The DeSoto County High School Class of 1959 on Saturday celebrated the 60th anniversary of their graduation. Since then, they have gathered for a reunion every five years.
Alvie Davidson, one of the event’s organizers, said he has a vivid memory of receiving his diploma from Supt. Charlie Weaver. Although he now lives in Lakeland, Davidson’s T-shirt on Saturday announced, “Arcadia, Florida—It’s Where My Story Began.”
Another organizer, Dorothea McCall, lives in the Owen Henry Parker homestead in DeSoto County. She said, “There are people here I have not seen for 60 years ... I love my class. I’d do anything for them.” She noted that Butch and Betty Parker helped decorate the Turner Center Exhibition Hall where the reunion was held.
Edward Williams served three years as a U.S. Army paratrooper and then for 43 years and six months with the Department of Corrections. He started as a corrections officer, eventually promoted to major, and retired as an inspector. His account of “The DeSoto Prison Riot of 1981” is included in the book Inside the Inner Circle by Gary York. Williams also appears in an episode of the television series “I (Almost) Got Away With It.”
“I was hatched in Gardner,” Tom Mercer, another classmate now residing in Albany, Georgia, said.
“My daddy and grandaddy were cowpokes”—T. L. Mercer and Sam Mercer, respectively. Adam Mercer was the first family member to settle in DeSoto County. His wife, Margaret Goff Mercer, attended the fifth-grade when her family lived in DeSoto County for one year while her father worked on a construction project. Then they moved back to Georgia. Her sister had been in Tom’s class, and when he was attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, her sister introduced them.
Traveling the farthest to participate in the event was Jerry Fleming. Born in Alabama, he was raised DeSoto County. In 1978, he was hired to breed Appaloosa horses in New South Wales, Australia. He also taught horseshoeing and horseback riding. While in the U.S. he will also visit family in Pittsburgh.
Residing in Satellite Beach, Lewis Farley was born and raised in DeSoto County. He retired as a captain in the U.S. Army, and then worked for the U.S. Air Force at Cape Canaveral “on 50 unmanned launches,” he said.
Dale Melton, son of Howard Melton, the county’s late local historian, lives in Bradenton with his wife Diane. He enjoyed hearing “about old times in both the schools and the community.”
Born in Nocatee, Ken Westberrry lives in Pine Level. “I ain’t going nowhere,” he said. “I’m living in the the best place in the country.”
Lucky Coker said, “I’ve never left here. It’s good to be here. It’s really neat to see everybody.”
Linda Sue Marsh also helped organize the event. She noted, “Everyone who used to help us has passed away. Now it’s just the three of us.”
In 1959, the class numbered 62; now 45 remain. Of those, 22 attended the reunion. They all agreed that if they have another reunion in 2024, they will meet at a restaurant.