DECATUR – The Class of 1975 of Stephen Decatur High School will be celebrating their 40th anniversary next weekend.

And while members of that class consider themselves the last class to graduate from the former downtown high school, that fact appears to be open to some debate.

According to class member Jeff Howard, it has been a ongoing argument with some graduates exactly which class deserves that honor.

“It's a big deal to some of my classmates that everybody in Decatur and the world knows that the class of '75 was the last,” said Howard of Decatur.

Howard said the members of the class of 1974 like to claim that honor of being the high school's last downtown class. “It's been some controversy that the class of '74 was the last,” he said. “Maybe it's because we didn't go a full year.”

Howard and his classmates have been meeting together almost every five years for decades. Although they keep up with what is going on in their lives, most of their time is spent reminiscing about the old school campus, which was located where the Civic Center now stands.

And many of their memories involve the downtown area.

Like most teens, Molly Grider Carrol, now living in Bettendorf, Iowa, recalls the selection of food that could be found in downtown. “Remember the big sugar cookies at the Woolworth bakery counter?” she asked.

“Or a lunch of tacos at Taco Amigo and a trip by Penny's candy counter for a treat,” said alumni Laura Strong Wittig, from Oakwood.

Although many memories were made outside of the school, those most memorable were through the halls of the old school. The school's gymnasium, Kintner Gymnasium, named after legendary Decatur basketball coach Gay Kintner, had its own reputation in town.

Many events were seen by the community, including rock concerts, professional wrestling tours and roller derby bouts.

“What a great old gym that was. They don't make them like that anymore,” said alumni Becky Woodard Snow, from Williamsville. “It would be great to walk those halls again, to climb the ramps in the Kintner building and sit in the cool old auditorium.”

During the last academic year, the students shared their school with students from another Decatur high school. In the summer of 1974, an explosion at the Norfolk & Western rail yard destroyed part of Lakeview High School. With nowhere else for the displaced students to go, it was decided the two schools would split the school day. Stephen Decatur students arrived at 7:15 a.m. and left 12:15 p.m., allowing Lakeview students 15 minutes to prepare for their 12:30 p.m. classes.

The Stephen Decatur class of 1974 may have used this as evidence in their ongoing debate. “Maybe because we only went a half a day,” Howard said. “I don't know. It's been over 40 years.”

Although teenagers have a difficult time with early morning hours, many look back fondly to the adjustment. “Even though I'm not a morning person, being out at noon was awesome,”said Carlye Booth Case, now living in Morristown, N.J.

The reason for the reunions is to carry on with the memories, although each may be different.

“The nice thing about doing these reunions is to carry on friendships,” said Howard. “Especially at our age, we don't always remember a lot of those things.”

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

Load comments