Honored grads: outstanding school system key to success

Published 4:05 am Saturday, October 21, 2017


The five people recognized Friday with the Andalusia High School Outstanding Graduate award, also known as the W. Robert Brown award, cited teachers, principals and a caring community as reasons for their life successes.

And, they said, the foundation for that success was as much about a demand for excellence and a sense that teachers really cared.

“There was a rule at the high school that boys were gonna wear their shirttails tucked in,” Ivan Bishop, Class of ’63, recalled. “Some people didn’t like it, and some parents didn’t like it, but the rule was the rule.

“So we did it,” he recalled. “My last day of school – one more test and I’m out of here – I thought, ‘I’m gonna wear my shirttail out today.’

“I did. I was not there long when John Arthur Wilson spotted me. He lectured me on following the rules the first day, and the last day.

“You know, that has stuck with me all my life,” he said. “I wear my shirttail in whether it’s day or night.

“As you get older, you appreciate what teachers instilled in us,” he said. “Respect, discipline and values. The way we treat people, and the values you got at Andalusia High School.”

Bishop came home to Andalusia and joined his father at T.V. Cable Company of Andalusia, Inc. Together, they proceeded to grow it from from a small antenna service company to a full-blown communications company providing internet, broadband, and phone services.

“I’m thankful my father convinced me to come back here,” he said. “Andalusia is a great place to live and be in business. I had a job that I loved, and couldn’t have asked for more.”

Harvey “Pete” Donaldson, Class of ’61, recalled the influence of his first grade teacher at Church Street Elementary.

“She was born in 1889, and taught her first class of first graders in Searight in 1906. By the time my class arrived in 1949, we were her 43rd class, and she continued until 1956.

“Even though we were her 43rd class, she made us all think we were the best class ever,” Donaldson recalled. “She kept with us after then. When we were seniors in high school, she invited the almost 40 members of her first grade class, and gave each of us a gift.”

The gift was a porcelain plaque on which she had hand-printed their graduation announcement.

“I’ve had that on my desk or in my office for almost 60 years,” he said. “I think of and remember Mrs. Boyt and all the other teachers who have greatly influenced us.”

Donaldson spent much of his management and engineering career making the U.S. Postal Service more efficient, working in the Washington, D.C., headquarters from 1981 until 1997. He also was a faculty member at Georgia Tech, and has been instrumental in the work of the Andalusia High School Scholarship Foundation.

Doris Bass Tyler, Clas of 1950, said school was always important for her.

“I knew from the beginning, my education was my tool against poverty,” she said.

Neither of her parents had graduated from high school, she said, but they worked hard to ensure that their three children would.

“I know they are smiling down today,” she said.

“Andalusia schools have always had a sound tradition for excellence, even back to that day in time,” she said. “If you received a diploma, you were prepared to go to college, or to go to work. For me, it was the work market.”

Tyler is the president of the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation. In this role, and in many others, she has given her support to the community, its schools, and civic organizations. She previously served as office manager, executive secretary and bookkeeper to the Dixon Family Partnership, L.P., and in a similar role with Charles Dixon and Co., from 1967 until her retirement in 2001.

Johnnie Vinson, Class of 1962, also credited AHS teachers with his success. Vinson is a former director of bands at Auburn University who currently works as an arranger and composer.

“At the end of our 10th grade year, I decided I wanted to be a band director,” he said. “To this day, I don’t know why. But looking back, I believe it was the example (AHS band director Lacey Powell) set.”

While it was Powell that he was inspired to be a band director, it was what he learned his senior year from Jim Nettles that was the secret to his success, he said.

“In the summer of 1961, they hired a new band director, Jim Nettles,” he said. “He was a different personality. He was more laid back, but he had a sharp intellect and he was a very fine musician.”

Nettles also arranged compositions for his bands.

“We started rehearsals, and we had music in manuscripts he had written for that band,” he said. “It was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and I wanted to do that.”

It was developing that skill, and attending Nettles’ alma mater, Auburn, that greatly influenced his career.

“If he had not come here, I would have gone to college somewhere else, and my entire life would have turned out differently,” he said.

Charles Vickery, Class of 1954, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, spent his career in the U.S. Air Force, and retired as a brigadier general. His service took him to command posts all over the world.

“All over the United States, if anyone asked us where our home was, we always said Andalusia,” he said. “It was a good place to group up, with an outstanding school system that provided an excellent education.”

His wife, the former Mary Emma Moates, also is an AHS graduate.

“My father told me the best thing I ever did was marry Mary Emma Moates,” he said.