Gulf High School History
New High School Opening (1922)
The following article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on Sept. 14, 1922.
The new High School to serve West Pasco county, including New Port Richey and Elfers, will be opened on Monday next, September 18, only a few days behind the other high schools in the county, and on the same date as the Hillsborough institutions. It may be said that a record has been achieved in the building of the new school. From the start every effort has been put forth to have it completed by September, and the determination has been successful, inasmuch as the school, if not quite finished, will be ready to receive pupils and commence the business of the session on Monday next. The teaching staff at the present time includes Professor McBeath, Mr. Edwin S. Dew and Miss Runyan. The curriculum will embrace a four-year course, thus bringing New Port Richey into line with most of the larger towns. With the patronage we may expect the High School to receive, it will be ascribed senior high school this year.
In order to avoid any confusion regarding books, pupils are requested to purchase no books until after organization, Monday. Do not fail to bring your report cards in order that you may be given your full credits. Owing to there being no auditorium ready in the school building, opening exercises will be held in Community Church at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
F. J. McBeath, principal
Opening of the New High School (1922)
The following article appeared in the New Port Richey Press, Sept. 21, 1922.
The opening exercises of the new Gulf High School were held in the Community Church of New Port Richey last Monday morning. The building was well filled with parents, pupils and others, all of whom showed great enthusiasm for our new High School. It was the general opinion that this was the greatest event in the history of the West Coast of Pasco County from an educational standpoint, and also for the further industrial development of this already prosperous section.
Exercises were opened by the singing of the National Anthem, followed by Invocation by Rev. C. W. Cotton.
Professor T. J. McBeath, principal of the high school, made a few remarks, and then called upon Mr. P. L. Pearce, chairman of the local board of trustees and member elect of the County School Board who referred to the difficulties encountered in securing the present standard of education on the West Coast. He explained the status of our school, emphasizing the fact that the Gulf High School would offer a full four years course as prescribed by the State Board of Education, and made an earnest appeal to all good citizens to co-operate in every way with our new school, and set at naught all rumors to the effect that we were not qualified to do accredited work in all grades. In support of the foregoing, he read a letter from Dr. Murphree, president of the State University, commending the work of Prof. McBeath, who has been a teacher in Florida schools for thirty years, and has never had a graduate fail to make good in the University.
Dr. Elroy M. Avery presented the High School with a beautiful American flag, the gift of Mrs. Avery and himself. He also spoke briefly upon the duties of parents and teachers in educating of boys and girls to be good American citizens.
Speeches were made by Rev. C. B. Drake, Rev. R. C. Alderman, and Mr. A. R. Nason, touching upon the necessity of education, and pledging their support to the new school.
Mrs. R. F. Conover, president of the Parent Teachers’ Association, spoke briefly upon the present organization and the proposed plan to extend it to the High School in the near future, and appealed to all those interested in schools to become members at once.
Prof. McBeath closed the comments by outlining the plan for the present school year, and inviting all interested to come frequently and visit the school. He emphasized the necessity of co-operation and work upon the part of the teachers, pupils and parents.
The exercises were concluded with a prayer by Rev. Mr. Alderman, and the teachers immediately took up the work of organizing classes. A short session was held at the new High School building in the afternoon, at which organization was completed.
Assignments were made Tuesday morning, and regular class work began Wednesday.
Thirty-nine pupils were enrolled Tuesday morning, and more are expected soon.
Graduation of Seniors of Gulf High School (1924)
The following article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on May 2, 1924.
Graduation exercises of the senior class of Gulf High School marked the close of the 1924 term of school. The exercises opened with the baccalaureate services Sunday morning [April 27] at 11 o’clock at the high school auditorium. Dr. Lyman Mevis delivered a powerful and inspiring sermon to the graduates and congregation. Special musical numbers had been arranged for this service and the audience was well filled with patrons.
Class night on Monday night [April 28] was one of the most interesting features of graduation week. The class history, will, grumbler, poem and prophecy were all given in very original style.
