History of Ray City School

In 1918, a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA was let out by the Board of Education. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. The contract for materials went to A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City.

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Construction on the brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, began in 1920.  The Ray City School opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927. In 1918, the Berrien County School Board put out a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. Materials were supplied by A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City. The school opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927.

The brick school building at Ray City, GA was designed by Valdosta architect Lloyd Greer.  Among other buildings designed by Greer were:  Federal Building and Post Office, Valdosta, GA; Carnegie  Library, Valdosta,GA; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Tallahassee, FL; James Price McRee House, Camilla, GA; Dasher High School, Valdosta, GA; Barney School, Barney, GA; Barber-Pitman House, Valdosta, GA; Lanier County Auditorium and Grammar School, Lakeland, GA; Ilex Theater, Quitman,GA; Moultrie Theater, Moultrie, GA; United Cigar Store Building, Jacksonville, GA; Quitman Library, Quitman, GA; Echols County High School, Statenville, GA; Barrow Hall, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA; Pine Grove School, Fitzgerald, GA; Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, GA; Douglas Negro High School and Douglas White High School, Douglas, GA; Nichols House,Valdosta, GA; Berrien High School, Nashville, GA. The Lyric Theater, Waycross,GA was designed by Greer.

Old Wooden School at Ray City, GA

The Ray City High School Class of 1949 wrote, “The school of our community was begun long before our town received its present name having been known as Rays Mill. “

Among those early teachers of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) was  Henry Harrison Knight (1840-1898).  These teachers   taught in the little one room log house schools  of Berrien county, and were often paid in “found” – bartered, homegrown commodities such as ham, chickens, eggs, or butter.

The first school building was located on the east side of town. This building was destroyed by fire. Then a log cabin called the Alliance Building was constructed in 1898, and was used for about two years.

In January 1898, the Tifton Gazette reported that Robert Crawford Woodard was the teacher at the Rays Mill academy.  He later went on to become a physician.

In 1900 the interested people of the community decided to make an improvement in the school plant. Trees were cut from their lands and carried to Sutton’s Sawmill to be made into lumber, for the purpose of erecting a frame building. That stood where our present building is now standing. It consisted of one large room. Some of the interested patrons who helped with this building were: J. S. Swindle, W. E. Langford, Isaac Burkhalter, Redding Swindle, and W. M. Knight. With the aid of other patrons they completed the first Ray City School. -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The town experienced a boom period when the Georgia & Florida Railroad came to Ray City in 1909.The increased population made it necessary to make an addition of two more rooms to the school.” -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The January 19, 1911 edition of the Valdosta Times reported news of the school in Rays Mill (now Ray City).   Husband and wife team James Marcus Patten and Ida Lou Hall Patten were running the school. Professor J.M. Patten was college educated, having completed the teacher education program at North Georgia Agricultural College, and had twenty years experience teaching in the common schools of Berrien County.

In 1918,  the Reverend John W. Shoemate and Mrs. Harriet M. Shoemate came to Ray City to take charge of the school.   Reverend Shoemate was a native of Tennessee, and a Baptist minister.  Mrs. Shoemate was a native of South Dakota, and college educated. In Ray City, they were the neighbors of Professor and Mrs. J. M. Patten.  Mrs. Patten was also then occupied teaching public school.  The Ray City School was then still held in the three-room, wood frame building, and educated  students through the eighth grade. One student from this time period was Claudey Belle Hester, who wrote well enough for publication in Progressive Farmer.

According to the Annual Report of the Department of Education, in 1920 the public high school in Ray’s Mill was a 2-year Junior High School. Sankey Booth was Superintendent of the school and later served on the Berrien County Board of Education. One of the teachers in old Ray City was Louannie Eudell Webb (1902-1972), who started teaching by age 17.  She was a daughter of Luther Webb and Mary J. Albritton, and had only an 8th grade education herself. She married Leroy Lorenzo Carter on August 3, 1922. Another teacher at Ray City in 1920 was Lucile Fountain; she taught the fourth grade class. According to later census records, she herself had only attended school through the 4th grade.  It was the talk of the town when her beau, Calvin Simmons, came and got her out of class  and took her to get married on February 13, 1923. Maria Antoniette Poblete Knight worked as an art teacher at the Ray City School in the 1920s.

The Brick School

That [multi-room wood school house] was used until 1920 when work on the present building was started. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

In 1924, the Georgia Library Commission added the Ray City School as the only station in Berrien County for the Georgia Traveling Library.   the Georgia Library Commission had been created in 1919 by the General Assembly with and annual appropriation of $6,000, which included funds for the maintenance of traveling libraries.  These traveling libraries typically provided 50 or 100 books, which were available for a few months before being passed on to the next station.

Wilma Harper began her 60 year teaching career at the Ray City School in 1928 at the age of 18.  There she met and fell in love with Prentice M. Shultz, who taught and was principal at Ray City School. A year later they were married.

