Thinking Back to That First Graduating Class

This evening we will gather at Resurrection Life Church to honor and celebrate the 90th graduating class of Lee High School. Our human minds have a difficult time grasping the concept of “90 years” because we are captives of our personal memories, and life prior to our very own first memories is but an illusion. My own personal memories likely date back to as early as 1959 and anything that occurred prior to that time is but fiction to me, although intellectually I know that the world was turning long before I was born.

In late fall of 1923, the doors to the new Lee Street School were opened to a group of students who had been enduring the over-crowded conditions of the old Godfrey School. The high school grades had only been around about fourteen years and even then only extended to the tenth grade. Students who attended ninth or tenth grade at Godfrey likely experienced attending classes in narrow hallways and stairwells. There were only ten classrooms total.

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Originally planned only to be a junior high school, by the time the Lee Street School opened it had a small handful of students who had just entered the eleventh grade. Their experience at Lee would be short-lived and four would become members of the very first graduating class during the spring of 1925, a time when the electric Interurban train to Holland would ramble by the front of the school several times each day.

From the very first fall, they had fielded a football team and both boys’ and girls’ basketball teams followed that winter. The next spring, they managed to come up with enough players to field a baseball team. In their senior year, the boys’ basketball team made it all the way to the state semi-finals, not bad for a rural school barely open for one year. That spring, a track team took the place of baseball and three of its members went on to the National High School Tournament at Ann Arbor. The girls’ track team set a number of records and won championships in the Suburban Meet and West Michigan A.A.U. meet.

Because the Class of ’25 was so small, it required the aid of the junior class to put on its musical comedy,  “Sunshine.” It played to a full house the first night but due to an injury to one of the cast members, a sell-out crowd had to be turned away the second night.

Eventually, graduation day came for that first class of Lee High School seniors. A year later, Magdalene DeYoung was attending Grand Rapids Junior College and would eventually become a school teacher. She would live to be the oldest surviving member of those early days attending alumni reunions at Lee well into the first decade of the 21st century.

Her fellow graduates included Marie Austin who went to work at Michigan Bell Telephone in downtown Grand Rapids; Albert Smith who following graduation tried his luck in the growing movie industry in California; and Alvin Oakes, who quickly became a foreman in the expanding Pere Marquette Railroad Yard industries on the north end of Wyoming.

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About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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