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The celebration of the John Motley Morehead High School, Class of 1961’s 50th Anniversary

September 29, 2011

Photography by Tom Barbour

    When Carol Gwynn was searching for the perfect location for the Morehead High School 50th Class Reunion, a name popped in her mind: Willow Oaks Plantation.  She had heard of the location from a friend whose son had attended a Willow Oaks hunting event and had raved about the beautiful landscape, accommodating staff, and remarkable time all of the guests had enjoyed.  Carol was intrigued and she convinced the class committee to go take a look.

    Upon arriving at Willow Oaks Plantation, Carol realized she was quite familiar with the land.   “It was the ol’ Dick Smith Dairy Farm” she explained.  Carol and her classmates had grown up in the area, which at the time was three separate towns: Leaksville, Spray, and Draper.  The consolidation took place in 1967 and the town was named Eden.  As a classmate would later remark during the reunion, “Everybody’s parked down that way at least once during high school!”  Turning into the driveway, Carol noticed the beauty of the wooden fencing and the grand new entrance and gasped, “WOW!” As they drove past the fields, over the bridge with views of the Dan River, and towards the white plantation house, she recalls that they were “blown away”.  After a tour of the house, the grounds, and the lodge, Carol noted that, “Every lighting fixture was like a work of art.  Even the additions fit so perfectly.  The owner has done a first-class job on every detail.”  Carol loved the idea of hosting this very special reunion at Willow Oaks, a “familiar place from childhood, but also something new.  Once we visited, that was it—it was the perfect place.”

    If there’s one thing the class of 1961 takes to heart, it’s the Morehead High School motto: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  That is precisely the reason that still 50 years later, these folk gather together to catch up with old friends, swap stories, and relive cherished memories.  On the evening of the big event, the Willow Oaks Lodge was alive with excitement.  The house was filled with the aroma of delectable foods– house-smoked turkey, prime rib, red bliss potatoes, green beans, veggies & dips, and bread with brie, fruit, and crackers– on a brightly-colored display by Danny Martin, the Willow Oaks in-house caterer.  The rooms swayed with the sounds of Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Elvis, Ray Charles, Richie Valens, Brenda Lee, and other late ‘50s shag music and pop artists who provided tunes for Friday night school “sock hops”, dances so named because students were not allowed to wear shoes on the gym floor.  Even the sunset over the grounds made for a beautiful setting to relax on rocking chairs on the patio of the lodge.  The classmates proved their school spirit by decorating the lodge with the school’s colors, black and white, and enormous amounts of memorabilia from senior trips and proms, football jerseys, diplomas, report cards, school year books, and a cake decorated with the school mascot, a Morehead High Panther.  Activities of the evening included the naming of the senior superlatives, chanting the school’s fight song, and even a hula hoop contest!  As a memorial to deceased classmates, there was a candle-lighting ceremony and the reading of a poem by a fellow classmate as a tribute to all the members of the high school class.  A tremendous amount of work went into collecting contact information and compiling a booklet for each class member with phone numbers and addresses so that each class member could remain in touch after the reunion.  In attendance were 104 guests, of which 68 were from the Morehead class of 1961.

    Reflecting on the fun event, Carol remarked that “Danny and his staff did an amazing job.”  She and other members of the class committee have received comments from classmates saying it had been “wonderful”, “superb”, and was the “perfect reunion.”  Everyone had a “tremendous time there!” 

    To the members of the class of John Motley Morehead High School’s class of 1961, we’d like to extend our most sincere thanks for the honor of choosing Willow Oaks Plantation to be the setting for this very special celebration rich with history, memories, laughter, and friendship. 


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