Cary News: Opinion

Cary’s Heritage: Cary High centennial recalled as school celebrates 120 years

The Cary Arts Center, at the intersection of South Academy Street and Dry Avenue, once housed Cary High School until 1961. It was transformed and reopened as an arts center in 2011 (pictured)
The Cary Arts Center, at the intersection of South Academy Street and Dry Avenue, once housed Cary High School until 1961. It was transformed and reopened as an arts center in 2011 (pictured) NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Cary High School was first chartered in 1896, which means that it is 120 years old this year. Guy Mendenhall remembers the school’s centennial celebrations that took place in 1996. He was the school’s athletic director and was a member of the Cary High 1954 state championship basketball team.

Guy Mendenhall: Cary High School is the oldest chartered high school in North Carolina. The 1896 charter is still hanging on the wall at the school. In 1992, a new principal named Donna Hargens arrived and realized that in four years, the school would be 100 years old. So she contacted WRAL, who agreed to come speak to an assembly of ninth-graders, to announce to them that they would be the 100th class.

In 1995, a committee formed with people from the community interested in celebrating the 100th year of the school. Many activities were planned, including a parade. They identified and contacted about 5,000 former graduates. The Cary News assigned one editor to report on the school’s 100th year and advertise for graduates. A symbol of the first building from 1896 was put on the school’s stationery.

In the spring of 1996, the parade was held on a Saturday morning with the Cary band leading the way. There were 96 units for the parade. Anybody who had graduated from Cary and wanted to put something in the parade could do so. There were old cars, and cars full of local people with homemade banners on the sides. Some businesses put floats in the parade.

It turned into a big thing. There were people standing along the side like during Cary Band Day. Graduates came from way out of town.

After the parade, people went into classrooms in the school that had been designated for three consecutive graduating classes in each room, so they could all meet and talk. One woman came who was 100 years old and had graduated from Cary High in the early 1900s.

People brought and donated memorabilia that was put in the media center, including all the annuals from the first one printed for the class of 1918. Annuals were not made during the Depression or World War II, but they resumed printing them after the war.

Pictures of all the school buildings are in “the Centennial Hall,” drawn by Jerry Miller who donated them. After the meet and greets in the classrooms, everyone went to the football stadium, where 100 chairs had been set up in the middle of the field, each with a sign from 1896 to 1996.

An announcer from the local radio news read something about each year that the Cary News had researched and put together. They also found photos of things that took place during those hundred years, which were laminated onto wood, and are now in Centennial Hall.

There were also photos from many graduating classes. People were invited to come down onto the field and sit behind one of the chairs. Most sat behind their own graduating year, and a few sat behind the earlier years where nobody was sitting.

The Cary High School centennial celebration was a memorable and exciting event for all who attended.

Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book, “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina,” first published in August 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.