Graduation was held Tuesday evening and the address of the evening was given by Professor Fuguitt of Tarpon Springs. The salutatory address by Paul Wynn and the valedictory by Roscoe Henderson were each given in a suitable manner. A number of musical numbers were rendered and the diplomas and certificates were presented by County Superintendent E. B. O’Berry.
Graduation Schedule of Events (1924)
Gulf’s first graduation took place at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29, 1924. There were eleven graduates. The schedule of events that night was as follows:
Excerpt from Florida Cracker Days in West Pasco County
The following is excerpted from Florida Cracker Days in West Pasco County, 1830-1982, by Pauline Stevenson Ash.
There was a lunch stand across the street from Gulf High School and some of us would save five cents for a hot dog and five cents for a drink. A group of us would select a day and all go to the stand at the same time. There would be so many of us, we would just stand around and laugh because each of us would order a different drink, and confusion ran high.
If we found someone with a car, a group of us would sometimes pile in and take our sack lunches to Fred Frierson’s Drug Store on Main Street and order root beer — always with two straws. Two of us would share one drink and talk, and I can remember just laughing and talking loud to get the people in the drug store to notice us. We always sat four to the table and had two tables with our lunches spread on them.
One day at school lunch time, we took our sacks down by the river bank near the bridge. There were six of us. After we ate lunch, one boy pulled up a small boat tied near the bridge. We all got in and paddled down the river. In the deep area, the boat nearly turned over and we all got wet. Only one of us could swim and we all nearly drowned.
The incident really frightened us, and we never tried that again. Our principal caught us and punished us by making us stay after school and study one hour for a whole week.
In those days, mid to late 1920s, most of us had a phonograph at home, and we took our records to school and exchanged them because none of us had any money to buy many records.
Probably the most excitement was caused by the advent of a new student entering school. Then we would gather with our friends, and check him or her out to see if he were all right for us to associate with. If not, he did not enter our circle. In those days, most pupils had good habits and did not have trouble with the law.
When the time came to send graduation announcements, we could send as many as we could afford. Most of us sent announcements only to close friends.
I will never forget one I sent to Mr. and Mrs. Gerben De Vries. The day before graduation, Mr. De Vries came to my home and hand delivered a graduation card, and I thanked him for it. After he left, I opened it and found, to my surprise, that they had given me a $5 gold piece. I was so surprised, and I really felt rich. The $5 was an incentive for me to save my money to further my education after I got out of high school. […]
This high school, built in 1923, was the first high school built and operated on the West Coast of Pasco County. It was built of brick at 595 Boulevard, and the grounds edged the river. An iron bridge on which only one car could pass safely was on the river that was at the entrance of the Gulf High School grounds.
Gulf High School was opened in 1923 and began with grades nine through twelve. The first year of school the enrollment was so small there were not enough pupils for accreditation. The school board then decided the institution should have more pupils to make it an accredited school.
In 1924 seventh and eight grade students from Aripeka, Hudson, Elfers, Odessa, Seven Springs and Anclote were transported by bus. At the time all buses were owned and operated by individuals because there was no money for school system buses. Thus the enrollment stayed at 250 pupils all the time until 1930 when more families moved into this area. Then enrollment swelled.
Gulf High School from the beginning offered a change in many ways from elementary grades; there was a janitor and a gymnasium for the sports. Basketball geared up in 1926 followed by baseball. In the seventh and eighth grades there was a teacher for each class with rooms, rest rooms, and auditorium downstairs. The ninth through the twelfth grades were upstairs. There was a class room for each grade.
In 1926 the land boom hit New Port Richey and the high school had a boom in enrollment. A wing was built on the north end of the school, which included a library and big studyroom, where students read while not in class. The downstairs had one room for the kitchen and one room for eating. There was a cafeteria that was operated by a private party. One could eat there if he or she had money. …
Because of Gulf High School’s early small enrollment, graduates of the institution observed annual gatherings without regard to class year.
The annual banquet of alumni in 1932 was held New Year’s Eve at the Hacienda Hotel, with at least one member of each year represented.
Emil Klepach, president, was toastmaster, and Wilfred Bailey gave the welcoming address. William Hatton of Odessa gave the response.
