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Old school's pupils reunite for donation

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POSTED: April 12, 2010 2:57 p.m.
Photo by Hollie Moore Barnidge/

Guests who attended the clock donation ceremony at the old Dorchester Consolidated School help themselves to Lowcountry boil.

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A lot can change in 50 years. And a lot can stay the same. A newly erected building can fall into a state of dilapidation and later be restored to its former glory, a scenario that accurately depicts the history of the old Dorchester Consolidated School in Midway. But time has done nothing to erode the bonds of the former students who came back to visit the site Friday night.
Amid astonished cries of recognition and gales of laughter, guests flooded the school house-turned-civic center. The sun lingered just above the trees lining the property, casting hazy shadows on the building’s new tin roof and the men gathered nearby cooking Lowcountry boil for the crowd inside.
The Dorchester Civic Center Inc. board of directors invited former students, community members and volunteers to the renovated building for a clock-donation ceremony, which rapidly morphed into a mini reunion. Board members and volunteers had lined the halls with before-and-after photos to showcase their progress on the restoration, which began in 2008, and treat returning students to a stroll down memory lane. Excitedly, the alumni pointed out their old yearbook photos and traded anecdotes about punishments handed down by notoriously tough teachers.
The Rev. Dr. George F. “Buddy” Blake Jr., who attended the school from 1950-51, kept his old schoolmates entertained as he reminisced about the educators whom he said made an impact on his life. “Mrs. Stevens, Mrs. Stafford, Mrs. Darsey and Mrs. Flowers — they were wonderful teachers,” Blake said. “They changed my life.”
Their teachings were apparently effective as Blake went on to earn two associate’s degrees, two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and a doctorate degree. He joined the Air Force at 17 and served 25 years. When Blake retired in 1979 at age 42, he started the George Blake Clock Company in Beaumont, Texas.
“Retiring at 42 with full military benefits gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do. So, I decided to do the love of my life, which is make clocks,” Blake said. “I decided to make the world’s greatest antique clocks. Well, they’re tomorrow’s antiques — just as they were done 100 years ago by craftsmen.”
Blake makes several clock “models” and calls them by different names. The Dorchester Schoolhouse Clock, he said, is his most popular model. When he designed and labeled it, he never imagined he would someday donate one of his creations to his old school. “That’s what’s being dedicated here tonight,” he said. “It is just so fitting that this is going to be here and it is going to be displayed here.”  
Former student Ellen Rackley — Ellen Cavanaugh Dasher to her classmates — wandered from room to room before the dedication ceremony, taking in the freshly painted classroom walls and restored hardwood floors. She tapped a hallway floorboard with her toe, indicating a faded shuffleboard game that had been drawn onto the planks decades ago. “When it rained outside, we had to have recess inside,” Rackley said, gazing down the narrow corridor where she played as a girl.
“My favorite memory was how well all of us got along. We were like a big family, really, I would say. We looked after one another, and we had wonderful teachers,” she said. “They took us on a trip when school was out, but only if we passed all our classes. They took us to Yellow Bluff Camp and rented a cabin, and we just went out there and had a ball.”
After everyone had explored the refurbished building and piled their plates high with Lowcountry boil, coleslaw and baked beans, board President Barbara Martin worked her way through a slide show and summed up the group’s renovation progress. When she finished, former students and community members stood, one by one, and shared memories.
Board member Ann Branch Ramsey laughed as she recalled going to Sunday school at Midway Methodist Church with Blake, who is four years her senior, and her brother, Bobby Branch. She said before the trio neared the church, Blake, a teenager at the time, always made the young siblings get out of the truck and run beside it.
“He’d be going real slow and we’d just be running right alongside it,” Ramsey said. “Anything he said, we did it.”
Martin, who also once attended Dorchester Consolidated School, thanked the crowd for coming and expressed gratitude for the chance to reconnect with old friends. “In addition to giving us the clock, Buddy has allowed us all to come together tonight and enjoy food and fellowship,” she said. “It’s really just such a blessing.”

 

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