of Principal Leon R. Luckenbach swept over the Zephyrhills community and resulted in his resignation in 1951. Mr. Luckenbach refused to grant a diploma to one of the graduating seniors who had joined the Marines. A member of the local board of trustees for the school and an official board member personally asked Mr. Luckenbach to allow the senior to graduate but the principal refused, saying that the student was short a quarter of a credit. Luckenbach even refused to attend the graduation ceremony, and the school board member said that Florida Laws (circa 1951) allowed for a student entering the armed services to receive a high school diploma when they were within 2 ½ credits of graduating. The first mention of an assistant principal was in 1935 with ZHS Principal, L.E. Rowland and his assistant principal, Annie W. Gill. There was also great emphasis upon the need for parents to cooperate with the school and the principal was a type of catalyst agent for this to occur.

Principals were also larger than life and had a strong impact on community morale and were keepers of the school culture. There were some lively examples throughout ZHS history. Ray Stewart may be the stand-out. The newspapers chronicle a heroic effort by Ray Stewart in July 1976 when he saved a sixteen year old student from drowning while at a bus driver’s picnic. This is to say, that the principal had a role in many aspects of the community and was often a person who took a hands-on approach to running the school.

The horizontal weave, the weft, was the very reason for the institution. Students were the framework…in this regard ZHS grew from 61 students when it opened in September 1910 to 1,665- students at the writing of this book. A faculty of 101 teachers and staff now serve the school which began with a faculty of seven in 1910.

Innovation was another strand that permeated ZHS and there were many new programs and institutions. A year-round school system known as “45-15” was an innovation in the 1970s to address the double sessions and the unprecedented population growth. As of March 1971, the school board had approved double-sessions for Zephyrhills High to accommodate the bursting population. In February 1946, the ZHS senior class helped to develop a “flying curriculum” and purchased an air plane, a BT-13Vultee Trainer, 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 William Krusen, a local pilot with the intent of offering a flying curriculum at ZHS. ZHS was inundated with vocational curriculum throughout the 1960s and 70s and incorporated business and community involvement in the schools. By 1972, 60% of the total school population was in vocational educational programs at ZHS. Advanced Placement courses began in the 1980s with ZHS teacher-pioneers, Don Woods, AP Biology; Dale Palmer, AP Government/Economics; and Gail Reynolds, AP English Literature.

A school newspaper existed throughout ZHS history. One of the first was called the “Orange and Black Paper" which was published in the then local community newspaper called the Pasco Free Press (a name the Zephyrhills News used for about two years). This particular paper in the 1930s was quite interesting in format. For example, it offered not only school information but also local school gossip about students and issues that often bordered on risqué. Confidentiality had not seen its advent in education and student absences, school parties, dating situations, song hits, and even innuendos were published not in the school paper alone but the school paper as an insert in the community newspaper. “The Orange and Black” offered regular columns entitled, “The Stroller” and “Your Society Column.” A juicy example… “Genevieve Seaburg and Joan Cook had a very enjoyable time after the ball game Friday night…oh yes! Phillip Guy and Ralph did too. The moon was full.”

Although the Orange and Black was the forerunner of the news coverage, the Zephyrhills News (always a supporter of the school) featured a student-written column entitled, School Daze, from many of the years between 1954 and 1986 in which a senior wrote a weekly news column for the local newspaper as the roving school reporter. These news articles gave a real flavor of school life in each era. The writing styles and expertise vary from year to year. Many examples are included in this collection of news articles. The reporters over time included: 1954-Shirley Dixon; 1955-Susanne Coolidege; 1956-George Trebour; 1958-Margie Braden; 1959-Dedi Anderson; 1960-Sandra Pricher; 1961-Judy Surratt; 1963-Bobbie June Chambless; 1964-Jere Alston; 1965-Susan Bucey; 1966-Sandra Clark; 1967-Marcia Deming;1968-Jannette Dunnigan; 1969-Kathy Shannon; 1970-Lynn Murphy; 1971-Valerie Wickstrom; 1978-Darlene Roman; 1979-Sharon Hasting; 1980-Nancy Deboe; 1981-Bruce Sofinski; 1982-Lynn Thompson; 1983-Tracy Dunlap; 1984-Jill McDougall; 1985-Kim Kagey; and 1986-Jennifer Sibley.

Change is one of the only certainties, it has been said and so ZHS changed over the years and marked its many milestones. Graduations culminated each year and were commemorated with flare and style. The earliest graduation speakers were often quite prestigious in stature and came from state universities or were leaders of other significant recognition. For example, some ZHS commencement speakers over time were: 1932 Dr. Cox from Southern College; 1931-Judge W. Raleigh Pettewary from Tampa; 1919-Dr. Comradi, President from what is now FSU; 1942- E.C. Nance, President of the University of Tampa; 1949- Dr. Clara Olsen of the University of Florida; 1942-Dean Edison Bunting, University of Tampa, to name a few. The local orchestra from the community seemed to play at every graduation and community event with solos from community members and numerous religious blessings and dedications.