Roscoe Baker was elected president, and Mary Lou St. Clair was appointed secretary-treasurer for 1933.
Others on hand were Betty Bailey, Louise Wilkes, Evelyn Waddy, Jean Fullington, Pauline Stevenson, Corine Clark, Ruth Draft, Bonnie Mitcham, Katie Craig, Mr. and Mrs. H. Corbett, Paul Frierson, Roscoe Baker, Bartow Littell, Russell Patterson, Zane Rankin, Albert Fisher, Harold Hunter, Calder Edenfield, Clarence Albritton, Marvin Henderson, Mark St. Clair and Bruce Mitchell.
Since then, with increased graduating classes, reunions have been based on year of graduation.
After the advent of the car, most of the children in Pasco County still had no means of transportation to school. To alleviate the problem, some individuals bought trucks and converted them into buses to transport children from Odessa, Anclote, Aripeka and Hudson.
One bus started at Aripeka and picked up children, carrying them into New Port Richey’s Gulf High School. Its route included Hudson, Port Richey and New Port Richey. Later the same bus carried elementary children to New Port Richey.
The Odessa converted bus carried children along the road from Seven Springs, Road 54 and stopped at Elfers Elementary School and carried others on to Gulf High School.
Anclote transported its children in a small bus to Elfers Elementary and to Gulf High. Individual bus drivers were paid by the Pasco County School Board.
On August 1, 1936, Pasco County School Board accepted bids for six school buses, the first ones to be bought by the county. On January 4, 1937, the school board allowed the Pasco children to ride on school buses to the Florida State Fair in Tampa. The board members agreed that children from the fourth through the twelfth grades should be allowed to attend.
High School Students Staged Strike Last Thursday; Board Will Give Decision in April (1956)
This article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on April 5, 1956.
Students of Gulf High last Thursday staged a strike by refusing to attend classes.
The dispute came about when three Gulf High teachers were notified that they would not be recommended for Gulf’s teaching staff next year by Principal John Semago. They were: Al Lagano, coach; James Clark, music and Philip Capdevielle, science instructor.
Some thirty-five students drove to Dade City to meet with school board officials and air their protests. Two students, Frank Edwards and Gary Bolen were appointed by the group to act as spokesmen and they met with Supt. Mark St. Clair, school trustees I. A. Krusen, Mrs. Mack Anderton and Edward A. Boyd; also board members C. P. McCabe, Mrs. Margaretta Witt, Edgar Kirkland, Carl Hatcher and Charles Touchton, Jr. [Note: The newspaper article has “Mrs. Mack Anderson,” but a reader of this page believes it should be “Anderton.”]
School officials at the meeting expressed displeasure on the action taken by the students.
Final decision rests with the Board on the reappointment of the three teachers and principal Semago and the matter will be taken up at their meeting April 10 in Dade City.
According to information from other sources, about half of Gulf’s student body spent the day in the bleachers of the football stadium, refusing to attend class.
School Board Awaits Action of Trustees On Gulf Teacher Firing (1956)
This article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on April 12, 1956.
The transfer and firing of teachers at Gulf High School was not agreed with in whole by the School Board at their meeting in Dade City on Tuesday and a resolution was passed urging the Trustees to change their recommendation that teacher-coach Al Lagano be dismissed because of not having a continuing contract.
The action taken by the Board of Trustees stemmed from a student walk-out two weeks ago in protest to Principal John Semago refusing to recommend teachers James Clark, Philip Capdevielle and Al Lagano to the school staff next year. Semago was not recommended for reappointment as principal next year.
No action will be taken by the Board until the School Trustees can act on the resolution.
The resolution as presented by Charles Touchton and seconded by Carl Hatcher is as follows:
“I have noted that the Board of Trustees have in their recommendation described these teachers and principal as competent and dedicated teachers, and from my personal investigation in New Port Richey, I have found this to be true. The Trustees have also stated that the difficulty in the situation arises from the clash of personalities and irreconcilable differences. This, my personal investigation bears out.
