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Making history last

By ErinPradia
July 30, 2011 at 2:30 a.m.
Updated Aug. 2, 2011 at 3:02 a.m.

Madlyn King Wilhite, 70, greets Harold Cade, who was a teacher and coach, at the F.W. Gross high school reunion Saturday morning.

F.W. Gross High School facts

MASCOT: Fighting Bumble Bee

SCHOOL COLORS: Maroon and gold

Frederick W. Gross was a principal from 1887 to 1907

The last graduating class before VISD integrated ethnic races was in 1966.

Victor Marshall, of Victoria, celebrated his 70th birthday with classmates and friends by placing a historical marker outside F.W. Gross High School, where he graduated in 1959.

Marshal's parents attended "The Gross School" when it met in the building labeled "The Colored School" on East Convent and South Depot streets.

When the school moved to the new location on South Depot Street in 1939, they named it after Frederick W. Gross, who served as a principal at the old building for 20 years starting in 1887.

Marshall said many other cities have nothing to remember their African-American schools from the days before desegregation.

Marshall believes the historical marker will help preserve history for future generations.

"You mention F.W. Gross to kids these days and they say, 'What is that?'"

Another former student, Arah Newsom, 62, of Kendleton, recalls walking to the school every day or cutting through the school grounds to go to the store as a child.

Newsom attended F.W. Gross between first grade and 11th grade and played baritone in the band.

"This is the only school I ever knew," Newsom said. "It was an adjustment going to Victoria High for my senior year."

Newsom said it felt good to come back to Victoria for the dedication of the historical marker.

"You gotta have some history to get to the present," Newsom said. "This is where we came from. That is why I came to see what the marker said."

Although the founder of the Gross reunion in 1971, Melonee Bell Williams, passed away Friday at age 90, the historical marker will help preserve the history of F.W. Gross High School.

For some of the former students, F.W. Gross was a family tradition, with two generations of students attending the school from kindergarten through high school.

Willie Mo Clemons, 84, of Dayton, Ohio, began school at the old building and graduated from the new building in 1947.

Clemons said the old building had become dilapidated, but it was still excellent compared to schools for African-American students in other cities.

"The old building had out-lived it's youthfulness," Clemons said. "The new building was one of the most modern facilities for black kids at that time."

Clemons chuckled as he recalled memories about his time at the school.

"Any mischief that happened in the school, they would come get me and my friend Royston Dean," he said. "If we didn't do it ourselves, we would know who did."

Clemons has traveled from Ohio for all but one of the Gross reunions.

This year, he brought memorabilia from his time at school, including pictures of the football team and the yearbook he got when he graduated.

After the ceremony, Clemons shared a picture of his football team with his former football coach Harold Cade.

Cade coached football and taught biology and chemistry from 1955 to 1966.

"If you don't start winning pretty soon they forget what you're teaching them in the classroom," Cade said.

Cade said he was surprised by the attendance for the reunion and the marker dedication.

"They told me about it last night," Cade said. "I wasn't expecting all this."

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