Lamar High School invites alumni from the past 80 classes to participate Thursday in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new school building in Houston.
Yi-Chin Lee photos / Houston Chronicle
Lamar High School alumni Arthur Stimson, class of 1938, talks to Majorie Porter and Grace Wise, both class of 1939.
Yi-Chin Lee / H ouston Chronicle
Lamar High School class of 1975 alumnae Nan Robbins Franklin, left, and Anita Webber Smith hug each other Thursday while participating the groundbreaking ceremony for the new school building.
Seven decades of history sit between Natalia Giraldo and Grace Wise as the two women shared a bench under a sprawling oak tree outside Lamar High School on Thursday.
Wise, 95, graduated from the campus’ second class in 1939 before earning a bachelor’s degree at Rice University. Giraldo, 20, still needs a few more semesters at the University of Houston before she is ready to launch a career in either business or communications — she’s still deciding.
Both spent pivotal years at the River Oaks-area campus, where they returned Thursday to celebrate the groundbreaking on a four-story addition and sweeping $108 million renovation expected to modernize the storied high school that now houses popular magnet and International Baccalaureate programs. To mark the occasion and the school’s 80-year anniversary, the Lamar Alumni Association gathered graduates from each year at the ceremony.
Even after construction is complete in late 2018, the school’s current building with its art deco façade will remain the main entrance.
Wise remembers fondly her time at Lamar as a popular cheerleader who attended numerous dances and parties. Even though she graduated college, Wise said she didn’t have the options that women have today.
“In those days you were expected to get married,” the elderly woman with short, tightly curled locks said. “That’s what most women did. There weren’t many opportunities.”
So, she got married and moved across the country, following her husband’s job until he retired and returned to Houston.
Alumni in the crowd of more than 100 recounted attending during World War II and lauded the school’s increasing diversity. Today, the 3,300-student campus is roughly 24 percent white, 32 percent black and 36 percent Hispanic. About 46 percent of students are considered low income.
Lanson Jones Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps to Lamar.
“One reason I wanted to go here and not to a private school was the diversity and meeting people from every background,” said Jones, who graduated in 2004 and who now owns a renewable energy firm. “It really prepares you for the diverse world we live in.”
Some recounted the process of desegregation that followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
David Redford, class of 1958, said he can only remember one or two minorities in his class at Lamar. One happened to be Homero Blancas, a Mexican American who went on to win professional titles in golf on the PGA and Champion Tours. Redford said the Blancas family lived on the River Oaks Golf Course because their father was the grounds keeper for the green.
Most were caught up in similar walks down memory lane as they talked with former classmates, while current Lamar students looked on and pointed to famous alumni, like Tennessee Titans football player Brian Orakpo and former Gov. Mark White.
Denisha Jackson, 18, a senior and cheerleader, couldn’t pull herself away from John “Mickey” Carmichael once she learned he was a cheerleader there in the 1940s. She was intrigued to learn some of the cheers haven’t changed in 80 years and to find that people who are separated from her by decades did many of the same things as her.
The 91-year-old man stood with his cane in one hand and a shovel in the other at one end of the horseshoe-shaped plot of ceremonial dirt.
She waited for him to finish with pictures and helped him take his seat.
Carmichael pulled out his old Lamar cheer patch with his name on the back and gave Jackson an energetic cheer from his seat.
“Yeah red, yeah blue, yeah Lamar, waa-hoo!” shouted Carmichael.
The former Naval pilot and life insurance salesman for AIG is proud of his cheer days, although his daughter notes that he joined so he could meet all the debutantes on the squad.
“I’ve got great memories here. I was a cheerleader, and at that time it was a popularity contest,” said Carmichael. firstname.lastname@example.org