By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
NEGLEY -- Bob Whitacre married the girl next door. It took only 60 years.
Whitacre and his wife, the former Jo Ann Cope, were among 183 former pupils of Rogers, Clarkson and Oak Grove schools who attended a reunion Monday at the Schoolhouse Restaurant.
Former classmates of the Clarkson School had talked for years of having a reunion. They finally began to plan in July 2004, advertising the event in local newspapers. They decided to include former pupils of three schools, hoping to get at least 50 reservations. They were overwhelmed by the response, and many who attended hope Monday's first reunion won't be the last.
The three small school buildings that served pupils in the Negley and Rogers area have long since fallen victim to fire and progress, but many memories remain. Decades quickly peeled away Monday as classmates reminisced about strict teachers, snowball fights and the miracle of indoor plumbing. Former classmates, most now in their 70s, laughed and called each other & quot;kids & quot; as they looked at faded photographs and shared stories.
Bob and Jo Ann Whitacre grew up literally next door to one another, and both attended the Rogers School. For two years, the Whitacre and Cope families, 23 people in all, shared an outdoor toilet. "We shared a lot of things in those days," Whitacre said, laughing. Jo Ann remembered the logistics of sharing outdoor plumbing were often interesting. "We always had to yell on the way to make sure no one was in there."
Although they went their separate ways during much of their adult lives, they recently reunited at an area dance where Whitacre was playing in a country band. It didn't take long for a romance to spark. They were married Oct. 4, 2004.
Jo Ann said in her school days she had no romantic interest in Whitacre. She didn't even like him. Whitacre joked that he didn't see Jo Ann's true beauty until recently -- after he had cataract surgery.
As they reminisced Monday, two of Bob Whitacre's sisters, Ginny Baughman of New Waterford and Janice Weingart of Salem shared Rogers School stories of struggles with math, and paying the consequences for getting into trouble. Baughman heard for the first time that Weingart was paddled for chasing classmates and making fun of them.
Weingart recalled her struggles with math and said classmate Joyce Hussar helped her through them. Joyce Hussar Hillberry of Lisbon brought with her on Monday photos of the Jan. 21, 1951, fire that destroyed the Rogers School.
"I ran to the school in my nightgown," she said. "I just cried and cried." She had pictures of the rubble taken the next day, when all that remained was the charred iron fire escape. "This is just a wonderful idea," she said of the reunion. "I've seen people I haven't seen in years."
Wayne Dailey of Oak Grove School recalled he and his brothers were probably paddled for bringing boxing gloves to school.
"The teachers ran a tight school."