Deshler Class of 1972: Friendships that last a lifetime
By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus
Leawaiia Little is proud to call several of her former high school classmates her closest friends. While most friendships tend to naturally dwindle as years go by, the Deshler Class of 1972 seems more tightly knit than ever.
Little will argue that at this season in her life, these close friendships mean more now than they did when she was a teenager.
“We appreciate each other more, and I really think we enjoy each other better now,” Little said, as she notes several members of her class continue to celebrate birthdays and holidays at least once each month.
“As we have aged, we have grown in wisdom,” Claudia Smith, a former classmate chimed in. “The stuff we used to think was important, we know now that it’s not. Now, we realize family and friends are more important than materialistic things.”
For Pamela Thompson, that statement couldn’t ring truer. She regards many of her former classmates as family.
As members of the class reminisced on fun times spent together at concerts, eating out to celebrate a birthday, or planning trips together before the pandemic, Thompson recalled one particular meeting that meant more to her than all the rest. It was a meeting she had nearly missed because she had been weighed down worrying and tending to her very sick daughter.
“I said, I don’t think I’m going, but my daughter said, ‘Mama, you need to go,’” Thompson said a little tearfully. “So, I go, and they had money for me to help because her treatments were in Arkansas. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting anything like that, but it’s like a family. I’ll never forget, I got calls and everything.
“My daughter passed away about three years ago, and they were there for me like family.”
“When it comes to all of us, if somebody is going through something, we’ve always been there for each other for support,” Little said.
She had gone through her own trials several years earlier as she battled cancer. Through it all, she knew she could count on her friends.
“Two things I took with me that I kept by my bedside during the three months I was in Birmingham was a family picture of my children and my grands, and a picture of my classmates that we had taken at one of our reunions,” Little said. “That was my family. They were my support.”
These members of the Deshler Class of ’72 began holding monthly “reunions” in 1990 following a class reunion for students who once attended the former Trenholm High School in Tuscumbia.
Trenholm High was closed for integration with Deshler in 1969, when Little and her classmates were in the ninth grade.
“This all started with the Trenholm Reunion. Of course, we were all always friends,” Paulette Mullins said.
Several in the group said starting at a new school their sophomore year likely cemented their friendship early on. When the former classmates began organizing smaller reunions and backyard barbecues in the 1990s, it was very easy for them to pick up right where they had all left off.
“It’s been a joy to get together whenever we can get together,” Mullins said.
The friends have been hosted so often by their classmate, Paula Malone, that now the Malone house is commonly referred to as “The Boom Boom Room.”
“When I retired, I wanted to do something to, you know, have somewhere for us to gather. Along the way it kind of filled up,” Malone gestured to a room full of birthday and other holiday decorations. She added with a laugh, “We have so much fun, sometimes our children crash our parties.”
Little said the friends frequently traveled together before COVID struck in 2020. She said one of their final trips was to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.
Though the pandemic halted meetings for the group for a couple of years, they stayed in touch and adjusted the way they gathered as public spaces began opening back up. They often met at a park with a sack lunch so they could visit with one another from a safe distance.
That practice continues today, but the group has also started to work in birthday celebrations and other get togethers each month.
“The fellowship is what is so important,” Smith said.
She and Little said the group consists of about 12 active members who participate in all the meetings whenever they can. Of course, they have lost members along the way.
“Harvey (Summerhill) died in 2020,” Little said. “He really took care of us when we were making our club. He was Mr. Hobby Lobby for everything.”
When the group was able to travel, they often took trips to visit another late classmate, Hollis Nall, who lived in a long-term care facility in Tennessee up until he recently passed.
“Harvey had a RV, and we would all go and see Hollis in the nursing home. That was another thing we did together several times,” Smith added.
Little said she is amazed at how well the group has cooperated when it comes to planning events over the years, especially following the pandemic when they were unable to meet as frequently.
“I can’t think of any time we’ve had disagreements,” she said. “If somebody throws out a suggestion and then someone else throws out something, we just take what’s best for the whole group. We’ve learned how to put our feelings aside.”
Thompson agreed, and said they each know that no matter what they’re planning to do, as long as the group is together it’s going to be a good time.
Victor McCray, another of the classmates, said each member of the group has talents they can lend to their gatherings and planning.
Over the years, the classmates have also found ways to give back to their community. For some time, the group has taken up class dues to fund a legacy scholarship, which gets awarded to qualifying seniors in the Shoals area each year.
“We always try to do something for the elderly around Christmas time,” Smith added. “We would pick out a couple of elders in the community and go out and buy them things that they needed. Then two or three of the classmates would go out and deliver. They were so happy to have those items that we gave them. Just to be thought of in your older days is really a blessing.”
Little said organizing the scholarship, planning for Christmas and just enjoying time together each month “keeps us young.”
“As you get older, your kids are not there, your grandkids are not always there. When you can congregate with your friends, you just feel that love that flows from heart to heart,” Smith said. “You can just relax, laugh, and you know, if you want to cry, that’s O.K too. It’s a stress reliever.”