BY LOUIS C. WARD
EUSTIS – Imagine this: You graduated from high school 65 years ago. Presently, you’re attending a class reunion. When you walk into the room, your former home economics teacher, who happens to be 99- years-old is there. She sees you and other classmates. The beloved teacher’s face lights up, as she calls out each student by their name.
Imagine: Learning that your former integrated high school was named “Colored School Number 85” during the 1800’s.
Imagine: Reading the ‘Central Florida Negro Edition’ a newspaper, published by the Orlando Sentinel during the 1950’s. The newspaper was printed on pink newsprint, and was called ‘the pink sheets’.
Students of the Eustis Vocational High School’s (EVHS) Class of 1962 experienced the above and more, and they orally discussed those times while enjoying food, fellowship, and fun at their 2023 Reunion Friday, April 14 through Sunday, April 16, 2023.
Class of 1962 students honored Ms. Elsie Broomfield, their beloved home economics teacher, who will be 100-years-old in December 2023, during their Saturday evening program at Golden Corral Restaurant in Eustis. Ms. Lou Ethel Kenon Jenkins, a Class of 1962 graduate, presented a dozen of red roses to the personable teacher who was remembered as “always being sweet to all the students, no matter who you were.”
“I received a lovely plaque that stated ‘outstanding and special teacher. It was nice,” said Ms. Broomfield, who had no idea that she was the honoree. “I saw students and their classmates and I remembered them. It was a wonderful reunion.”
“Ms. Broomfield was the only teacher that we had that was still alive,” revealed Ms. Jenkins. “We all were very happy when Ms. Broomfield called out our names. She was so excited.”
Longtime Community activist and EVHS student from the Class of 1960 Carla Mitchell provided a very informative oral history with pictures of Eustis Vocational High School, describing how the school was first called the Colored School Number 85 in the 1800’s, then the Curtright School and finally, Eustis Vocational High School, which became one of the first integrated schools in Lake County.
The Colored School 85 building is still standing on McDonald Avenue and Exeter Street in Eustis, said Ms. Mitchell, who’s Uncle John Byrd, the only Black member of the school board, petitioned for a new school to be built for Black students, which became Eustis Vocational High School on Bates Avenue. “The new school served students from nine communities, including Altoona, Clermont, Eustis, Groveland, Mascot, Mount Dora, Pittman, Tavares, and Umatilla,” Ms. Mitchell informed the group.
Ms. Mitchell revealed how Leon Hamilton, the principal of the new high school, ordered all the artifacts from the Curtright School – uniforms, band instruments, trophies, photographs – be destroyed instead of being taken to the new school to exhibit the history of the Black students at the new school. Ms. Mitchell and other community residents were able to salvage the items. Those artifacts were purchased from money earned by students and their families selling sweet potato pies, ice cream and peanuts. Ms. Mitchell, with the help of community residents, took them to her house for safekeeping. Eventually, the items were placed in a 12-foot showcase at EVHS.
Reunion Committee member Ms. Barbara Jones Harris, commenting on Saturday evening’s program at Golden Corral on US Hwy 441 in Eustis, said, “Being with Ms. Broomfield, our only living teacher, was wonderful. Everyone enjoyed themselves.”
Robert Ragin of the Class of 1962 didn’t have Ms. Bromfield for his teacher. But her personality and relationship with students always made a positive impact on him. “Ms. Broomfield was always sweet, even now, today. My sisters Mary Alice and Violet had Ms. Broomfield for a teacher. She will always be a part of the family.”
On Friday evening, classmates enjoyed fellowship and dinner at the Haystax in Mount Dora. Sunday’s event concluded with a worship service at a Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Tavares and eating at Mason’s Jar in Umatilla.
Ms. Jenkins said, “The 2023 reunion was wonderful. It was so many years since we’ve seen each other: we just loved on each other.”
Saturday evening’s event at the Golden Corral restaurant was heightened with the room’s decoration by Crystal Webber. It was appealing to the eyes and relaxing. The Class of 1962 Reunion Committee was composed of Barbara Jones Harris, Pauline Williams Hickson, Lou Ethel Kenon Jenkins, and Marjorie Wall McKinny.