BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG –Gibbs alumni classes kicked off the evening’s events at Gibbs High School’s annual Home Coming game with a tailgate party. Alumni from the class of 1952 to the class of 2017 showed up to display their Gladiator pride, which spilled out onto the football field where the blue and gold reigned 28-14.
Several alumni spoke about the powerful connection of the blue and gold that have kept them coming back year after year to share their life stories through the years.
“The Gibbs Class of ’63 was the first class to graduate from the new Gibbs,” Bob Perry said proudly about his class.
“We had great teachers. Corrine Young [taught] algebra. Mr. [Emmanuel] Stewart was the principal. Alvin Benton was the vice principal and Charlie Williams was the great French/ Spanish teacher,” he said.
Perry said the alumni works hard to raise money for deserving students each year.
“One of the most precious gifts we’ve given is scholarships so the young people can go on to college.”
Six months after Perry’s graduation, his class would see the first of several heinous political assassinations in the United States starting with John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
Melvin H. Williams, class of ’65, was a sophomore when Perry graduated. He experienced the same drive from his teachers for academic excellence and camaraderie.
“We had quite a big group at that time to migrate out to St. Pete Junior College and truly integrate that school.”
Williams talked about the scholarships given out yearly, how the alumni help feed the football team, how they have raised money to buy radios so the team can communicate while on the field and how they’ve donated enough money to send business students off to compete at statewide events.
“It is our honor to do so and give back to our community,” said Williams.
Gibbs was a home away from home for Shirley Smith, class of 1963. “We were a close-knit and fun group of people.”
To Smith, the folks at Gibbs were her extended family.
“I loved school so much I’d go sick. School was fun for me. I had the greatest teachers, the best administrators. I had many mentors and because of them I was able to have a successful life.”
Smith passed the test to enter the Air Force but her parents wouldn’t let her go. Not wanting to be a domestic worker, she knew she needed higher education. She ended up getting a two-year scholarship to the junior college and worked at Allstate Insurance for some 30 years.
Lolita Brown, class of ‘66, graduated the year after the assassination of Malcolm X. She highlighted just how close the teachers were to the students and their parents.
“Our teachers lived in the same community as us, and so they could tell your momma in a hot minute: ‘Hey, they not doin’ right in school’ or they could tell your dad ‘OK you need to tighten up, he’s acting crazy!’”
Brown went to college outside of Florida and lived in several cities before moving back home to work in her brother’s real estate business. She eventually began her career as a college counselor at St. Petersburg Junior College for 26 years.