Eastern Wake News

Ceremony remembers Zebulon school’s namesake

Zebulon Middle School principal Stephanie Smith, left, accepts a portrait of James E. Shepard from Letisa Vereen during a ceremony marking the naming of the school auditorium after Shepard.
Zebulon Middle School principal Stephanie Smith, left, accepts a portrait of James E. Shepard from Letisa Vereen during a ceremony marking the naming of the school auditorium after Shepard. jwhitfield@newsobserver.com

It’s been nearly 50 years since the last class of graduates walked across the stage at Shepard High School, collected their diplomas and entered adulthood.

But on Tuesday night, graduates of Shepard High School, which was on the current site of Zebulon Middle School, joined Wake County school officials, former principals and others to celebrate the effort of the Durham businessman for whom the old school was named.

The school’s auditorium will now be known as the James E. Shepard Auditorium.

Shepard is best known as the founder of what is now North Carolina Central University. The school began as training center for clergy in 1910. Shepard, a pharmacist by profession, was also a big supporter of education at all levels.

Tuesday’s celebration was as much about Shepard as it was the Zebulon school that bore his name.

Speakers, from Wake County school board Chairman Tom Benton to former Principal Dalphine Perry, recalled the role the school played in Zebulon’s black community and how it became the site of Zebulon High School when Wake County’s public schools integrated in 1971.

Perry praised the school’s alumni for their support of both the high school and later, Zebulon Middle School

Stephanie Smith, Zebulon Middle’s current principal, welcomed the group. “I came here knowing the legacy of James Shepard because I am a graduate of North Carolina Central, so I knew who he was. Welcome home to James E. Shepard High School,” Smith said.

Area Superintendent Ed McFarland told those in attendance that the relationship between Shepard and the Wake County school system has long outlasted the school that bore his name. “That relationship continues today. We still have a major recruiting push on the campus at N.C. Central every year,” McFarland said.

Benton, the school board chairman, praised members of the Shepard Alumni Association for their continued push to have Shepard’s legacy remembered. “Letisa (Vereen) called me shortly after I went on the school board and told me they had sent a letter asking that this action be taken. We went looking for the letter and it had fallen through the cracks. I literally think we found it in a crack somewhere, but her persistence paid off,” Benton said.

Larry Mayo, who was the last class president of Shepard School in 1970, held the school’s last yearbook aloft as he remembered the efforts of Shepard School and Wakelon School students to ensure that the merger of the two schools was a smooth one. “We got together a lot that year. We worked to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. We picked the school’s mascot. We picked the school colors. Looking back, I think we were really successful,” Mayo said.

Vereen, the Shepard Alumni Association member who kept alive the idea of remembering Shepard by naming the school’s auditorium for him, attended the school through the first grade before moving to Zebulon Elementary School following integration.

She said the effort to remember Shepard was important to her on a number of levels. Both her parents were teachers at the school. Vereen, who now teaches at Zebulon Middle School on the same site, also said it was important to keep memories of the old school alive.

With the naming of the auditorium after Shepard, there are now two named facilities at Zebulon Middle School. The gymnasium was named after coach and physical education instructor Barbara Roberson several years ago.

Johnny Whitfield: 919-829-4823, @_JWhitfield