“The recommendation of the Board of Trustees is that the principal and teachers who are entitled to continuing contracts be transferred within the County system and that Mr. Lagano, who is not entitled to a continuing contract, not be recommended for re-employment.
Under the circumstances, it does not seem to me that the continuing contract status should be the decisive factor between transferring or releasing a teacher; that if Mr. Lagano is a competent and dedicated teacher as are the others involved, then he is entitled to the same transfer consideration as are the principal and other teachers, regardless of contract status.
“Perhaps the guiding consideration of the Board of Trustees in refusing to recommend Mr. Lagano was the thought that it would be difficult to find another position for him in the County School system. However, I am now advised that such a position can be found readily.
“Therefore in view of these considerations, I move that the Board of Trustees be respectfully urged to rescind their action in so far as the same pertains to Mr. Lagano and recommend that he also be transferred to another position in some other school in the County School system.”
An article in the New Port Richey Press on April 26, 1956, reported that the school board intended to transfer the three teachers under continuing contract to other schools “so as to be separated as much as possible.”
Excerpt from West Pasco’s Heritage
This article is taken from West Pasco’s Heritage. It is written by Peggy Merkle, with information from H. J. McIntyre
Boys will be boys, you know, and exploring the Cotee River swamps and the Gulf Coast as far up as Aripeka seemed to be a much better use of time than sitting in a class room. At least so it seemed to the group of high school boys in A. H. McIntyre’s Industrial Arts Class in the Gulf High School. It was during World War II and materials for wood shop were not only highly costly but also very scarce. To combat these conditions, groups of boys foraged the swamps and forests for cedar, magnolia and other trees for use in the shop course.
McIntyre and a half dozen boys, taking a half day off from school, would set out by boat or truck armed with hatchets, a circular saw and a one inch cable to cut and pull the trees out. These were then chopped and sawed into logs. Many useful items were fabricated such as lamps, nut bowls, and wall shelves. These expeditions were so popular with the boys that very accurate rosters had to be kept to insure equal time out to all participants.
When McIntyre first came to Gulf High School, he brought with him a homemade 8″ circular saw and later bought a jigsaw and two 8″ wood turning lathes. In addition to these tools he brought an item which really enhanced the class he taught. It was an 11′ kayak. During the first year the boys built twenty-two of these kayaks, fashioned after the model brought by their instructor. Two 18′ canoes were also built for use in the Chasco Fiesta. In later years many of these boys went into the construction trades, and were thus able to utilize their early training at the school.
School Dedication Saturday Event (1961)
Speeches, Parade And Barbecue Highlighted
This article, which describes the dedication of the building on Louisiana Avenue which later became Gulf Middle School, appeared in the New Port Richey Press on Sept. 7, 1961.
Recognition of two important milestones in the history of the Twin cities occurs Saturday, September 9, when civic, city, school and county officials join forces in dedicating New Port Richey’s new 16-unit Gulf High School building and the fine new lighting system at St. Clair athletic field.
Starting at 3:00 p.m., the ceremonies will continue until well into the evening without interruption in a program arranged by local city officials, working in cooperation with area and county school officials, county commissioners and local business men.
Hon. Thomas D. Bailey, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the past 14 years will be a special guest of the occasion. He will preside at the high school dedication starting at 3:00 and throw the switch illuminating St. Clair field at 7:00.
The veteran educator, recognized as one of the country’s outstanding school administrators, started his career in education in 1919 as principal of a two-room school where he taught all the grades from five to 11. He later served as principal of high schools in South Carolina and Florida and is serving his fourth term as state superintendent.
Mr. and Mrs. Bailey will arrive here from Tallahassee Saturday morning and remain overnight as guests of the city.
At 4:00 p.m. a parade will form at Orange Lake and proceed south on
The Boulevard to St. Clair field, where the New Port Richey Quarterback Club will serve a barbecue chicken dinner from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. All profits of the dinner will be turned over to the high school athletic fund.
Marching units in the parade will include Gulf, Dade City and Zephyrhills high school bands; city, county and school dignitaries and school children, as well as horses and riders and colorful floats. The Boulevard will be closed to traffic during the parade.
