The last class of Patriot High School: ‘We are family’

  The only physical reminder of the site of the old Patriot High School is the large Sycamore tree that still stands on the lot.

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  The only physical reminder of the site of the old Patriot High School is the large Sycamore tree that still stands on the lot.

  The school bell has a new home at the rear of the Patriot Memorial Park, a little over a block away from where it called students for decades.

  And at the corner of the Memorial Park, a monument stands as a tribute to the school and its students. Along the bottom, the school’s motto is etched:

“To You, We are True”

  Patriot High School was not just a place of education for the children of the town of Patriot and the surrounding area — it was home. It was where family gathered.

  And after the conclusion of the 1967-68 school year, it went away.

  Consolidation of Patriot High School and Vevay High School following 1968 led to the creation of Switzerland County High School; but for those who attended Patriot High, they will always be Trojans.

  Each year, on the Saturday evening of Memorial Day weekend, the Patriot Alumni gather in the cafeteria of Switzerland County Elementary School. It is a lively place, filled with laughter and stories and food. Many bring photos to share; everyone brings memories of a simpler, better time.

  At each alumni gathering, those members who were celebrating their 50-year anniversary are honored. This year, the members of the Class of 1968 will be highlighted.

  And then, that will be gone, as well.

  Since the consolidation happened, there is no Patriot High School Class of 1969, so there is no official class to honor after this year. Many students with Switzerland County diplomas began their high school careers in Patriot, so there is the possibility that an invitation will be extended for those students in the coming years, but soon there will be no 50-year class to honor.

  This year is especially reflective for those members of the Class of 1968, as they are very aware of their place in Patriot history. Recently, three members of the class: Channie Smith, Bonnie Peters, and Kerry Craig, gathered at the Memorial Park to share their memories and feelings as they move closer to the alumni meeting on May 26th.

  “I grew up right over there,” Channie said, pointing towards town. “My mom and dad ran the post office, and we had an apartment in the back of the building. All my years were spent right over there.”

  “I mostly grew up in the Florence area,” Bonnie said. “But I went to school, my years, in Patriot.”

  The school districts were divided by townships back then.

  “I remember when they brought them in from Quercus Grove,” Bonnie said. “But I don’t remember that there was a time when they cut them off, unless you lived in a certain township.”

  Quercus Grove had a school for grades one through six back then, with those students then coming to Patriot for junior high and high school.

  “Sometime in the 60s, I think we were fifth or sixth graders, they closed the little elementary school in Quercus Grove and consolidated us all down here,” Channie said.

  That’s when Kerry came to Patriot, after the closing of Quercus Grove when he was in the sixth grade.

  “I grew up around Quercus Grove, and there was actually quite a few of us who came down here,” Kerry said.

  It’s been a half century, but the memories are still strong.

  “Actually, I ran for Aurora Fair Queen up there one time, and they asked me what my hobbies and likes were, and I said I like going to school — and I got booed,” Channie laughed. “I thought, ‘Where did you go to school? Because I loved my school!’ I think it was the camaraderie and we were just all friends.”

  “It was a small school, but you knew everybody, and even out in the country, you could go out and you knew everyone around,” Bonnie said. “And if you got in trouble, they found out before you got home, because someone ratted you out to your mom and dad. Even the parents were friends.”

  “Most of our parents went to school together,” Kerry said. “So they knew each other, so we didn’t get away with much.”

  “We (the boys) had our shop class down there,” Kerry grinned, pointing again towards town. “Everyday it gave everybody a chance to do what they couldn’t do up there, but we won’t go into those details. It was extra curricular.”

  “There were so many of us that went together from first grade, all 12 years,” Channie said. “My third grade teacher was the same third grade teacher that my mother had.”

  “Did you have Miss Edna?” Kerry asks.

  “No, I didn’t have her,” Channie replies.

  “You didn’t have her? Boy, she was something,” Kerry smiles.

  The trio points off away from town towards a tall building, remembering that it was their elementary school until the sixth grade, when they then moved over to the high school.

  How big was the school?

  “Our class was 18,” Channie said. “So anywhere from 16 to maybe 21 or 22, those were the biggest. We were very small, maybe 100 in the entire school.”

  With such a small school and tiny grade levels, the entire grade was all in the same classes, so spending that time together made them all even more close.

  “We all got the same education,” Kerry said, “With the exception of walking to shop.”

  With the closing of Patriot High School and other small, community schools like it, a way of life also came to a close, as the school was often the center of the community it served.

  “Our teachers were our friends,” Channie said. “A lot of times they weren’t a whole lot older than us.”

  “Mr. Sandidge (Ron) was only about four years older than us,” Bonnie remembered.

  “And Bruce (Hutcherson),” Kerry commented. “Him and his wife. We would go over to his house and help work on a car or put in tobacco.”

