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Ridge Spring-Monetta High Alumni Celebrate Milestone

Joyce Bell Winkler, a 1971 graduate of Ridge Spring-Monetta High School, has a variety of memories from her classroom years with James Martin, Tonya Kneece Watson, Wallace Steadman and other neighbors from several decades ago.

On Friday evening, she and her classmates had a chance to reflect on some of the ups and downs of a prominent chapter in local school history.

Winkler, a retired nurse, led an effort to bring 19 members of the class of 1971 together to represent “the first fully integrated Ridge Spring-Monetta High School graduation class,” as announced during a pre-game gathering on the football field, leading into the Trojans’ homecoming game versus Calhoun County.

Black students, until the middle 1960s, attended Ridge Hill School, and their white counterparts attended Ridge Spring-Monetta School, and the blending of the two represented a “major, major memorable time,” as described by Winkler, who got her start at Ridge Hill.

The 19 alumni of various backgrounds gathered on the field a few minutes prior to kickoff for pictures and to show a banner and plaque for placement in the school to mark the shift in educational norms in Aiken County.

“When I first started here, in 1965, as a seventh-grader, I didn’t realize, maybe to that extent, what we were doing, but as years went by, I recognized the significance of us bringing our community together, and to respect and honor what each of us bring to our schools and to our families and communities,” Winkler said.

The class “did something that did not cause strife and anger to the point where there was disruption of our school year,” she added, acknowledging a variety of difficulties along the way.

Alumni on field

Winkler, who left the community in 1971 and returned eight years ago to help develop the family farm, also acknowledged a major population shift.

“We have a large Hispanic community now, which we didn’t have when I was here, and because of that, I think the different cultures have learned to find ways to work together and to be a part of each other,” she said.

“It was a great time,” said class member Carolyn DuBose Price, who has lived around the world as an Army spouse. “We enjoyed seeing one another again. We hadn’t seen each other, some of us, in 50 years, and some of us only on the occasion of family funerals.”

She added, “We discovered that many of us lived in the same area and didn’t know it, because we had lost contact ... Some of us didn’t recognize one another without our name tags, so we were just reconnecting.” 

Winkler, who grew up with five siblings, made similar comments.

“Believe it or not ... most of my classmates did not leave this area. I was surprised how many live within 10 miles of Ridge Spring. Only a few are what we call out-of-towners, but they had not connected, which was really interesting, so we’re going to do something, hopefully, in the spring, to really pull this together, as a class,” she said. “There was 94 in our graduation class, which then was the largest ... ever of the two schools, and now the numbers, I think, are in like the 80s.” 

Ladies looking at yearbook

Others in the Friday bunch were Pearlestine Holstein Oxner, Elease Prescott Mathis, Jeanette Shealy, Gwen Jay Mobley, Willie Price, James Nathaniel Burton, Patricia Ryan Drayton, Sandra Phillips-Roper, Sherry Quattlebaum Fallaw, Thomas Fallaw, Larry Brooks, Valerie Matthews Freeman, Raymond Storey and Lillie Price Herbert. 

“I’m very grateful for the team that worked with me to pull this together, and for Dr. Webb, who supported us in this effort,” Winkler said, referring to KaRon Webb, principal of Ridge Spring-Monetta High. She noted that she and her classmates are “looking forward to doing other great things with this school, because our ... year should not end with just one day.”

Read the full Aiken Standard article here

Bill Bengtson/Aiken Standard