With Mayor C. E. Kohler acting as master of ceremonies, dedication of the lighting system will take place at 7:00. […]
When the switch is thrown Saturday night illuminating St. Clair field, the public will be privileged to witness a display of outdoor brilliance unsurpassed not only in the entire state of Florida but in all southeastern United States as well.
Authority for this broad statement comes from officials of both Florida Power Corp. and Wide-Light Corp. of Dallas, Texas, which installed and manufactured the equipment, respectively, A total of 105 lamps provide 25 to 30% more lighting than estimated by the engineers who planned the project. Three ball fields are brilliantly lighted by greatly improved new-type lamps which the Wide-Light Corp. only recently began manufacturing. […]
Record Enrollment Packs New Gulf Junior High (1971)
This article, which appeared in the West Pasco Chronicle on Sept. 8, 1971, describes the opening of the building which now houses Gulf High School.
The brand new $2.3 million Gulf Junior High School, on Ridge Road in New Port Richey, opened its doors yesterday, despite the fact that the newest school in Pasco County is far from completed.
Pasco County School Board, following an extensive … of the building, Wednesday approved and accepted the second phase of the building, it being “substantially completed.”
Last week, the new faculty of the Gulf Junior High School … in and moved the desks and chairs, the sewing machines and other equipment to various large, well-lighted and carpeted classrooms and laboratories from the cartons and boxes.
The paving of Ridge Road, the main road to the school, has been delayed for many months while county and city officials have attempted to reach agreements as to who owns what in the matter.
“We’re caught in the feud between the city and the county,” Superintendent of Schools Chester Taylor said this week.
According to Dr. Robert Hartzell, chairman of the Pasco County School Board, New Port Richey Council will be asked to pave a part of Madison Road to Ridge Road and in front of the school which is in the city limits.
The City-Pasco County line cuts in half most of Ridge Road.
No telephone lines have been able to be installed in the new junior high school because roads are not as yet in.
Furniture for the new, spacious, airy library for the school, as well as for some scientific furniture for the new school will not be delivered until December 1.
Indirect lighting, and air conditioning, with green blackboards, and controls for lights in each class room, spacious carpeted classrooms and closets, and indoor-outdoor gold and brown carpet are present. There is a distinct air of spaciousness in each of the classrooms.
From the winding circular ramp which leads from the front area to the second floor, with its tall columns and globe-shaped lighting, to the cafeteria with planted areas and gleaming spotless, stainless steel equipment and the latest in kitchen wares, the new Gulf High School presents the finest in schools in Florida.
There will be ten cafeteria workers to serve luncheons to the students each day, who will number 1,300. Foods will be transported to the Gulf Junior High Annex on the Boulevard for the seventh graders who will be located there.
Some vinyl-asbestos is utilized on some of the rooms at the school, and the laboratories and Home Economics rooms are painted in olive green with black counters.
The offices for the new school are located on the main floor, as well as the offices for the guidance counselors, with the waiting area equipped with benches.
“Altogether, there are 48 rooms in the building,” Thomas Weightman, principal of the Gulf Junior High School said. New instructors for the school have been engaged, and began their duties yesterday for the all-day sessions.
Besides the members of the Pasco County School Board, the press, and other interested citizens, and Joseph Evessa, chairman of the Americanism department of Paradise Post, New Port Richey, made the tour of inspection, last Wednesday. Carpenters, painters, carpet workers, electricians have been working night an day to complete the school in time for the opening.
The consensus of opinion is that it is one of the most complete and up to date educational buildings in the entire county. Despite the many details which are still to be worked out – and they will be!
SCHOOL LUNCH. . . PICNIC STYLE — Students at Gulf Junior High School take the lack of tables and chairs in stride during their first day in the new facilities. The $2.3 million building was given a final approval during a tour by the Pasco County School Board last Wednesday. Some of the appointments didn’t make it for the opening, including furniture for the school cafeteria. [New Port Richey Press, Sept. 9, 1971]
Gulf High Now Gulf Comprehensive High (1971)
This article appeared in the West Pasco Chronicle on Sept. 8, 1971.
