By Beth Shumate, TSB Contributor
The Class of 1965 turns 65 this year, 47 years after most of them graduated from high school.
To celebrate this landmark, classmates from the McKinney High School Class of 1965 are holding a big birthday bash the weekend of Oct. 26-27.
Planning of the celebration started when one local ’65 MHS grad, Carolyn Corbin of Melissa, bounced the idea off of several of her classmates which resulted in a planning session of a group of local classmates earlier this spring. The group chose Don Bourland and Paulette (Lawson) Chandler, both of McKinney, to chair the event committee, with Bettye Odle of Flower Mound chairing the Friday evening activities.
The committee and Corbin, who chaired the group’s last reunion (their 25th in 1990) then brought the event to the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau for help.
“They [MCVB] decided to treat us like a convention, providing us with goody bags and helping us select venues,” Corbin said. “They’ve been so helpful.”
Of the 180 members of the 1965 graduating class, 75 to 80 of them (130 confirmed attendees including spouses/dates) will be attending the celebration. Many of the classmates still live in Collin County and surrounding areas, but others will be traveling from Wisconsin, California, and Georgia.
“Technology made a huge difference in helping us find everyone,” Chandler said, adding that Ancestry.com and email became their research and hunting tools of choice.
Joining the 1965 MHS grads for the celebration will be five of their teachers, all of whom now have schools named for them within the McKinney Independent School District. Arthur McNeil (McNeil Elementary), Scott Johnson (Scott Johnson Middle School), Gary and Bobbye Jack Minshew (Minshew Elementary), and 97-year-old Mildred Bennett (Bennett Elementary) will be special guests of honor at the class’s Saturday evening event.
The group will start the weekend on the downtown square Friday night. On Saturday, classmates will meet for breakfast at Bill Smith’s Café before exploring town or spending time with friends. Saturday evening features a dinner-dance at McKinney’s Rock Creek Ranch.
“We’re thrilled to be meeting Friday evening in the lobby at The Ritz building even though its complexion has changed from when we were kids. [It used to be a movie theater.] Everyone’ll sign in, and we’ll hand out maps and goody bags,” Odle said, adding that classmates will also receive a fun surprise that will easily identify them as Class of 1965 while downtown. “Then everyone can go out on the square for dinner and drinks, and to enjoy spending time together.”
Odle and fellow classmate Reba Anderson did a test run on a Friday night in September to have a first-hand experience of what their classmates could look forward to for the reunion.
“It was a mind-boggle for Reba and I to spend a night out on the square like that,” Odle said. “The square is so different than it was when we were kids when you’d just park the family car there and watch people come and go.”
The Times They Were A’Changing
The downtown square isn’t the only thing that has changed since 1965, when McKinney’s population was just more than 14,000, and the area was still the agricultural center of North Texas. The 1965 yearbook shows many of the male students being active in Future Farmers of America (FFA), with many female students being in Future Homemakers of America (FHA) or Secretarial Sciences. Boys and girls alike were quite active in their churches, the committee said, while many of the girls were also active members of the Horizon Club, a community service-oriented sorority.
But society, and the town this group of McKinney natives knew as kids, were on the cusp of major changes.
“We were the first class of Baby Boomers,” Corbin said. “We were so innocent, and it was such a turbulent time. In fact, we have lived through more change than any other generation.”
The classmates spoke of being given the day off school during their junior year if they wanted to go to Dallas to see President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade.
“He [Kennedy] was so young and so charismatic. We all admired him. We were all in shock [when we heard the news],” Bourland said. “As you know, there was a real prejudice against Dallas for many years after that.”
These classmates witnessed another kind of prejudice at home in McKinney, too.
“Where Rick’s Chophouse is now, there used to be two water fountains,” Chandler said of segregated facilities she and her classmates would soon see come to an end, much like the “colored-only” entrance to the historic county courthouse. (This entrance was permanently sealed and the sign indicating it was preserved under plexiglass when the courthouse was converted into the McKinney Performing Arts Center in 2006.)
Integration began in McKinney in 1964, and the MHS Class of 1965 was the first to include an African-American graduate, Betrice Bailey. Until that year, all black students in town attended McKinney’s Doty High School.
Sadly, the classmates explained, Bailey is among the 33 former classmates who have passed away.
The group is excited to have found as many classmates as they have, and they have enjoyed the planning process.
“The journey in all of this may be the biggest deal of all… and it has all just gelled,” Odle said.
Any classmates not currently in contact with the committee but who would like to attend the weekend’s festivities may contact Paulette Lawson Chandler at email@example.com.
“We’ve had such fun working with this group, supporting them with whatever they needed,” said Dee-dee Guerra, Interim Executive Director of the MCVB. “That’s what we’re here for, to help people, no matter how big or small the group is, whether they live here or are visiting our community, to have a high-value experience while they’re in McKinney.”
Photo captions: At top, the Class of 1965 senior portrait; Top right, the reunion committee members, now and then; middle left, the late Betrice Bailey, the first African American graduate of MHS. Above right, the class of 1965 enjoying life. Above, the reunion committee.