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    Union Academy students reunite

    Old friends share hugs and memories at the school's first reunion for all classes. The academy was built in 1915 and closed in 1969.

    [Times photo: Krystal Kinnunen]
    Delois Rainey, left, hugs Gladys Wallace upon seeing her face for the first time in 40 years while Inetta Mack waits to hug Rainey.

    By JANEL STEPHENS

    Revised July 13, 2001

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 2, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Gladys Wallace hadn't seen Selda Davis in 50 years, but that didn't matter. When the two saw each other Saturday night, the feeling of friendship was as immediate and close as ever.

    As girls, the two attended the Union Academy school at different times, but they were close until Davis moved from Tarpon Springs in 1951. At the first-ever reunion for the school, Wallace and Davis, who now lives in Quincy, embraced warmly, and each looked at how the other had changed. As she posed for a picture with her old friend, Wallace's eyes filled with tears.

    "I used to babysit her," Wallace said. She remembered the first time she took care of Davis, while Davis' family moved into the neighborhood.

    "It was 1927," Wallace, 86, recalled. "We had a terrible storm and I nursed Selda while her mama and daddy moved into the house next door."

    About 105 students, faculty and friends of Union Academy spent more than four hours sharing similar stories at the school's former site on E Harrison Street, now Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary School.

    Organizer Annie Dabbs was pleased with the turnout for the reunion, which, for some students, was a nine-year dream come true.

    "This is wonderful," Dabbs said. "Some of these people I haven't seen in over 30 years."

    Groups of friends came together to share their memories of a Union Academy that was once the focal point for blacks in Tarpon Springs.

    "Remember Memorial Day?"

    Hanna asked a group of friends. "With the barbecue and fish fry?"

    "Um-hum" and "Oh yes," replied four women who attended the school during the late 1940s and '50s.

    "There were five men who cooked all the food for the whole neighborhood," Hanna recalled.

    "They built a barbecue pit by digging a hole in the ground," said Clyde Robinson, whose father cooked at the neighborhood barbecues. "They'd put a bed spring on top of the hole and would barbecue chicken and meat on it."

    "That was soul food," added Flossie Laster, whose son, Alva John Hall, attended the school in the 1950s.

    Laster, 75, never attended Union Academy but remembered the faces of students who used to pass her house each morning when they were going to school.

    "I look at them and remember when they were babies, and now they got babies," said Laster, a longtime resident of Tarpon Springs.

    During the evening, the school's former music teacher, Janie J. Wilson, played the piano. At one point, a former student got up and urged everyone to sing the school's morning song, taught by second-grade teacher Ruth Lambright. The crowd groaned, then started right in:

    Good morning to you.

    Good morning to you.

    We're all in our places

    With sunshiny faces.

    For this is the way

    To start a new day.

    For many black families in Tarpon Springs, generations of children attended Union Academy.

    Mildred Davis, 84, attended the school in 1926. Her six children attended the school, as did her late husband, Samuel Everett Davis, and her sister, nieces and nephews.

    Davis said that when she attended Union Academy, there weren't enough books for the children to use.

    "We didn't have much," Davis said. "But we made the best with what we did have."

    Adorned in a white hat and lavender dress, Anna Catia, 82, remembered having good times at Union Academy.

    "There was no cruelty," Catia said. "There wasn't busing in those days. We walked to school and played guessing games."

    "You miss them when you have a reunion like this and you think about the nice things you used to do," Catia said.

    Historians think Union Academy may be the second black school in Tarpon Springs. The first may have been built in the 1800s, when Tarpon Springs was considered part of Hillsborough County, Dabbs said.

    Union Academy was built in 1915 as a four-room school. The Pinellas County School Board purchased the building in 1919 and added two additional classrooms. At various times, the school has housed students up to the seventh, eighth and 11th grades. Union Academy closed in 1969.

    Dr. James E. Monroe, who attended the school from 1950 to 1956, told his former classmates, "We have every reason to be proud."

    Other people, he said, "built the school for us, but that doesn't mean that they knew what was in us."

    - Staff writer Janel Stephens can be reached at (727) 445-4243.

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