Remembering Tryon (City) School

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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The magnificent school building, visible from the intersection of US 176 and NC 108  highways, was built by one Wright Gaines in 1923. My beloved Aunt Mildred always referred to Mr. Gaines as one who could neither read nor write, yet the building he built was recently judged to be in the best condition of any in the Polk County school system.

When Aunt Mildred and Uncle Ethan attended, the building contained the entire Tryon School: First Grade through 11th Grades. The tall portion nearest to town contained the auditorium, with the cafeteria under the stage. The center section contained all of the elementary school, with classrooms for grades 1 through 7.

The portion behind the stately columns contained the entire High School and a Library. I started school in Mrs. Charlotte Kittrell’s First Grade in 1936. We moved to Mooresville when I was in second grade, and later to Durham when my father died in 1938. 

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We came back to Tryon and built a house on the foundation left when the Rippy house burned to the ground in 1938. I joined Miss Thelma Mills’s fourth grade class. She gave us some kind of “standard tests” on which I scored mostly “12th grade 9th month,” so she promoted me to the sixth grade.

When we graduated from the seventh grade, we were promoted to a new 8th grade, stuck in before the new high school, in which the grades were renamed nine through twelve (in order to provide twelve years of study in line with other states.) A new coach, Mr. Edwin Beach, became our first male teacher. He made us proud by addressing us as Mr. or Miss (Surname). He thus helped to erase our disappointment at not being in High School yet . . .

I was pleased to attend “The Last Hurrah,” a gathering of alumni of Tryon High School before it became an elementary school. I am pleased to remember Col. Schilletter, superintendent of the school before being recalled to serve again in the US Army in WWII. Don’t now recall what rank (officer) his replacement had before being recalled to the US Navy (all I can remember is Mr. Caldwell.)

Miss Ada Viele, who had been the Principal of the elementary school I went to in Mooresville, came to Tryon High to teach commercial subjects (typing etc). (We had no idea that she was Dr. Viele until her death!) Mr. Leslie K. Singley became the Superintendent when I got to High School.

I asked him to teach a Drafting Class, and he obliged. I managed to leave my mark on the school by chiseling “Class of 1947” in the sidewalk constructed by the Senior Class boys. My drafting training enabled me to draw the lettering for the sidewalk, and later to draw plans for a Presbyterian manse on Vista Street on Godshaw Hill. Builder Dick Kell built it exactly as I had drawn it, from a small sketch on an envelope by Matt O’Shields. Pretty good for a High School kid, yes?

I finally graduated as class valedictorian. Virginia Henry as Salutatorian gave the opening address, and I gave the closing one. When I mentioned some improvements I thought were needed, there was a burst of applause in the audience. I had memorized my speech, and it all disappeared from my memory! I had not put a copy in my pocket, so I said “Nobody knows this thing but me,” then resumed when it all came back.

With an even dozen, we were the smallest class ever, but with two equally small girls (Sally Jay and Virginia Henry) to lead us down the two aisles, we made it to the stage OK. We were joined by three returning veterans, who by examination, graduated with us.