By Robin Doyal
The Belton Journal
If you look up the word “friendship” in the dictionary, there are a couple of definitions. But after having lunch with a group of ladies from the Belton High School Class of 1958, that word takes on a whole new meaning for me.
The Lunch Bunch is comprised of graduates from the Class of ‘58 as well as a few ladies married to said graduates and other “adoptees.” Since 1999, they have met for lunch every Monday, except during the summer.
The group has about 14 of these awesome ladies. The majority of them started school together in the first grade in 1945-46. Did you know at that time the first graders only went to school half a day?
Linda Cowan Smith is the matriarch that keeps track of them. She, with help from classmates, organizes the Class Reunions. The planning usually begins with a dinner party in January at Linda’s house, and they always have a fun theme and a great time.
Not only do they get together for lunch, but they also do lots of things together. They meet for dinner, play bridge, help with church functions and are always up for a good time. In 1999, 17 of the classmates went on an Alaskan Cruise.
The classmates have seen so much change since 1958. Gas was just $0.16 a gallon, and the booming metropolis of Belton had two theaters (the Beltonian and the Hood Theater) and a hospital. On Saturdays the Hood Theater showed a double feature western for nine cents! And for a quarter, you could get into the movies and have enough to buy a drink, popcorn AND candy! But wait there’s more….you’d even have a penny left over for the gumball machine!
Dee Mecom Sheets, recently inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame, lives only four blocks from where the hospital she was born in stood.
Oh the stories I heard, I couldn’t write fast enough! They had sleepovers, birthday parties, Halloween parties and took trips together. Sarah Henderson Dorn’s father even built them a zip line. And thanks to the boys of the Class of 1958, that was the last senior trip for Belton High. The class went to the 7A Ranch in Wimberley, Texas, and the boys rode the canoes past the designated point and tore them up.
After graduation, the original members of this group began to get married and have kids and drifted away from Belton, but not each other. The only couple that remained in Belton was Joe and Linda Smith. Ann Bowles Turk, Miss Belton 1956, went as far as Connecticut. Jan Caskey Brooks moved to San Antonio, Lamesa, Conroe and back to Belton in 1990. Sarah Dorn moved to Houston and later returned to live on her great-grandparents’ homestead. She graduated early or else there would have been 79 in their class. But one by one, as they began to retire, all returned to Belton.
This group’s roots go deep in the heart of Central Texas. Ann Turk’s grandfather, William Reed, was the first Sheriff of Bell County. Joe Smith’s parents owned the local grocery store, he and his brother still have a store. Jan Brooks’ mother was a teacher, and so was Sarah Dorn’s. Mrs. Dorn taught Spanish at BHS prior to becoming a Professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. When taking her high school class on field trips, she would also include these ladies, who at that time were in the 5th or 6th grade. On one such field trip to the Alamo in San Antonio, Dee Sheets and Sarah Dorn went to Woolco and almost missed the bus. Boy, were they in trouble! They made sure they were never late again! Sarah followed in her mother’s footsteps and was also a Spanish teacher.
This is a tight knit bunch. When classmate (and class pet!) Roy Northen, a widower, started dating Betty, he told her that she had to have his classmates’ approval. Well, Betty passed the muster and got this group’s seal of approval. She married Roy on July 4, 2009 and is now a member of this group.
Patty Alexander, widow of classmate Bobby Alexander, was responsible for getting him and Dee Sheets to go to class reunions. Patty was a hairdresser beautician and was introduced to Bobby by one of her clients, Sonja Robins. Sonja told Patty she had to meet Bobby, he was perfect for her. After meeting at the end of July 1968, Bobby and Patty were married on November 30, 1968.
The group has also embraced Madie Prater, an Abilene Christian College roommate of Jan Brooks. Madie and her husband were living in Colorado and wintered in Belton for two years. During that time, she attended these luncheons and upon moving to Temple, she has continued to be a member.
The fellowship that emulates from these ladies is amazing. According to Linda Smith, they attribute a lot of their social skills to their high school English teacher, Mary Cannon.
Each Wednesday at the Methodist Church, you can find Linda at the head of the serving line for the college kids and Mary Cannon right next to her. Their 9th grade General Science teacher was none other than Coach Joe Pirtle. Apparently Linda Smith and Ann Turk were the teacher’s pets! All joking aside, Linda declared that Mary Cannon and Coach Pirtle were both an instrumental part of their lives.
I am overwhelmed at how this class has stuck together through the years. They are as close as family. I left their company with a longing to reconnect with all my childhood friends.