Tuesday, April 24, 2012

McCampbell School honored in Graniteville

Aiken reporter Rob Novit can unearth some real gems in his coverage for the Aiken Standard, and this is one of them.

The Leavelle McCampbell school building received a historical marker on Saturday, with the event taking place in the school's 90th year.

Among the dozens of graduates and others in attendance was Minnie Ferguson, 94. She is living history, having started first grade at the school in 1923, the year after Leavelle McCampbell opened.

Ferguson cheerfully named her first three teachers at the school. Her fourth-grade teacher was Juanita Schroder, and she was strictest of all of the teachers Ferguson had.

"I'm very proud of this school," she said. "It's amazing to me that it's still here. Of course, I can hardly believe I've lived this long either. I wouldn't have missed this for anything."

The marker, formally approved by the S.C. Department of Archives and History, is sponsored by the Leavelle McCampbell School Alumni Association.

"This school has a strong foundation," said association president Joe Taylor. "It was built out of Graniteville Company granite and has withstood the test of time."

Originally a grade 1-12 facility, Leavelle McCampbell later served grades 7-12. After Midland Valley High was constructed in 1980, Leavelle Campbell became a middle school serving grades 6-8.

Taylor praised all of the principals who have served the school, including the current administrators, principal Dr. Lloydette Young and assistant principal Brad Weston.

The ceremony Saturday had plenty of lighthearted moments. Four 1949 graduates unveiled the marker, and Taylor introduced them by their nicknames of Slim, Goat, Monk and Hotshot - Lenwood Melton, Bill Whittle, Buddy Wise and Gene Wilson, respectively.

"This was a special place," Melton said. "Really, it was the only place. There weren't many schools around as magnificent as this one."

When he returned to the community a number of years ago, Wilson did some volunteer work at Leavelle McCampbell for then-principal Al Lamback. The principal showed Wilson the boiler room, which was an athletic room in Wilson's time.

"I showed Al where some stairs used to be, where I would sneak down for a smoke now and then," Wilson said with a smile. "Really, it's a pleasure to be back and be a part of this community. I get emotional thinking about this school."

William Gregg, who founded the Graniteville Company in the mid-19th century, believed in the value of education well ahead of his time and insisted on compulsory schooling for his employees' children. When the existing school was dedicated in 1922, a company executive echoed Gregg's philosophy. For the past 75 years at that time, the policy was to give every child an education. The new building would be a token of appreciation for the services provided by the company's employees, the executive said.

When Carolyn Hardy was growing up in Graniteville in the 1950s, she was fascinated by the large and majestic three-story Leavelle McCampbell school. But she was an African-American, and separate schools were the norm then. Hardy attended the Schofield school in Aiken for junior high and high school.

Before her senior year, however, freedom of choice policies were adopted, and Hardy became the only black senior to enroll at Leavelle McCampbell that year. Many black students through the county generally faced challenges during this early phase of desegregation but not Hardy.

"I had a wonderful time. I loved it," she said. "Seeing the building again today is amazing."

Other alumni association board members are Pat Bates, Brenda Taylor, Merle Bush, Sally Jennings, Wanda McGee, Joel Randall, Skippy Pate and Tommy Wooten. Also participating in the event were the Rev. James Addy, GVW Investment Corporation chairman Ronald Wood, Kirk Bennett and LMMS chorus members, directed by Charla Coffin.

Growing up in Graniteville and attending Leavelle McCampbell until his graduation in 1955 was ideal, Wooten said.

"We were one big family," he said. "It was same group of kids from the first grade, and life revolved around the school. I appreciate its unique place in history."

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