  “We were sort of the springboard for teachers,” Channie said. “We had a lot of young teachers who started here and then went on to other places.”

  Being a small school also presented challenges on the athletic field, also, as most of the schools around — each in their own communities before consolidation in other areas — were still much larger than Patriot High.

  “St. Leon was about our size,” Kerry said. “It was hard to find schools our size that we could compete with athletically. We had to really travel. We’d get back late at night.”

  “We always had fun, it didn’t matter if we won or lost,” Bonnie said. “We got along, everybody had a good time, and you went for the night and got to be with your friends. It was a lot different. Kids don’t socialize that way now.”

  And there are memories of the Prom.

  “Our junior year, our prom — we weren’t going to get in any trouble, we were just traveling the roads after the prom, and we stopped in out to Oatmans and helped them milk,” Kerry laughed. “The morning after prom. We milked in tuxes, we were still in our tux, dinner jackets back then.”

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  Word that the school was going to close and consolidation was going to happen came right towards the end of their senior year.

  “My dad had served on the school board,” Kerry said. “They had some rough sessions. The school was originally set to go towards the center of the county, and it was right before our graduation, it was decided that it was going to go in Vevay, and that didn’t go well.”

  All three knew that the Patriot school was going to close, but the word that the new school was being built in Vevay caused hard feelings for many, with some students electing to go to Rising Sun to school rather than attend the new county consolidation.

  Did they think at the time about being the last class?

  “I think it hit me the day that they said that they were going to bring the girls up from Vevay to go out for cheerleader, and you’re going to have to pick four from Vevay and two from Patriot,” Channie said. “It hit me then that there was no longer going to be a Patriot High School.”

  All three have been involved in the Patriot Alumni over time, each year preparing to honor the 50-year class — and suddenly they ARE the 50-year class. It brings mixed emotions.

  “Kerry and I used to joke about that,” Channie said. “We’d say, ‘One day it will be us up there. I guess I’ll give you your pin and you can give me mine’, and we’re going to do that this year.”

  “It doesn’t seem like 50 years,” Kerry says. “There’s a lot happened in 50 years. It just doesn’t seem like there’s been room for it, but there has. That’s part of it. Couldn’t wait to graduate. Couldn’t wait to get out on my own.”

  Kerry entered the military after graduating from Patriot High School. He enlisted before he graduated, reporting that his mother wasn’t happy with the decision, but he reminded her that he would soon be 18 and could do what he wanted. He was inducted in Louisville on the day that Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

  “I served four years,” he says. “I came close to making a career out of it. Then I came home. It’s odd. This place just draws you home. I’m not saying all, but most.”

  “I’ve lived all over, but Patriot’s my home,” Channie said. “I’ve been in Rising Sun since 1973, but this is still my home, and these ‘kids’ are still my family.”

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  So what makes the Patriot Alumni special?

  “Probably because it’s still going,” Kerry says with a laugh. “I don’t know. That’s the only think I can think of. It’s been kept alive all this time (125 years). For a small community, a small school, there’s usually about 200 there.”

  “It’s like family,” Channie says. “It’s like a big family reunion. We get notes from people from all over, it’s unbelievable what people share. We got one from a lady that’s 100 years old, class of 1935. She said that she wouldn’t be able to make it, but she still wanted to send in her dues.”

  “Most of the time, people live away from here, and they’re not able to travel because of work, or whatever; but this is the one time of the year that they set aside and make sure that they get back home,” Bonnie said.

  And they come from all over: Florida, California, all over.

  “We were the class of 68, but we were friends with the classes ahead of us, the classes behind us,” Channie said. “It wasn’t just our 18 kids, it was the whole school. We were friends and family. It was the Patriot kids.”

  So what happens next year?

  “Well, that will be brought up at the meeting, but no one wants it to end, and I don’t think it will,” Channie said. “The meeting is a reunion. We were all very close to the kids who graduated in 69. They won’t be a 50-year class, but we hope to have a special table for them so they can come and be honored. Those kids, we’ve talked with them and they say that they felt like ‘floaters’, because they didn’t feel accepted at Vevay, and their school was gone.”

  “It was always held at the school (the old Patriot High School),” Kerry said. “When we graduated, my mom’s 25th was the year that I graduated, so I did go to that. I think it was held right after commencement.”

  After Patriot High School burned in the 1970s, the alumni meeting moved to East Enterprise elementary.

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  So: “To You, We are True”…..

  “We have been true to our school. We are still true to what we were taught educationally, morally, all those things,” Channie said. “We didn’t just have our mom looking after us. All the moms and dads looked after all the other kids. We had a lot of respect, and we didn’t want to hurt those people’s feelings. We are all very, very proud to be from Patriot.”

  “It was a special place with lots of special people,” Kerry said. “We were all family.”