The former Gulf High School is now the Gulf Comprehensive High School officially. Approval was given for the change, in 1970.
The high school will be known now, and have the new title similar to the Pasco Comprehensive High School in Dade City. The motion to change the name to the new Gulf Comprehensive High School was unanimously passed by the school board in January, 1970, on motion made by Dr. Robert Hartzell of New Port Richey, chairman of the Pasco School Board,
According to John D. Parrish, the new name may assist in getting funds for equipping facilities for vocational studies in West Pasco.
The change of name of the high school although almost two years old, and appearing on the books, had been virtually un-used, until several new teachers were approved for the local schools, recently. Superintendent Chester Taylor listed the new name on the list of teachers.
Woman Named Principal at Gulf (1991)
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on June 22, 1991.
By STEPHEN HEGARTY
Ridgewood High School assistant principal Cheryl Renneckar has been selected as the next principal at Gulf High School, a promotion that would make her the first female high school principal in Pasco.
Superintendent Tom Weightman said Friday that he will recommend that the Pasco School Board promote Renneckar to the top position at the district’s largest school.
“I have a lot of confidence in her,” Weightman said. “She’s extremely well organized and competent. She’s a good people person, too, and that’s so important for a principal.
“She’ll do a bang-up job.”
If approved by the School Board, Renneckar would replace Coy Pigman, who had been principal at Gulf High for five years. Pigman is scheduled to become principal at the Schwettman Adult Education Center.
Although Renneckar will be the district’s first female principal at the secondary level, she will not be the first woman to reach a top administrative position. Two of the district’s assistant superintendents are women. Several department directors and supervisors are women.
The vast majority of the district’s elementary school principals are women. But, until now all the district’s middle school and high school principals have been men.
Renneckar started her education career in 1969 as a physical education teacher in Illinois. She came to Pasco in 1972 and worked as a physical education teacher at schools in Zephyrhills. She coached varsity sports at Saint Leo College from 1973 to 1976. Renneckar transferred to the Hernando County schools in 1975, working for 10 years as a teacher, dean and assistant principal at Springstead High School.
Then, in 1985, Renneckar came back to Pasco to take a job as assistant principal at Ridgewood, a position she has held ever since. If her promotion is approved, Renneckar will move from an assistant principal job at the district’s second-largest school to the top job at the largest. Gulf High had more than 1,800 students during the past school year. Next year, when the new River Ridge High School opens, some students will transfer out of Gulf. But, Gulf still is expected to be Pasco’s largest school.
Renneckar has a master’s degree in physical education and has completed most of her work toward a doctorate in administration and supervision.
Renneckar was out of town on vacation and could not be reached for comment Friday.
School Marks 75 Years in Pasco (1998)
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on May 22, 1998.
By KENT FISCHER
When Mittye Locke reminisces about her days at Gulf High School, she remembers the front sidewalk.
And she should. After all, she built it.
Constructing a sidewalk in front of the original Gulf High — now Schwettman Education Center — was a big project for the nine-member senior class of 1927.
“It was the smallest class in Gulf High history, but we did some wonderful things, ” Locke said Thursday night at a birthday party for the school, which turned 75 this school year.
Locke, 89, graduated from Gulf, attended the Florida college for Women and went on to become a teacher and principal at Elfers Elementary School. She spent 50 years and three months teaching in Pasco County. When she retired in 1979 they named a school after her: Mittye P. Locke Elementary in Elfers.
On Thursday, Locke and members of her family were the guests of honor at the party at the current Gulf High on School Road at Madison Street.
Locke’s son, Mike Olson, graduated from Gulf High in 1962. His daughter, Kelly Rutherford, is also a Gulf grad (Class of 1987) and teaches at Mittye P. Locke Elementary.
“I remember when this was an orange grove, and Madison was a two-lane dirt road,” said Olson, now the Pasco County tax collector. “I played basketball, but wasn’t very good. I played the sax a little better.”
The original Gulf High opened on Sept. 18, 1922. It housed 75 students and eight teachers in sixth through 12th grades, and cost $40,000 to build. The first seniors — all 11 of them — graduated two years later.
