For Ray Hinnant, a collection of yearbooks his grandmother kept from Wendell High School represents a time when the town was like “Camelot.”
A member of the class of 1964, the second to last class at the school, Hinnant inherited the 20 yearbooks that his grandmother, Nellie Lee Todd, had ordered even during years when she didn’t have any children or grandchildren at the school. She didn’t mark them up as some students did, and they were just sitting in a box.
A few years ago, Hinnant read a News & Observer article about the North Carolina Heritage Center at UNC-Chapel Hill and its efforts to digitize and preserve yearbooks from around the state at least 50 years old.
He waited until the last one, from 1965, was 50 years old, last year, and took them in.
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Hinnant, a member of the Wendell Historical Society, has one from the school’s first class to have a yearbook, 1933. Instead of individual pictures of each student, there is one group shot of all of the senior class.
He also has one from 1943 and each year from 1948 through 1965, and those have been digitized.
The easiest way to view them is to visit the society’s website at wendellhistoricalsociety.com and click on the link to DigitalNC. The site has more than 11,000 high school and college yearbooks digitized, as well as more than 56,000 North Carolina newspapers.
The society is looking for editions of the school’s yearbook, called “Echoes,” from 1934 to 1942 and 1944 to 1947 to complete the collection. To help out, call Hinnant at 919-365-3228 or Sid Baynes at 919-365-9924, or visit the society’s website.
Those photographed in the yearbooks include former Mayor Lucius Jones; Hinnant’s wife Carol, a former commissioner; Baynes, a former commissioner; Leamon Strickland, owner of Strickland Jewelers; the late Kathryn Kannon, part owner of Kannon’s Clothing; and Paul and Al White, owners of Universal Chevrolet.
A lot of the school’s alumni at the time stayed in the area and made homes and careers in Wendell, Hinnant said.
Hinnant went to UNC-Chapel Hill and worked as underwriting manager for Great American Insurance Company, now Liberty Mutual. He is now retired.
“It was really sort of an idyllic life,” he said of his high school years. “There was practically no crime, and children just sort of ran free.”
There were about 35 students in his senior class and everyone knew everyone else “extremely well,” he said.
He remembers going with his classmates to Wendell Drug for sodas and packs of “Nabs.” They’d usually get loud and get run out by the soda jerk.
“But it didn’t stop us from coming back the next day,” Hinnant said. “It was our everyday ritual after school.”
On weekends and after football and basketball games, he and his classmates would go to Dolphin’s Drive-in for burgers, hot dogs and fries, and hang out with each other in the parking lot. Sometimes they would head to Shoney’s in Raleigh.
He remembers when the Beatles came to the U.S. in 1963 and huddling in front of a TV with about 30 students from the school that evening.
“It’s hard to believe now that somebody would be so excited to see someone get off a plane, but we were wrapped up in Beatlemania,” he said.
It was also a time of racial segregation in the schools, and Wendell High was closed after 1965 for Wendell students to join students from Zebulon and Rolesville at integrated Vaiden Whitley High, which later became East Wake High.
“It really sounds like something from 100 years ago now, but it was just how things were at the time,” Hinnant said.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826
Completing the collection
If you have Wendell High School yearbooks from 1934-1942 or 1944-1947 call Ray Hinnant at 919-365-3228 or Sid Baynes at 919-365-9924 or visit wendellhistoricalsociety.com