SMYRNA — It’s been around since 1938, but Joel Tomlin still calls it “the new building.”
The last remaining building of the former Smyrna Elementary School, built more than 80 years ago by then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, will soon be demolished. Tomlin and dozens of other former students gathered beside the school Saturday morning for a reunion and to bid the school goodbye.
In 1924, the Marietta Daily Journal called the newly built Smyrna Elementary “the finest school in Cobb County,” graduate Mickey Terry found while researching the school’s history for a brief presentation he gave before fellow schoolmates Saturday.
In 1938, the WPA built Smyrna High beside the elementary school. When Campbell became the city’s high school in the early 1950s, Smyrna High was absorbed by the elementary school, which needed more space to accommodate its rapidly growing student body.
The school district eventually built a new Smyrna Elementary on Fleming Street, and the old one, unused, was purchased by First Baptist Church.
The building built in 1924 was eventually demolished. The one built in 1938 has been used by First Baptist for storage, but it, too, has outlived its useful life and must go, Terry said.
The reunion was organized by former students Larry Wilson, Kathy Hatcher and John Austin, Hatcher said.
Former students recalled their elementary years fondly.
“As far as the school itself, I remember the teachers were so fabulous and dedicated. They were truly called to their profession,” said Becky Minter, who attended from 1956 to 1961. “Our teachers took a vested interest in us, they wanted to make sure that we learned everything and they really had our future in mind.”
Tomlin came with a black-and-white picture taken in 1962 of Miss Baker’s sixth grade class. The boys wore plaid button-down shirts and the girls, dresses.
Of course, styles have changed since then, as have disciplinary practices.
“Be honest with me — how many of you men got a paddling in this school?” asked the morning’s first speaker, John Pennington, father of First Baptist Pastor Jeff Pennington. As the crowd laughed, a handful of men sheepishly raised their hands. “You know, they didn’t call it the ‘board of education’ for nothing.”
Moments later, aided by a walker, Tom Mathis stepped in front of the microphone. Mathis served as the school’s principal for eight years.
“One of the most wonderful eight years I ever spent in education,” he said before rattling off several other high-ranking positions he had held during his career in education. “None of the jobs compare with being with the parents and the students of this school. This was a remarkable place.