- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) - Manatee High School’s classes of 1950 through 1954, the school’s first graduates after a consolidation with the old Palmetto High School, should feel right at home Saturday for their combined reunion at Manatee Village Historical Park.

They will remember starting each school day with a prayer against the threat of nuclear war, of being excused from class to help work the family farm and of glory on football fields and baseball diamonds.

The reunion menu will be familiar too: fried or smoked mullet, swamp cabbage, new potatoes, collard greens cooked with turnip roots and a little pork, cheese grits and hoe cake.

J. B. Crawford and Bill Evers grew up a few houses apart in the Cortez fishing village. Rodney Potter grew up in West Bradenton. All attended Manatee High School, and all are in their early 80s.

Crawford and Evers graduated 65 years ago, in 1952. Potter graduated in 1954. They took different paths after high school, but on Saturday they will be together again.

“We’re planning for 150 people,” Potter said. The head count also includes family members.

Potter, Crawford and Evers are good friends, even though their lives after high school have been quite different.

Potter worked in the lumber and building materials business for 62 years and is manager of Builders FirstSource in Bradenton.

Crawford served 40 years in the Army, National Guard and Army Reserve, retiring as a colonel. He has also worked as an educator, and has written several books.

Evers worked as a deputy sheriff and as a Florida highway patrolman. He unsuccessfully ran for the Manatee School Board, Manatee County Commission, and sheriff. But he refused to quit, helping explain his nickname “Bulldozer Bill.” In 1974, he won election to the Bradenton City Council. Evers served as Bradenton mayor between 1980 and 2000. Evers Reservoir, the Bradenton water supply, is named after him.

“I am just looking forward to seeing a lot of the kids who I grew up with,” Evers said of the reunion. “I want to reminisce about some of the old times and hear a little about my classmates’ lives.”

In 1952, Manatee High School had a graduating class of 223. About 100 of those have passed away.

“We will be bringing back old memories and talking about the high school football games we went to, and watched our team win,” Evers said. “Every reunion I have been to has been a great time. I hope I can attend a bunch more in the future.”

A lot of marriages came out of the Class of 1952 graduation or subsequent reunions, Crawford said.

“The thing that marks this class is that the people genuinely like being together. We had our first reunion 10 years after graduating in 1962. Then we have had a reunion every five years after that. This one has been under the leadership of the Class of 1954 with Rodney and his classmates. What you enjoy most is seeing old friends - people that you really admire - and you want to see them again,” Crawford said.

Being a student at Manatee High School was a lot of fun, Potter said.

“We had no air conditioning, but we had great baseball, football, and basketball programs. A lot of the children came from ranches and farms. A lot of the kids would get excused from class to do farmwork,” Potter said.

“Many of the teachers were veterans of World War II and the Korean War. They were great soldiers and great teachers and made us behave,” he said.

“There wasn’t any juvenile delinquency because punishment was stern but fair. It was a wonderful school and we all loved it,” Potter said.

Manatee Village Historical Park will be closed to the public Saturday. For more information about the reunion, which begins at noon, call Rodney Potter at 941-746-2161 or 941-737-2805.


Information from: The Bradenton (Fla.) Herald , https://www.bradenton.com

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