June 17, 1999 — While the rest of the world was converging on West Point for the ladies’ golf events, we were in nearby Macon, MS, for Jo Ann to attend her 46-year high school class reunion. Actually it was a five-year class reunion, not meaning they had been of out high school five years, but that classes from 1949-1953 gathered at several homes and meeting places around Macon.
The first night everyone was at the Oak Tree Inn on Highway 45 by-pass, where the room prices had been raised from the regular $45 or so a night, when reservations were the first of the year, to more than $80 to commemorate the US Ladies’ Open.
The food, as usual was excellent, but the motel prices still left a bad taste with those staying there and elsewhere.
We stayed with Jo Ann’s sister the first night and at the motel Saturday night. We had planned to use the room for early and late night visiting and then drive home in the wee hours, as we are prone to do, but decided we needed to stay and get as much of our money’s worth as we could, including the free continental breakfast Sunday morning.
The various classes had lunch at different places on Saturday — Jo Ann’s class was in the fellowship hall of the United Methodist Church where we were married 44 years ago next month.
That night the almost 200 classmates and spouses gathered at the commissary of the Circle M Ranch, located off Highway 14 between Macon and Alabama.
Not having graduated from high school (the only degrees I have ever received have been from Ole Miss) Jo Ann maintains I enjoy her reunions almost as much as she does.
I may have more, for there are always a lot of interesting people to visit with, like Woody Bethay, retired associate director of the NASA space center in Huntsville.
He was enumerating the high percentage of the Macon High classes who had gone to college and gone on to be generals, captains of industry, doctors, surgeons.
I commented that if all of them would move back to Macon it would do a lot to change the complexion of the community and he recalled having such a conversation with a couple of his classmates earlier in the day.
“When are you moving back?” they asked.
“When you do,” he replied.
If more of the brain-drain from the small communities in Mississippi would come back, even in retirement it would make a real difference. What better way to repay the community that helped raise you than to move back and help maintain the values by which you developed.
A couple of other conversations suggested that the changes in government a few have been giving lip service here may not be pipe dreams.
Visiting with John Shiftbauer of Lafayette, LA, I learned that the local horse track, Louisiana Downs was moving north to Opelousas in St. Landry Parish, because voters in the parish ousted video poker from the race track. Track officials said they couldn’t make it without the video poker and they went.
Shiftbauer, who is married to the former Patricia Culpepper of Macon, said Lafayette had merged with the parish into a new form of government, where many of the county and city services have been merged.
Also talking with Ed Reiber of Clinton, Indiana, a Macon graduate, who is now retired from an aluminum foil plant there, he mentioned that he was on the new countywide planning council.
The responsibility of the group is to oversee and direct all planning and zoning in the county, except for one small town that opted out.
He said a permit had to be obtained for any construction in the county and that the whole process was paid for from the income from the fees.
I asked him how they enforced the zoning.
“Big fines,” he said. “Real big fines — high enough that we seldom have a problem," he said.
All of which reminded me of a clipping sent to the Bruce newspaper by Erma Spratlin, about the Jackson, MS, Community Improvement Division of the city of Jackson, that fits in with the kind of movement she and others are trying to get the Bruce Board of Aldermen to implement.
There is a phone number for residents to call and leave a message about any problems having to do with housing code violations, junk cars, overgrown and littered lots, and burned and dilapidated buildings that affect property values, public health and safety.
Like in most such gatherings it is sort of comforting to find that many of our problems in America, we share in common.
It is also inspiring and somewhat embarrassing to realize that in many areas of the country, these problems not only are being talked about — folks are actually doing something.