White County celebration to honor district’s legacy

By Tammy Garrett Published October 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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White County Central School District Superintendent Sheila Whitlow looks through a yearbook from her days as a student at the school. Above her desk is a wall hanging given to her by elementary student Landon Swindoll that is made from part of a school desk and a piece of the ceiling of the old Central Elementary School. Her letterman’s sweater is draped over the side. The district celebrated its 65th anniversary Saturday.

JUDSONIA — Alumni of White County Central Schools gathered Saturday to celebrate what it means to be a Central Bear as the district commemorated its 65th anniversary on the school’s campus in Providence.

“It was nice to be able to let everyone come back and spend time together and hang out. We had a big, fun event,” said Sheila Whitlow, the district’s superintendent and a 1979 graduate of White County Central.

Whitlow spent time teaching at other districts before an opportunity arose that allowed her to come back to Central. She said it truly was like coming home.

“It’s the coolest thing that my career allowed me to be able to come back. I think you have to be from here to really get it, but I tell our seniors every year at graduation that it’s an honor to be a Central Bear, and I encourage them to never lose that feeling,” she said.

The anniversary celebration gave alumni a chance to see how White County Central has evolved. Whitlow said the school board has been “proactive” in making sure students get a quality education and that the district stays on the cutting edge.

The school is also mindful of keeping students safe. One of the major changes alumni have found is the installation of mag locks on the school doors to prevent unannounced entry to the school. Cameras and intercom systems are also present at Central in an effort to keep students secure as they go about their school day.

White County Judge Michael Lincoln and state Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, were on hand for the festivities, which included the dedication of the new Cub House. The facility is a Federal Emergency Management Agency building that was installed as a tornado shelter and is also used for physical-education classes.

The district’s FFA chapter sold barbecue plates at the celebration, and other school clubs held fundraisers as well, Whitlow said.

Among those providing entertainment were 1981 graduate Cindy Whitlow and her daughters, who make up the Clark Family Trio. Retired teacher, coach and 1967 White County Central graduate Jackie Stewart and his band also performed.

Stewart might be recognized by many from his work in television and movies. He most recently starred in the film Inspiration Pop 2929, which is based on the book of Deuteronomy. Stewart said choosing to stay in the Providence community over moving to California to further his acting career was the smartest move he’s ever made.

“I’ve spent 46 years of my life at this place in one way or another, and it is a special part of my life,” Stewart said. “We’re really like a family. Everybody cares about one another.”

The White County Central School District was formed when the Providence and Plainview schools consolidated in 1946.

“The districts were rivals, but after some heated

meetings, they decided to give the kids a better education,” Stewart said. “It had to be done.”

The original school was built from wood that was hauled from the air base in Newport, he said. Stewart recalled that as a child, he watched that building burn to the ground, taking with it pictures and trophies from the district, although some records were recovered.

The old Providence school building survived until it was torn down recently. Whitlow’s response to some negative comments on social media to the building’s demise was typical of the feeling that prevails at White County Central.

“It’s not about the buildings,” she said. “It’s about the people and the memories we have made over the years. This is home.”

None Tammy Garrett can be reached at .

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