The Times West Virginian

Local News

June 29, 2014

‘Mixed feeling’ as Dunbar reunion approaches

‘Let’s Just Say Goodbye’ event set next weekend

FAIRMONT — After 42 years and 16 prior gatherings, the Dunbar Homecoming Association will hold its final reunion.

Former students from Dunbar High School, an institution that meant so much to the black community before it closed in 1955 after schools were integrated, will travel to Fairmont next weekend to celebrate the school for the last time.

The reunion’s theme this year is “Let’s Just Say Goodbye.”

“It’s sort of a mixed feeling,” said this year’s keynote speaker and Dunbar alumna Nadene Ezelle. “I was one of the founders and I was there at the first reunion when the people came in. It was just a night of magic, and then this is the last of it. It’s sort of mixed feelings to say goodbye.”

Ezelle anticipates times of happiness and of sadness as the reunion progresses throughout the weekend, she said, but the important thing is that the alumni shared good times and stayed connected over the years.

“It’s a sense of family,” Ezelle said about the reunion. “Of being together and just being one.”

Dunbar’s first reunion was in 1972, and alumni are starting to grow too old to easily travel for the gathering. Their numbers are growing fewer as time goes on — former Dunbar students are now 77 years old or older.

“Reality has set in for us,” said Ezelle.

There were 225 confirmed guests as of Friday, who will be coming from 17 states as far away as Michigan, said Wesley Dobbs, president of the Dunbar Homecoming Association.

More RSVPs are coming in every day, he said.

“We’re looking at maybe 250 (guests),” said Dobbs. “Maybe more.”

On Friday, guests will meet at the Knights of Columbus Banquet Hall for socialization and dinner. Then, on Saturday, there will be a banquet and dancing at that location.

Music will be provided by Frank Carr.

“I have enjoyed working with the reunion for all these years, and I’m looking forward to meeting and greeting former classmates and the memories that we once had from years ago,” said Charles Nallen, a member of the reunion’s planning committee. “We’re looking forward to a good time for all.”

Before the banquet Saturday, at around 11 a.m., alumni will tour Dunbar High School. The facility is in the process of a facelift, and many of the walls are freshly painted — the Dunbar tigers and other murals original to the school remain, though, to pay homage to the school’s past.

The reunion will come to a close Sunday, July 6, at East Marion Park, where guests will hold a farewell picnic and memorial service to honor their classmates and teachers who have passed away.

Each of the families representing deceased alumni will receive a rose.

“I think it’s important to remember those who gave so much to Dunbar and the students of Dunbar,” said Dobbs.

Before integration, Dunbar’s teachers and students were close-knit, and teachers played a role in students’ lives in and out of school. While students have spread throughout the country, the reunion is always a time for reminiscing and unity, he said.

Ezelle commended the Dunbar Homecoming Foundation and its various committees and people who have worked together throughout the years to make the reunions possible and to keep the school’s legacy alive.

“We’ve stuck together all these years ... I think that’s part of our success,” she said.

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.

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