“Remarvelous” is how Mellie Jeter, a 1958 graduate of Wilkinson High School, describes her class – combining the words “remarkable” and “marvelous.”
And what is truly remarkable is that many of the classmates have stayed connected for 60 years. They come together for good times, like reunions and trips, and in tougher times, attending the funerals of their classmates who have passed on.
Jeter said that in her experience, the class of 1958 is “the only class that has that camaraderie.”
Some class members have traveled from as far away as Phoenix, Arizona and Anchorage, Alaska to come back together and share in joys and sorrows. They have a newsletter, participate in charitable endeavors, and in 1998, they put together the yearbook they never had.
Between 2009 and 2011, they made sure to celebrate all their classmates’ 70th birthdays with special events.
And the class holds a local meeting on the third Tuesday of every month at different Orangeburg restaurants.
“We are all just so happy ... and overjoyed that we all meet (so frequently),” class member Evia Thomas said.
Although it’s usually local class members at the monthly meeting, Thomas said classmate Betty Walker comes every month from her home in Charleston.
“Our meetings are just like reunions. It’s such good fellowship,” she said.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of their graduation, and the reunion in June was a spectacular, fun-filled weekend full of memories.
“It was truly amazing to see some of our people from way back,” Jeter said. “The fellowship was great. It was just really nice.”
“(After) 60 years, to have people come together and fellowship like we did, it was just almost unbelievable.”
“And the food was good!” classmate Franklin Johnson said.
Meeting at the Country Inn & Suites in Orangeburg, the classmates convened Friday night for registration and fellowship and held a program where some of the class members provided the entertainment, Thomas said.
“During the program, we were visited by the (Orangeburg) mayor (Michael Butler), who presented us with the key to the city,” Walker said.
On Saturday, class members participated in a cruise luncheon on the boat “The Spirit of Lake Murray.”
“And from there, we visited the African American Museum statues on the Statehouse grounds and then did a brief tour of Congaree National Forest,” Thomas said.
On Sunday, they attended services at a member’s home church, Bull Swamp Baptist. The reunion weekend culminated in a luncheon at Thee Matriarch Bed and Breakfast, she said.
About 26 classmates participated in the weekend, some coming from as far away as New York and Arizona, Thomas said.
To commemorate the event, class members created memorabilia, including a 60th anniversary book compiled by Walker. The book is “loaded with activities for the past 10 years,” including photos and information, Thomas said.
Some of the photos show trips the class members have taken together. They’ve visited Stone Mountain, Georgia, and have taken a chartered bus to Canada, stopping in almost every state on the way, Thomas said.
“We visited Charleston at least three times as a class. We visited Williamsburg, Virginia just last April.”
A classmate who was a Williamsburg resident coordinated lodging at a time-share facility, she said.
“And it was fabulous,” she said. “We stayed a whole week there.”
In the book, there’s also a photo of class members who came together to attend a classmate’s funeral in Orangeburg.
“They came from Virginia and all over for that funeral,” Thomas said.
“We buried two classmates last year. And somebody is always there to support the family.”
The yearbook they put together for their 40th reunion was a watershed moment for the class.
“We have really bonded more so since this yearbook,” Thomas said.
“This young lady again was the leader and editor, so to speak, to publish our own yearbook," she said, referring to Walker. ... We did not have a yearbook in school when we graduated in 1958.”
Some of the photos and material came from the attics of local businessman and politician the late Earl Middleton and their former principal, the late Dr. Robert E. “Wag” Howard, as well as the Orangeburg County Library’s archives, Thomas said.
Class members pay dues on a monthly or yearly basis, and the funds are used for charitable activities, she said.
The money goes to different causes: the Dr. Robert E. Howard Scholarship Fund, the J.B. Hunt Scholarship Gala, the Project Life: Positeen after-school tutoring program and the Rickenbacker family’s annual Black-Tie Holiday Gala and Dance for Alzheimer’s research.
Money also goes to activities sponsored by members’ churches.
Noted Thomas, “We just support each other in everything."