Old Red Brick School House produced community leaders
By JAMES WEAR
The year was 1947. Two years earlier, atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, bringing the Pacific conflict of World War II to an end. President Harry Truman, who issued the order to attack, was still in office in 1947, the year that would see Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in major league baseball and be named Rookie of the Year. Television was becoming a part of America, and “Meet the Press” made its network debut on NBC.
In Texas, an explosion in Texas City killed nearly 600 people while in Taylor, the Williamson County Equipment Co. was beginning its first year in business.
In Liberty Hill, Chester Williams, father of current Liberty Hill Police Chief Randy Williams, was a high school freshman and a member of the basketball team. The elder Williams is pictured in a 1947 high school yearbook that belonged to my father-in-law, Johnny Lane, who passed away earlier this year.
Glancing through the yearbook offered me a glimpse of the past in Liberty Hill’s public school history. Many of those who attended the “Red Brick School House,” as it has come to be known, went on to become leaders in the local community, including the late Joe Ed Canady, father of longtime Liberty Hill city council member Charles Canady. In 1947, Joe Ed was a sixth grade student. He later became owner of Quick Service Garage and, when the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department organized in the late 1960’s, he served as the department’s first fire chief.
The late D.W. Hays, who in his adult life served as Pct. 2 Justice of Peace for many years before being elected as Liberty Hill’s second mayor, was a sophomore that year and a member of the Panther football team. Hays played center on a team that also included Charles Foust, Billy Berryman, Morris Jennings, Alfred Nelson, Lindy Ellason, G.D. Ramsay, Hershell Bonnet, Jimmy Waterston, Carroll Inmon, John O. Munro, Martin Blessing, Galen Dodson, Billy Charles Shuffield and my father-in-law, who scored the lone Panther touchdown when Liberty Hill played Briggs that fall. The Panthers lost more than they won that particular year, but did manage to drub arch-rival Florence 20-0.
The yearbook included one page devoted to football and basketball highlights that season, and noted “In our last game of the season, Bertram came here to have a real game in the cold wind of November. The Panthers held the Bertram team to a scoreless first half. When the last half started the Liberty Hill players, having no substitutes, were played out and the final score was 13-0.”
One member of that team, Jimmy Waterston, would in his later years become a staunch supporter of the Liberty Hill athletic program and also gain wide acclaim as a member of the “Codger Construction Crew” which is credited with much of the development at Lions Foundation Park. Jimmy, who is still living, was also an active member of the VFW Post and could often be found front and center with other oldtimers who gathered on the benches in front of the Liberty Hill Cafe, where they would spit and whittle as they watched the traffic go by.
Over the years, little changed within the school house itself, recalled Billy Ray Guerin, past president of the Liberty Hill Lions Club and a member of the Liberty Hill graduating class of 1969. Billy Ray’s class was the last to graduate from that building, which was torn down a couple of months later, just as the high school was losing its accreditation. He said in 1969 Liberty Hill probably had about 350 students enrolled, and his graduating class had about 16 students.
Among his fondest memories of the building were the fire escapes, which he described as the “old slide types” that could be accessed by crawling through a back window–a practice that he admits that he and his friends often practiced if they caught the teacher looking the other way.
Billy Ray, whose mother attended school in the same building, also remembered the large gas heaters that kept students and staff warm in the winter, and the large windows that opened and provided cooling breezes during the warmer months. The school building, which housed all 12 grades, had two floors with the first story largely devoted to elementary classrooms while the back wing of the first floor and classroms located in the second floor were used by junior high and high school students. There were only two restrooms, the boys’ room being located at the end of the hall on the left hand side as one faced the building while the girls’ room was located at the other end of the hall. Just outside the entrance of the boys’ restroom was an exit door that led to the gymnasium while the exit by the girls’ restroom led one to the cafeteria.
Ken Waley, a Leander contractor who attended Liberty Hill schools through the seventh grade, remembers the cafeteria well, particularly the pot pies that the staff sometimes served up. Although he and his siblings often packed a lunch, they also ate at the cafeteria with lunches costing a quarter. Ken, whose family lived nine miles from Liberty Hill past Clear Creek on CR 200, also recalled riding the bus.
“We were the first ones on in the morning and the last ones off in the evening,” he said, noting that the bus driver, Abe Oakely, took the bus home in the evening. Oakely lived about a half mile from the Waley family, and Ken remembers walking to his house to board the bus.
Ken also recalls singing in the school auditorium, and says some of the songs students sang, old Southern folk ballads, would not be considered politically correct nowadays. The school auditorium was located in the center of the second floor. Although Ken’s family moved to Leander where he would finish school, he says he had a brother and sister graduate from Liberty Hill.
Among those prominent Liberty Hill citizens who were members of his class are James Pogue and Gary Spivey, both of whom went on to be active in the community’s civic affairs. Both James and Gary served on the school board.
Bobbie Fletcher (whose oldest daughter, Terrie Chambers, is principal at Bill Burden Elementary) was among the Liberty Hill students who later returned to work for the school district. Bobbie graduated from Liberty Hill in 1956. She had spent her first three years in school in Andice before her family moved here. She recalls playing basketball (“If you could breathe, they put you on a team,” she says) and recalls Shirley Hays being a pretty good ballplayer, despite the fact that Shirley refused to wear shoes on the hardwood.
Bobbie says of herself: “I couldn’t dribble, but I was tall so they had me stand below the basket and they’d throw the ball to me.”
The basketball teams played in the gym that was built in the mid-1950’s and still stands today. Varsity games were played there through the 1985 season.
Bobbie was hired in 1979 by the late Bill Burden, and she first worked in the district’s administration building, which in earlier years had served as the district’s agricultural building with chickens having been raised in it at one point. The building still stands today, located by the old tennis courts. During her 20-year career, she was also employed as secretary for Richard Hastings and Dalton West, both of whom served stints as principals at the middle school, with Dalton later becoming high school principal. She recalls coming across paperwork that indicated Liberty Hill boasted having 163 students enrolled at one point during the 1950’s. Her graduating class numbered 13.
After the school was torn down to make way for a new facility for elementary students, Billy Ray says Bertram, which was also in the process of losing its accreditation, entered into talks with Liberty Hill about the possibility of the two schools consolidating, with some talk about building a new school midway between the two communities off Hwy. 29. No action was taken, and Bertram ended up consolidating with Burnet while Liberty Hill students completed their senior years in Leander, Georgetown, Bertram or Florence until the community battled back and reclaimed its high school in the early 1980’s.