In 1928, the Georgia Library Commission reported  library service offered in Berrien only at Ray City, through the Ray City School and at the Kings Chapel School.

The Great Depression took a great toll on Berrien County, and Ray City struggled with funding to keep the school open. Only through the generous contributions of local citizens and by charging students a tuition, was the school able to continue for the full term. In 1930, the school could not even afford to hold graduation exercises.

In the 1930s many schools in smaller communities were consolidated. In 1936, Pleasant Vale and Sapling Grove schools were closed and the students sent to Ray City.

The Ray City School held a junior high school rating until 1936, when it became an accredited senior high school. Another classroom building was added that year to the school plant. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

By the 1940-41 school term, New Lois High School was also consolidated with Ray City High School.

In the early days students at Ray City School brought their own lunches to school and ate outside on the school grounds, as there was no lunchroom or kitchen to prepare food.  David Miley recalled a sow that used to come into the playground, and snatch the lunch bags of unsuspecting kids. The school grounds were fenced and had a cattle gap to keep free ranging livestock from entering the schoolyard.  Even so, livestock could and did occasionally get into the school yard.  By 1941, the school had a lunch room serving 150 students a day.

William E. “Bill” Griner (1902-1984) was the janitor at the Ray City School. He came to school very early every day and built a fire in the potbellied stove in every room. There were four classrooms and the soup kitchen in the old wooden building. In the brick building there were six classrooms, the principal’s office and the laboratory, each with their own stove.  At Christmas, every student brought Bill a gift. Bill had a nephew nicknamed Peanut, and although Bill himself had only two years of formal schooling, he worked hard to make sure that Peanut made it through high school. Peanut later became a policeman at Remerton, GA.

 

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

During WWII, Ray City School did its part.   Vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army. Graduates and former students left Ray City to go to war. Some never came back.  Hubert Comer (RCHS 1940) joined the Navy and was killed in the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach. Harry Elmore Devane (RCHS 1938) also joined the Navy.  On D-Day Devane was a boat officer on a tank landing craft at Omaha Beach. He was killed in an accident aboard the aircraft carrier USS FDR after the war. James A. Swindle (RCHS 1936) captained a B-26 Marauder and flew 75 bombing missions; he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Maurice “Max” Johnson (RCHS 1940) served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. Leland E Langford (RCHS 1939) enlisted on June 12, 1941, serving as an Army pilot until he was killed in a plane crash in 1949.   J.I. Clements (RCHS 1938) joined the Army and fought in Germany. Many other alumni of Ray City School served as well.

William R. “Mac” McClure was principal of the school in the mid 1940s. Charles Woodrow “Woody” Schmoe served as principal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His wife, Nancy Young Schmoe, taught 5th Grade.

 

In 1947 a fifteen thousand dollar gymnasium was constructed by the patrons, a building in which the whole community justly takes pride (1948-49 Yearbook).  The town dedicated the building with a big dance celebration and the crowning of the Queen of the Harvest.

In 1948, a vocational building was erected by the veterans of World War II, at the end of five years this … [became] a part of Ray City School.

It was in 1949 that veterans of World War II built  a “very modern and up-to-date lunchroom” for the school.

In 1954, Ray City High School and all other white high schools in the county were combined into Nashville High School.  The brick school building at Ray City continued to serve as an elementary and middle school until 1994, when all county schools were consolidated into facilities in Nashville.

Ag Teachers go to War

St. Elmo Lee, 1939

St. Elmo Lee, 1939, served with the 902nd Artillery at Leyte, WWII

On October 24, 1942 vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army.  He was inducted at Fort McPherson, Atlanta, GA for the duration of the war. He was single, 5′ 9″ tall and weighed 134 pounds.

St. Elmo Lee enlisted as a private, eventually serving as a sergeant in Battery C, 902nd Field Artillery Battalion 77th Division.  He fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations from March 30, 1944 to November 22, 1945 during which time he was involved in amphibious assaults and  campaigns on the Marshall Islands, Southern Philippines, and Ryukyu Islands.

U.S. howitzer fires on Catmon Hill, Leyte, Phillipines. October 20, 1944.

U.S. howitzer fires on Catmon Hill, Leyte, Philippines. October 20, 1944.
St. Elmo Lee, of Ray City, GA participated in the Battle of Leyte with the 902nd Field Artillery Battalion. In November 1944 the 902nd provided artillery support for the 77th Division operations in the Battle of Leyte.

In November 1944 the 902nd Field Artillery Battalion provided support for the 77th Division operations in the Battle of Leyte. In April 1945 the 902nd was with the 77th Division in the first attack on the Ryukyu Islands, seizing the islands west of Okinawa, and later moving to Okinawa itself.

