Last week’s column told of his efforts to improve school security. Today, we learn how Keenum landed the site for what became Lassiter High:
“With the Cobb school system growing rapidly throughout the 1970s, it was important for the school system to try and keep one step ahead of the growth by purchasing land on which schools could later be built as neighborhoods sprung up nearby.
“We were trying to move to a position where we would start purchasing land five to seven years ahead in areas where we knew we would be building schools. My goal was to get ten years ahead in the purchase of the sites. We were paying market price, which was extremely high, once the students were living in an area.
“We needed to build another high school in the northeast section of the county. When we looked at property in that area we discovered that a great deal of the property around the Mountain View area was owned by Mr. Frank Gordy, the person that many years earlier had started the Varsity restaurant in Atlanta. I knew Mr. Gordy enjoyed buying property, and I also knew once he bought property he had no record of selling it. He had obviously made quite a fortune from the Varsity in Atlanta and was continuing to work there on a daily basis to operate it.
“Someone suggested I call former board member Joe Bird, who was a friend of Mr. Gordy. I had no dealings with Mr. Bird after his exit from the school district (after an earlier controversy). But I decided that if Mr. Bird could assist in this area I certainly was going to ask for his assistance, and he would either say yes or no.
“When I called Mr. Bird he was very happy to receive the call and was very enthusiastic when I told him what I needed, and I asked for his help. Mr. Bird came to my office the same day. We called the Varsity to determine when Mr. Gordy would be available.
“The next day Joe and I drove down to the Varsity and spent about two hours visiting with Mr. Gordy. In fact, we ate two hot dogs in his office. After a social visit I felt we need to change the discussion to the purpose of buying land. We informed Mr. Gordy that we needed to buy approximately 50 acres for what would eventually become Lassiter High School.
“Mr. Gordy was surprised and he did inform me almost immediately that he had always been in the business of buying land when he had extra money, but that he was not in the business of selling land.
“I was afraid we were going to get a ‘no’ answer on the first visit, so I asked Mr. Gordy if he would talk to his wife and think about it before giving me an answer. I told him this land would be used to build a first-class high school that would have impact for the next 50-plus years on thousands of young lives. I thought he really needed to consider that, and we would be willing to pay him the appraised price of the property.
“I went back to Mr. Gordy’s office over the next 30 days a total of four times before he agreed to sell the property to us. …”
But trouble arose when closing day came. At the last moment Keenum was called to New York for a meeting with Standard & Poor about the system’s bond rating. When Gordy arrived at the closing and found Keenum not there, he told school system attorney Fred Bentley, “I did not trade with you folks. I traded with Kermit. When he gets back in town tell him to call me and we will schedule another date.”
Keenum called upon his return, the closing took place and today Lassiter continues to be one of the foremost high schools in Georgia.
Bill Kinney is associate editor of The Marietta Daily Journal.