“You know you’re old when you forget the second verse of the alma mater, and have to put your reading glasses on,” quipped Olson.
The birthday party was also a chance for some Gulf teachers to remember growing up in what was then extremely rural Pasco County. Joseph McCreary went to Elfers Elementary School and had Locke as a teacher. She was Mrs. Olson back then, and was so strict he was scared to go over to her house and play with her children. “My friends would say, “Let’s go play with Mike,’ and I’d say, “I don’t think so, Mrs. Olson might be there,’ ” said McCreary, who has been teaching at Gulf for 27 years. “She was the law in Elfers.”
While Gulf High teachers and honor students celebrated Gulf’s birthday Thursday night with a party and awards banquet, a bigger celebration is planned. On June 20, the school will host a dinner and dance for alumni. The day of festivities also will include tours of Schwettman and Gulf Middle School, both of which have served previously as the high school.
Former Gulf Student Graduates With His Grandson (2001)
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on May 8, 2001. Baillie would have graduated from Gulf High School in 1945 if he had not entered the Navy in 1944.
RIVERVIEW – This is a story of a senior – and a senior.
A guy named Gene – and a guy named Gene.
Together, 75-year-old Floyd “Gene” Baillie and his 18-year-old grandson, Gene Medich, will don cap and gown and receive their high school diplomas as part of the 2001 graduating class of Riverview High School.
“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have graduate with me,” said a beaming Medich, who towers above his grandfather, a farmer from Monticello, near the Georgia border.
To understand how it all began, you have to go back to the days of World War II, when young men felt eager and duty-bound to serve.
Baillie , then a 17-year-old at Gulf High School in New Port Richey, decided to forgo the pomp and circumstance of his senior year and instead joined the Navy Seabees, shipping out for Okinawa in 1944.
Then along came life – the service, a wife, a family and a 39-year stint with the local power company – distancing him further from those high school days.
“I never did get that diploma,” said Baillie, a fourth-generation Floridian. “But I inquired and found out I had the credits to graduate.”
Under a law passed by the state Legislature last year, World War II veterans who cut their education short to join up can apply for a diploma. Baillie and Dora, his wife of almost 50 years, heard about it while watching CNN.
“World War II just dumped all of us into a big fruit bowl,” said Dora Baillie . “Some left school, some left football, all of them left their moms and daddies. It brought a whole new world.”
Lynn Medich, the Baillies’ daughter and Gene Medich’s mother, said she’ll have the tissues ready graduation day, which is May 31.
Gene learned how to hunt and fish from his grandfather, and has spent many summers helping out on the farm.
“He’s a good guy,” he said of his grandfather. “A nice person who does stuff for others. Hard working, churchgoing, a good person.”
The feelings are mutual.
“I think he’s a fine boy,” said Baillie of Medich, the youngest of his five grandchildren. “Like I tell his mother, if they get tired of him, I’ll take him. He’s good help and quick to learn.”
Baillie doesn’t yet know what it will be like to be seated with more than 450 jubilant teenagers on graduation day, but said those he’s met are “tickled” by his plans.
“They think it’s the neatest thing they’ve ever heard of,” he said.
Lynn Medich expects relatives to converge at the Florida State Fairgrounds for the ceremony, although only two of Baillie ‘s 12 brothers and sisters are living.
A big graduation party is planned afterward.
For information on the veterans’ diploma program, call 1-800-827-1000, Ext. 7432.
1924-1956 auditorium (Grand Blvd.) 1957 Sims Park 1958 St. Clair Field 1959 Sims Park 1960 Sims Park 1961 Sims Park 1962 Gym (Louisiana Ave. site) 1963 Sims Park 1964 Sims Park 1965 Sims Park 1966 First Methodist Church 1967-1976 Gym (Louisiana Ave. site) 1977 Des Little Stadium 1978-2006 Bever-Hicks Activity Center 2007-2018 Calvary Chapel Worship Center 2019 Yuengling Center 2020 Mitchell High School 2021 Des Little Stadium