Sep. 22—Plenty has changed in Marietta, across Georgia and around the world in the last 50 years, but the tight-knit community of Marietta High School's Class of 1972 remains happily intact.
That was evident this past weekend, when more than 160 people gathered at the Marietta Country Club for the class's 50th reunion. Spouses and family members joined graduates as they enjoyed dinner, a photo booth, a photo montage and a table honoring classmates who have passed on.
'A special class'
Jim Merriman, a dentist who is "semi-retired," has been in Marietta his whole life. His wife graduated from MHS in 1976, and her parents were also MHS graduates. Merriman was class president, a role he said was an honor but minuscule compared to his favorite high school activity.
"What I probably think the most about from high school was band," Merriman said. "There were a lot of band members who came to our reunion and it was partly because our band was so cohesive, and we had a special group and took what we did very seriously."
Merriman, who was the marching band's drum major, fondly remembered Terry Segers, the band director who passed away earlier this year, and who trusted Merriman to plan the band's halftime shows.
Merriman also said he thinks the class of '72 was special for the community it built, especially in the wake of school integration. It was only in 1967 that Daphne Delk, one of the first two African Americans to attend Marietta High School in 1964, graduated from the school.
He recalled his class chose the first Black Mr. MHS, who fellow classmate Neill Blake confirmed was the late Jimmy "Friday" Richards, an MHS football legend, first as an all-state running back in 1971 and then as a long-time coach for the Blue Devils after a stint playing in the National Football League.
Blake, who said she was an introvert in high school and could not wait to get out, recalled the tumultuous times of the late 1960s and early 1970s while at MHS.
"It was very contentious, to say the least, and that trickled down into high school," Blake said. "I remember the dress code that was imposed, and the boys had a certain hair length, and if their hair was too long...I don't remember what the consequences were but I remember there was a big walkout type thing, where they protested the hair length."
Blake also said girls wore dresses when high school began, per the dress code. As graduation got closer, however, the school relaxed the dress code.
"We of course took that to the extreme and wore embroidered jeans and things like that," Blake said. "They said we could wear pants, so we wore pants with holes in them."
Blake said she became environmentally conscious while at MHS, where she celebrated the first Earth Day in April 1970.
"I remember picking up trash along Kennesaw Avenue, going out to the mountain, a big group of us got together and picked up trash and we were all about the environment, not so much the (Vietnam) War, though, that was more college because all the boys were trying to figure out how to not get drafted," Blake said.
Blake's environmental interests led her to study forestry at Clemson University, after which she became the first female forester in the state of Alabama. She worked for International Paper around the country before returning to Marietta with her family 25 years ago. She has been here ever since and cherished the opportunity to reconnect with classmates, seeing where everybody has been, and what they have been through, after all these years.
For Joyce Self, another Class of '72 graduate, the Vietnam War hit closer to home while at MHS. She recalled hearing her uncle had been killed overseas while she was on a double date with classmates.
"It wasn't top of mind for everybody, but by that time you were starting to feel the impact, I think that's when the lottery draft came into play, was during those years," Self said.
Self said diversity at Marietta High School when she attended went as far as white and Black students, but she said she would not have called the racial atmosphere at school either contentious or inclusive.
She remembered that when she began at Marietta Middle School, it was the same year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
"I think that was kind of crazy in that it really brought things to the forefront that there were racial tensions," Self said. "Certainly, there was no interracial dating or anything like that like you see today, there's no stigma or anything with that."
However, Self said sports were one area where race was not a factor like in social circles during high school.
'We should do it next weekend'
Terry Mitchell Moreland, the head of the reunion committee, said "it was probably the best reunion that we've ever had," and was also the best-attended.
Moreland, who moved with her family to Marietta when she was six years old, said a group of 12 women from her class still meet up for meals, but last weekend's reunion was on a different level.
"The collaboration between all the members of the (planning) committee was awesome and everybody was excited about it," Moreland said.
The high turnout was in large part thanks to retired Marietta lawyer Matt Flournoy, who with his wife Joanne paid the club fees for every attendee.
Flournoy, whose late father Robert Flournoy was mayor of Marietta in the 1980s, was deeply involved in organizing the event, despite not graduating from Marietta High.
"He was instrumental in orchestrating the planning and just was a real cheerleader about it," said Mary Chappell, another organizer.
Flournoy transferred to the Westminster Schools in Atlanta after attending ninth grade at MHS, though he maintained his Marietta connections. He played a big part in both schools' reunions for the 1972 graduating classes. The other members of the planning committee recognized his commitment to MHS by awarding him an honorary diploma.
"It was not a real diploma but it looked very nice and (they) put a mortarboard on my head, with a tassel and blue, and put a gown on me and made me an honorary member, so I'm very lucky, I have two high school diplomas now," Flournoy said.
Another hit among the reunion's attendees was the photo montage put together by Merriman, for which he gathered 800 pictures from attendees, showcasing what they looked like in high school and what they've been up to recently.
"People are buzzing about it on our Facebook," Merriman said.
Howard Rosser, another member of the organizing committee, last attended his graduating class's 10th reunion. Now living in Acworth, Rosser, who managed grocery stores and gas stations for decades, recalled his passion for watching sports, including his two older brothers on the basketball team, while at MHS.
He had such a blast at the reunion that he wishes it would become a recurring event.
"We should do it next weekend," he told the MDJ. "That's how good it was."
Merriman said the committee plans to build a document detailing its activities for future MHS classes to use in planning their 50-year reunions.
"Every year another 50-year class reunion comes up, it sure would be nice if they didn't have to reinvent the wheel every single time," Merriman said. "So we're going to try to pass it on and leave a legacy from our class that other classes could benefit from."