Adamson alumni gather to celebrate school history

For several hundred alumni, it’s a day of remembering how things used to be.
Michael Martin Murphy stands in between two former classmates during the W.H. Adamson High School Alumni Association All-Class Reunion, 2010. ©2010 04/26/2010 - courtesy of David Hultsman

I closed my eyes a bit and breathed in the ambiance of the old building, with its dark brick exterior and wide hallways and the heavy, aged wooden doors that still dominated the corridors of the almost 100-year-old school. Although original wood floors are now covered with vinyl tiles, and formerly high ceilings have been lowered with florescent lighting installed, without sounding redundant, the place definitely emitted “old school”.

It was almost a time-travel experience, with the ghosts of former female students wearing floor-length dresses and young men in long-sleeved shirts and knickers moving about in the shadows. I also saw ghosts of the Charleston and jitterbug sets, and of those who wore poodle skirts with starched petticoats and boys who strutted around in white buck shoes. Then there was the generation whose boys sported flattop haircuts and horned-rimmed glasses, and whose girls styled their hair in the “bubble” and “flip” styles and wore cat-eye glasses.

With a small stretch of the imagination, it could easily have been a scene from the movie “Hoosiers”.

But it wasn’t. It was the 11th annual Adamson Alumni All-Class Reunion, and the place was buzzing with activity.

Each April, the Adamson Alumni Association holds the event, not at a ballroom or other venue. No, not for these folks! They host it at the school, and for several hundred alumni — and often their family members — it’s a day of remembering how things used to be, reuniting with old classmates and sometimes those who came either before or after.

Constructed in 1915, Adamson was originally christened Oak Cliff High School, and until 1935, it remained so. But in December 1935, the school’s popular principal, William Hardin Adamson, passed away, and the Dallas School Board immediately decided to rename the place in his memory.

The institution holds such a string of famous alumni that it’s almost difficult to believe: Ray Price, Brenda Broadnax (the first Miss Teenage America), U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright, Red Bryan, Lance Armstrong’s mother, Michael Martin Murphey (who at the 2010 reunion led a cheer, along with other former cheerleaders, on the school stage — in his cowboy duds!), B.W. Stephenson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and the original Texas A&M 12th Man: E. Gill King, just to name a few … and that doesn’t count all the city and business leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers and athletes that the school has produced over the decades. Adamson was the first Dallas high school to win a state football championship (1923), and in 1964 the Leopards only lost out in the final game of the 4A state basketball championship. It’s indeed a rich history.

The welcoming entry area highlights the school crest embedded in the granite flooring (a gift from the class of ’65) to greet visitors ascending the interior front stairs. (Although the trip up the exterior stairs was already exercise enough for most of us old-timers. Whew!)

Inside, tables offered Leopard gear available for purchase and one to sign up new members. Lon Oakley manned his table, selling and signing copies of the second printing of “Oak Cliff Boys”, and then there were the displays of vintage AHS memorabilia. Association president John Ruiz and other alumni were adorned in the official royal blue shirts with the association’s logo embroidered on the pockets, and, well, it projected a nice, welcoming experience. They do it right!

The association’s quarterly “Alumni Acorn” newsletter is always chock-full of interesting Leopard news, while its website, adamsonalumni.com, welcomes visitors with great music (let’s hear it for the school fight song!) and stays pretty well on top of all things Adamson.

I enjoy driving by the old three-story building when I’m in the area. It just feels good. Though not an Adamson alumna myself, my mother, husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and my children’s godmother all graduated from Adamson. If Oak Cliff was a building instead of a large community, Adamson High School would be its cornerstone. The school’s place, on the corner of Ninth and Beckley, is iconic and steadfast.

The reunions remind me of the importance of history, heritage and tradition. Unlike the rest of Dallas, Oak Cliff is a big, extended family and has been for more than a century. And for those who lived and grew up and attended school here over the decades, if we follow the trail backward, all roads lead to Adamson.

Hats off to the AHS alumni! You are preserving our heritage — and preserving it well.


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  • Larry Bullington

    How do I find out when the next All-School Reunion will be? Have attended those for my own class of ’63, but would like to see Adamson again too.

  • Jane Little

    Amy Cloninger! You father brought my sister and I bisque Japanese figures from Japan (?) Korea (?) after the war. Amos! I still have mine, and it resides still beautiful in my curio cabinet. Jane Walling Little, daughter of Robert Walling.

  • LINDA STUBBS BRIGANCE

    This story was really terrific! My dad graduated from there in 1940, and his two younger brothers did in the later 40’s. He used to talk about Mr. Durrett all the time. Thanks for the good memories

  • Amy Cunningham

    I apologize for the multiple posting but forgot to add that I was always told Mr. Durrett taught my mother at Adamson and then was, of course, principal at Kimball during my own high school years.

  • Amy Cunningham

    Thanks once again, Gayla. My mother graduated from Oak Cliff High in 1933, my father-in-law a few years later, and my cousin, Norma Murray in 1964 – along with MANY friends from my growing up in Dallas. One person on the important alums for Adamson would be Johnnie Sprague. Not sure if I’m spelling that correctly but he was a WWII soldier who died a hero during that war and who Sprague field was named after.
    Amy (Cloninger) Cunningham.

  • Great article! My husband graduated from Adamson in 1965. I’ll show him your article this evening. I know he’ll enjoy it.

  • My dad, Jake Carter, taught at Adamson (Algebra and coached basketball)from 1954 throughthe 80’s. I vividly remember the “show” put on by the teachers and him singing
    By-the-sea” dressed in a 1900’s swim suit. He loved teaching at Adamson and helped many kids.

  • Denise Klos

    Another hit, Gayla.
    I taught at Adamson for 2 years in the early 70’s…great memories.
    Denise

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Maurice & Jane:

    Yes! The library (or should I, in memory of Mr. Durret, say “liberry”) does have a faux fireplace. And, the spacious area outside the library–with high, high ceilings and large wall expanses–used to be the school’s art gallery. It’s also sort of the auditorium’s balcony foyer. Neat space, now with skylights. The water fountains are mounted on wall tile areas sprinkled throughout the building. The tiles are light green with decorated tiles forming a peripheral border. The centers, where the fountains are mounted, all have different themes. I’ve never seen anything quite like them. According to the alumni historians, the original section of the building consists of the front three stories with three-room-deep wings on both the east and west sides. Later, the wings were extended and the gym and auditorium were constructed. Many of the interior doors are the original French door style, but the transoms over the doors are all covered. Like I wrote, with the lowered ceiling tiles removed, along with the vinyl fooring, it would be like a time travel experience. The place is a treasure. Love it.

  • Maurice Eason

    Jane, now I’m envious as I took my ACT in a regular classroom and there was definitely no fireplace. I want a do over.

  • Jane Little

    Woops! Corrected by Skipper. I took the ACT.

  • Jane Little

    Good job, Gayla! I took the SAT in Adamson’s library. Remember seeing their state trophy from so long ago, and the library had a fireplace in it…heaven…

  • Maurice Eason

    Being in your class at Kimball I believe I took the ACT’s at Adamson and the building is impressive. I believe that was the only time I was actually in there, but like you have driven by it many times. For a few months in late 1967 I lived in a large two story house at the corner of Cantu and Beckley that had been converted into five or six apartments so was always driving around the area and passed AHS probably at least once or twice a week.