Cooksville High alumni reminisce and look ahead

Neighbors

June 10, 1999|By Diane B. Mikulis | Diane B. Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST SATURDAY, Cooksville High School alumni got together to reminisce and look toward the future.

The classes of 1939 and 1949 celebrated their 60th and 50th anniversaries at a luncheon at the Sheraton Columbia Hotel overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi. Members of other classes joined them.

Organizer Roger Estep said, "It's a great feeling to be able to visit with a group of people I first interacted with 50-some years ago."

Cooksville High was the first high school for blacks in Howard County.

In 1935, the elementary school for black children on Route 97 in Cooksville was expanded and several upper grades were added.

The high school was a poorly equipped facility, using secondhand textbooks, but it was served by an excellent teaching staff, said Estep.

"It was a nurturing environment," Estep said. "There was real concern to provide a solid education."

More than 1,300 students attended and 140 graduated. The first three students graduated in 1939.

So few graduated because the children were needed to help support their families, Estep said. Poverty and the loss of family members to World War II caused many to drop out of school.

One of the first graduates, Sarah J. Cook, a member of the class of 1939, lives in West Friendship and attended the reunion with her two daughters.

She received a citation commemorating the 60th anniversary of her graduation.

"It was a big surprise," Cook said. "I thought I was just going to the reunion, and then they called my name and gave me a certificate. It was really great, and I saw a lot of people."

Another member of the class of '39, Vernon Arnett Dorsey, lives in the Bushy Park area but was unable to attend the celebration. The third member, George Thorne, has passed away.

Clifton Sands, who graduated in 1949, was master of ceremonies.

Sands was a member of the last graduating class at Cooksville. In the fall of 1949, Harriet Tubman High School opened in Simpsonville, and the Cooksville students transferred to the new school.

After graduation, Sands went to Morgan State and then into the service, so he lost track of many of his classmates. He was particularly touched to see so many of them at the luncheon.

"As he spoke, his eyes warmed over time and time again because he hadn't seen these people for a long time," Estep said of Sands.

The gathering wasn't just for old times' sake. A group of Cooksville alumni had established a scholarship program and wanted to honor its first recipient.

April Jackson of Woodbine addressed the group members, thanking them for the $1,000 scholarship and telling them about her academic year. She recently completed her freshman year at the University of Maryland.

Jackson, the granddaughter of a former Cooksville High School student, received the scholarship last year.

The scholarship is given to a high school student with a grade-point average of at least 2.5, who is carrying a full course load, demonstrates financial need and is a descendant of a Cooksville High School student.

The scholarship is renewable for three more years as long as the student meets established requirements.

Estep addressed the group. "Your presence today is a deed which bridges the years since Cooksville High School to our current and future scholarship recipients," he said. "You are building a foundation of greater expectations for some young descendants of Cooksville attendees. Therefore our funding goals are acts of love as well as financial targets."

The group is trying to establish a $30,000 endowment to generate funds to award scholarships each year.

The Howard County Center of African American Culture Inc. is managing the fund and sponsored the luncheon.

During the event, the center received a donation from the Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford.

At the close of the celebration, everyone sang the Cooksville High School alma mater, which brought back many memories.

"Those are just rich feelings," Estep said. "We treasure them very much."

Glenwood `tabbie' project

What started as a math exercise at Glenwood Middle School has evolved into a community service project.

In 1993, seventh-grade students in teacher Cynthia Cuzmanes' math class wanted to see what an amount of 1 million looked like. They decided to collect 1 million "tabbies" -- the pull tabs from soft drink and other pop-top cans -- because they are small, easy to collect and free.

The collecting continued for several years, and hundreds of thousands of tabbies were stored in 5-gallon water-cooler jugs.

"It turned into a competition between the classes," said eighth-grader Matt Van Osterom.

The class kept a tally on the blackboard and updated it each day, he said. The students estimated that they would reach 1 million in 2003.

Once they passed the 500,000 mark, Cuzmanes decided something had to be done with the tabbies or the school would soon run out of room.

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