St. Elmo Lee continued to serve until the end of the war.  He was returned to Fort McPherson, GA for his discharge on January 1, 1946.

Among the decorations he received were:

  • Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with 3 Bronze Stars and One Bronze Arrowhead
  • Philippine Liberation Medal with one Bronze star
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • American Campaign Medal
  • World War Two Victory Medal

After the war, a pamphlet was published to honor the contributions of Georgia’s agriculture teachers, A Memorial to Georgia Teachers of Vocational Agriculture who fought, suffered, died and worked to win the war.

Among the area agriculture teachers who served were: St. Elmo Lee, of Ray City and New Lois schools,  J. V. Wynn from Nashville and Poplar Springs schools; W. C. Thigpen, Jr. of Barney; W.E. Rooks and Hal Godwin, of Homerville; K. N. Phillips from Ocilla; and J. I. Musselwhite, of Willacoochee; R. E. King, Jr., of Clyattville and Lake Park; John Hensley of Hahira;  H. C. Dorminey from Tifton; and Tom M. Cordell, of Abraham Baldwin.

1946 war memorial to Georgia teachers of vocational agriculture.

1946 war memorial to Georgia teachers of vocational agriculture.

 ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SEVEN TEACHERS ENTERED THE SERVICE

One hundred and fifty-seven teachers of vocational agriculture left their classrooms and entered the Armed Service between 1941 and 1945. More than two-thirds of these served in the army, about one-fourth in the navy, and the rest in the Marines.  

These teachers scattered to the four corners of the earth. To the damp humid jungles, to the freezing temperature of the Aleutians, to the barren sand-swept deserts, they went to do their bit for Uncle Sam. But no matter how far away from home, their thoughts stayed in Georgia.

Seven of these men made the supreme sacrifice. Some of the men were injured; they came back maimed for life, wearers of the Purple Heart. Some were captured and suffered the horrors known only to “prisoners of war.” Many were decorated for courageous actions. All made courageous contributions to winning the war.

The accumulated stories of these teachers would probably fill a book. Some were baptized in fire with American forces that swept across France and into Germany itself. Others fought from the decks of ships or cheated death in flaming battles of the skies. Still others who may have wanted to get in the active fighting were assigned to shore stations in this country or abroad.

But all of the men have stories to tell-if they wanted to talk. It is highly probable that the experience of the men give them a more international point of view. They have seen enough to convince them that this is now in reality one world. And they have had an opportunity to see where Georgia and her agriculture fit into the scheme of things.

Today, some of the teachers are returning to the classrooms they left behind; some are teachers of vocational agriculture in new fields; others are instructors in the newly developed Veterans Farmer Training Program.

Georgia is glad to welcome back her sons. They have done a good job where they were and there is still a job for them to do here. It is good to see the official family of vocational agriculture getting back together again.

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St. Elmo Lee Was a Blessing to FFA

In the summer of 1940, St. Elmo Lee arrived in Ray City, GA.  That fall he began his teaching career as the Vocational Agriculture teacher at Ray City School.

St. Elmo Lee, 1940, Senior Photo, University of Georgia.

St. Elmo Lee, 1940, Senior Photo, University of Georgia.

The Nashville Herald
August 8, 1940,  front page

New Agriculture Teacher For New Lois and Ray City

      S.E. Lee of Cairo arrived in Berrien county this week to assume his duties as agriculture instructor in the Ray City and New Lois schools for this year.
      Mr. Lee is a graduate of the University of Georgia the past June, and comes highly recommended for the work he is to do.  He is making his home in Ray City.
      J.G. Tatum handled the Ray City agriculture classes last year, while E.R. Fowler had the New Lois classes.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

In the summer of 1940 St. Elmo Lee was a young man of 22, a fresh graduate of the University of  Georgia. He was a son of John Henry Lee and Willie Myrtice Rehberg, born in the midst of World War I on March 17, 1918. A product of Grady County, Georgia, he had attended Reno Grammar school, and graduated Cairo High School with the class of 1936. Afterward he attended South Georgia College before transfering to the University of Georgia.

At UGA he studied agricultural education, and was Secretary of Gaffau.

The name of Gaffau Club comes from the initials of Georgia Future Farmers of America, University Chapter, a national organization. Its purpose is to promote guidance as a basis of choice for vocational teaching, and to provide recreation and fraternal relationships for students preparing to teach vocational agriculture and to perform duties of advisors of high school F. F. A. chapters. Any student who is regularly enrolled in agricultural courses at the University of Georgia and who has been a member of a local Future Farmers of America chapter or is specializing in teacher training in the Division of Vocational Education is eligible to active membership.

World War II intervened in Mr. Lee’s tenure at the Ray City School.   On October 24, 1942 St. Elmo Lee gave up the classroom for enlistment.  Mr. Lee served his country for three years as a Sergeant in the United States Army, 77th Division.

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