Classmates recall divided schools

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — When four former Front Royal students reunite with classmates for a reunion this weekend, it will be like reuniting with family — a family divided by segregation.

The four friends graduated in different years in the mid-1960s, but each started at John S. Mosby Academy in eighth grade. The school opened in 1959 in an attempt to separate White students from Black.

“It was one of the tragedies of this town,” said Roy Kendall, 67, of Tampa, Florida. “It split the town right down the middle.”

This weekend, classes from all 10 years of Mosby’s history will reunite for a Saturday night reunion from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club and Sunday for a 10 a.m. brunch at Joe’s Steakhouse. The graduating classes, which averaged about 75-80 students each, have met for reunions every four years starting in 1994.

This also have plans to see their old friends from Warren County High School.

In 1958, schools in Front Royal closed because of massive resistance in Virginia toward the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Brown vs. Board of Education” requiring schools to educate students of both races. That year, students were taught in area churches and other buildings, and when schools reopened the following year, everything was different.

“We all went to school together for seven years, in elementary, and then in the eighth grade, we were split up,” Roy Kendall said. “It was like losing half your family.”

Students today who attend Warren County Middle School before dividing between two county high schools probably know the feeling, said Miami resident John Kendall, 68.

“No one asked me,” he explained. No division lines decided which students attended which school. “It was wherever your parents decided.”

Hard as it was, he said, “We didn’t question. I don’t think we really knew the impact of that historical period. We were kids and we just went with it.”

But those decisions had wide-reaching effects on the two high schools.

It broke up a lot of friendships, said Diane “Dee” Stoker of Warren County, who was divided from most of her friends at Warren County.

At Mosby, she said, “I had a cousin, an uncle. Maybe there were 10 people that I really knew, and I wanted to quit school.”

But they made the best of it.

Stoker and friend Barbara Lindahl of Myrtle Beach, now 66, were in the Rangerettes Marching Band together. Lindahl was a cheerleader and Stokes a pom-pom girl.

The program attracted a huge number of students, they said — unlike the football team, which suffered from divided schools.

“If this had never happened,” John Kendall said, “… the teams would have been much more competitive at everything, from debate to football, whatever. It would have been a different mindset because we didn’t have more people in a pool to draw from.”

Roy Kendall was team captain and played offensive and defensive end. Often he didn’t get water breaks.

“We were very competitive at both schools, but in football we had 13 guys that played. … I played every down for two seasons,” he said. “Warren County had 13 players, and [if] you put 26 good ball players together on one team, Lord knows how good we would have been.”

Segregation was a time apart from most other eras in history, he said. “You got to live it. That’s the only way you can know it.”

But his cousin was quick to offer a different perspective:

“We were happy people,” John Kendall said. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I was happy as a lark, because I was so innocent.”

Lindahl agreed: “My teenage years were some of the best of my life.”

There was always something fun to do — youth center events, sporting events, club dances, variety shows, fashion shows and house parties.

They also had each other, and still do. All retired now, they started planning yearly reunions in Myrtle Beach about 10 years ago.

Growing up, Stokes and Roy Kendall were neighbors. He and his cousin John were good friends — “blood brothers,” he said.

Asked about Lindahl, Roy Kendall had a question of his own:

“How many times y’all date?” he asked her, about his cousin.

“Never,” Lindahl said. Then, more quietly, “Once.”

The John S. Mosby Academy class reunion for all alumni will be from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club, 134 Golf Club Circle. Former classmates from Warren County are also invited to the brunch at Joe’s Steakhouse, 708 S. Royal Ave., 10 a.m. Sunday.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com