Milestones reflect what was occurring in the rest of the world. Various situations occurred involving military service. ZHS student, Robert Kersey, was celebrated as a World War II recruit when he graduated in the class of 1944. Former Zephyrhills Mayor, Dr. Emerson Arnot, Jr. took time off after his 11th grade at ZHS to serve in World War II in the Navy and then returned to graduate with his two siblings in the class of 1947. Two graduating seniors in 1919, Lyle Gilbert and Dale Leonard, were remembered at the Junior-Senior Banquet at Hotel Zephyr with two large American Flags in honor of their graduation in absentia, while they were fighting in World War I in France. A letter from ZHS student, Lyle Gilbert was read at the 1919 graduation ceremony and there was great patriotic pride at the graduation ceremony to know that Zephyrhills was represented at the then “war to end all wars.” ZHS was notable in the Vietnam War when in April 1967, the community received word that the first person from the area to have been killed in combat in twenty years --was recent ZHS graduate Pfc. Johnny E. Lewis, a 1965 graduate; Lewis and his wife, Janice Williams, also a ZHS graduate, were the first victims of the Vietnam War and ZHS grieved.

The depression and eras of social change in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were reflected in the school. Also health issues were depicted in the history. The researcher encountered numerous articles in which the school was closed due to diphtheria (1931). At Thanksgiving 1939 with the death of one community child due to diphtheria, the school was closed for two weeks. In this and other cases the state health department intervened with prevention and intervention programs.

Concern for polio and other diseases were encountered as well. As the country was coping with health issues, so also was the school. In 1939, drum major, Irene Hohenthaner, led the school on an infantile paralysis (polio) parade through the town, to raise awareness of the disease and raise money for research. In February 1944, ZHS worked with the Lion’s Club for war bond sales and prizes were given to the students who sold the most war bonds. Health permeated the very early literature of the school; in October 1918, the school board closed all of the schools for five weeks until November 11th because of the serious influenza outbreak (Dade City Banner, 10/11/1918).

The curriculum reflected its time as well. Throughout the 1910s to 1940s the curriculum and activities emphasized agricultural and home economics themes. Religion was an integral part of every activity. Weekly chapel or assemblies were expected to include recitations from the Bible and often guest speakers were local ministers.

The other essential weft was student innovators and leaders. There were many leaders. Four students in the history of ZHS have been named “Pasco County’s Most Outstanding Students”—the most recent in 2002, Kristen Marie Benedini and 2001- Mamie Venita Jervis Wise, in 1983 with Mary Beth Kuusisto and the first, 1977- Scott Edwin Boyd, a star basketball player and West Point nominee. Beginning in 1934, the “George A. Stevens Cup was given to the most worthwhile senior at graduation…it was voted on by the faculty and given on the basis of character and citizenship as well as academics.” The cup was sponsored by the local tourist club and lasted for about three decades as the highest honor at the school. The recipient of the Stevens Cup had his/her name engraved on the cup and held it for the entire year to then pass it on to the next recipient the following year. Some examples of recipients of the Stevens Cup include: 1940- Mary Catherine Lefler; 1939-Pearl Snider; 1945-Bobby Booth. The location of the Stevens cup has not been determined at this writing.

Valedictorians and Salutatorians from ZHS are fairly complete in regard to historical archive. The earliest record includes the 1921 Valedictorian and Salutatorian. I found that in the 1920’s the 30s, the eighth grade graduations were of more significance than the high school graduation in the community, most probably because there was a large 8th grade graduating class, relatively speaking, say 25, and perhaps only 4 or 5 high school graduates. Eighth grade Valedictorians and Salutatorians were celebrated at this age frame often more ceremoniously than for high school stars because in this time frame, few graduated from high school. Many of the Vals and Sals have become community patriarchs and matriarchs. Some examples include Bill McGavern, Freddie Lee Gore, Betty Jo Turner Hyder, Michael Thomas Cox (current county commissioner), Mickey Farrell (current CEO of Raymond James Stadium), and many more. Numerous leaders of the classes are attorneys, physicians and teachers. The commencement speeches throughout time, frame optimism and address social issues.

Valedictorian--Mickey Farrell said in 1980, “This night is the culmination of 12 years of education for most of us, and is one of the highlights of our lives. We’ve had many experiences at ZHS, some we’ll remember fondly, and some not, so fondly...The facilities are growing and changing, but the heart of ZHS, its students, will hopefully remain the great group of people they’ve always been.”

Bill McGavern’s Salutatorian speech of 1962 said, “The work of our school years is completed but our education will continue so long as we live. Assurances of the good wishes of our townspeople have meant much to us. Your interest and friendship have been an inspiration and comfort to us and we are grateful.”

The 1928 Valedictorian, Theodore Campbell, who was the only Valedictorian to later become ZHS Principal, used “Onward Ever” as his speech topic.

Return to front page