On Friday July 5 and Saturday July 6, the Duran South building hosted its biennial reunion for graduates of the St. Clair County Training School, which marks the 50 year anniversary since closing in 1969 at the start of integration.

The reunion kicked off Friday night with a variety show located in the gym of the school, cooled against the balmy summer air by only two large industrial fans and whatever paper or pamphlet were at hand to whip up a small breeze. In part, this year’s reunion sought to raise money to replace the gym’s malfunctioning air conditioner through community donations by hosting events and t-shirt sales. So far the group has raised almost $20,000 for the effort.

Hosted by Pastor Donald Gover, who attended when it was Pell City Intermediate School, the variety show featured alumni and locals singing gospel music. Katherine Nobles started the night singing “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,” followed by Bobby McGowan’s rendition of “Lord Send Your Power;” Alice Moore performing “How Great Thou Art” and Floyd Waites with “He’ll Make it Alright.”

An intermission followed Waites’ performance with a door prize giveaway. Willie May Beavers claimed the first door prize as the eldest attending alumni at 94 years old. Gover allocated the remaining prizes with a random drawing. Omar Cunningham followed up speaking about his education and career as a blues performer. Today he works to help young performers get their start but credits his education as the driving force behind his choices in life.

Gover also announced the crowning of the reunion Queens. Ernestine O’Neal of the class of ‘67 won Ms. Prom, and Gover commented, “She looks like she won a Grammy.” Willie May Beavers, class of ‘47, won Ms. Homecoming, and Jimmy Lou Fomby, class of ‘66, won Ms. St. Clair County Training School.

According to Fomby, a member of the committee which organizes the reunions and decorator for the event, the gymnasium had never had adequate air conditioning since its construction in 1964.

Closing out the night, Douglas Posey, who played with the band World Wonders, performed “Can’t Help It/Don’t Give Up” and an instrumental version of the band’s song “Two Wings” in memoriam of deceased classmates. 

Barbara Collins, a president for the St. Clair County Training School Reunion in prior years, remembered her time at the school. Principal Walter M. Kennedy, the last principal before it closed at the end of segregation, fought to provide students with the necessary supplies which were often afforded to other schools.

“Thanks to him we had everything we needed,” says Collins. 

Collins graduated from Pell City High School in 1970 following integration but feels a greater connection to the school through which she gained most of her high school education. The school would later be named after Walter M. Kennedy before it was named Duran South. Fellow alumnus Donald Allen who graduated from Pell City High School in 1972, feels a similar connection saying, “I remember a lot of pride and school spirit at the Training School,” and remarked “It was a school that served most of St. Clair county, not just Pell City.”

The goal of these reunions and events is to preserve the role of the school in the community.

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