On Sept. 10 approximately two hundred South High School alumni gathered at the old South High School Auditorium to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the completion of the first year of school.
South High School opened on Sept. 7, 1915 and was formally dedicated in January of 1916. For decades it was the “shining star” of the Grand Rapids Public School System.
Special Guests included:
Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear, who presented a Proclamation from the City of Grand Rapids on behalf of Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.
Superintendent of GRPS Teresa Weatherall Neal spoke about the current status of the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Superintendent Neal attended what became South Middle school after the high school closed in 1968.
World Renowned artist Paul Collins spoke about his work and South’s rich history rearing students in an integrated atmosphere that was essentially color-blind. One of his paintings hangs in old Churm Hall depicting the life of President Gerald R. Ford’s years at the school. His work can be seen in an Art Gallery at Marge’s Donut Den.
1969 South High School graduate Michael B. Johnson, offered a stirring rendition of “There Is A Balm In Gilead” and led alumni in the singing of the school Alma Mater, “Hail to South.”
The SHS Spirit Award was presented to five former students for their contributions to keeping the “spirit” of South High alive.
Those honored included:
1958 – Jim Atkinson, President of the South High Varsity Club
And four alumni involved in the “Buy a Bomber” campaign which saw South High students raise over $375,000 in 1943 and buy a B-17 Bomber they named, The Spirit of South High School –
1947 – Arthur Blackport – the instigator of South’s involvement in the campaign.
1944 – David Dutcher – Co-chairman of the “Buy a Bomber” campaign.
1962 – Joe Rogers – Former Veteran who discovered the military report that explained the fate of the bomber.
1962 – Sandra Dieleman Warren, who brought the story to life in the non-fiction book, “We Bought A WWII Bomber; The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway.”
The program concluded with the legacy of South High School presented by1962 graduate, Sandra Dieleman Warren, who took the alumni on a journey through the History of South High School and highlighted a few of its outstanding graduates who include:
1919 – John Hannah – longest reigning President of Michigan State University (28 years)
1931 – President Gerald R. Ford
1938 – Mike Murphy – Basketball Coach – Won 7 City Championships, 2012 Inductee into the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame & at 96 still beats alumni at golf!
1939 – Jane Baessler Doyle – WWII Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
1946 – Clare Fischer – Grammy Award winning composer, arranger, band leader and session musician who worked with the likes of Prince, Celine Dion, The Jackson’s, Dizzy Gillespie & Herbie Hancock, to name a few.
1959 – Jim Cash, screenwriter of movies such as “Top Gun,” “Secret of My Success,” “Turner & Hooch,” “Dick Tracy,” “Legal Eagles” and “Anaconda.”
1962 – Dan Houston, artist who has developed a huge international following among interior decorators and lovers of contemporary art.
1966 – Al Green – Gospel & Pop singer boasting more than 20 million records sold, a multiple Grammy Award Winner, 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree, and Master Performer named to Rolling Stone Magazines “100 Greatest Artists of ALL TIME List.”
South High School closed in 1968 to comply with Federal Desegregation orders. Ironically, from opening day in 1915 to 1968, throughout its staff and students, South High School was well-integrated.
South High School was known for its tremendous school spirit, evident today through its alumni who, even though the school closed forty-eight years ago, still gather monthly for breakfast at the New Beginnings restaurant and the last Tuesday of every month for an afternoon at Marge’s Donut Den in Wyoming; school spirit that also sees the Varsity Club meeting once a year and in 1990 saw the creation of an annual Alumni Scholarship presented to two worthy Grand Rapids Public Schools seniors to attend Grand Rapids Community College.
South High School closed in 1968 and opened that same fall as South Middle School until 1979. In 1982 it reopened as the Grand Rapids Job Corps Center, which was renamed in 2004 to the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center.
Today, the Mission Statement which opened the school in 1915, continues: “…to be a school which trains it’s pupils as far as a school may, to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the offices of both public and private, of peace and war, as far as the national endowment of each pupil will permit.
South High School – 1915 to 1968 – The Spirit Lives On!