By SEAN GORMAN
Register Staff Writer
The GHS Alumni Association took a walk down memory lane Saturday, honoring eight new GISD Hall of fame inductees for their life’s work at the annual Gainesville High School Hall of Fame Luncheon.
Hosted by Alumni President Tom Kennedy at the Whaley United Methodist Church, the luncheon celebrated the achievements of four GHS alumni and four educators, with those closest to the inductees sharing their professional and personal stories.
This year’s GISD Alumni HOF inductees included the Rogers brothers – “Tog,” Steve and Bill – and noted author and poet Ruth Huffaker Reuther. Debbie Fleitman, Janice Lillard and Gordon B. Smith, all former English teachers, and Barbara Marshall, the school district’s first-ever director of Special Education, were added to the GISD Education Hall of Fame.
Fleitman, a 30-year English teacher and drill team sponsor in Gainesville, was presented with the honor by Patty Bowden, Fleitman’s former teacher and colleague. Fleitman taught the Gainesville Electric Red dance team and won multiple district titles as a UIL academic coach. She served as Bowden’s presenter into the GISD Hall of Fame in 2011.
“She was a very good student of mine and an outstanding member of the drill team when I coached it,” Bowden said. “She was a jack of all trades and master of all. She was my student, my co-conspirator and my life-long friend.”
Lillard, a 20-year English and Spanish teacher and active sponsor of the drill team, was honored by former student Susan Beall.
“She enjoyed spent time with, as she puts it, ‘young people full of life,’” Beall said. “She had many answers for many students. She spent 28 years teaching, helped at the hospital and the local library and has traveled to as many countries around the world to almost qualify as a state secretary in her spare time.”
Marshall, a pioneer for assistance for those with special needs for more than three decades, was presented by Tim Turbeville.
“She was always proactive in advocating the help for special needs students,” Turbeville said. “To this day, Barbara feels this job in special education was her calling. And what a job she has done for 31 years she worked, feeling at the end of each day she had made a positive effect on plenty of people.”
After 42 years of teaching high school English and French at Gainesville, Smith Jr. was presented by Kennedy, his friend for 60 years and cousins by marriage. Kennedy reminisced about the pair’s experiences at GHS before sharing Smith Jr.’s accomplishments as a teacher.
“He loved teaching, he loved learning and he loved working with his students,” Kennedy said. “There was never a time where we wouldn’t run into a former student of his. As a teacher at GHS, he said his highest achievement was enabling students to learn the humor, humanity and insight of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.”
The newest members of the GISD Hall of Fame were presented next, starting with lifelong writer Ruth Huffaker Reuther, a graduate of the Class of 1934 who was named Poet Laureate of Texas in 1937. Reuther, who died in 2004, was honored by her daughter Elma Grace Richardson with one of her poems.
“I want to thank all of you for this honor for my mother, she would have been so grateful and thankful for it,” Richardson said. “My mother had a quick wit, and was great with a one liner. My mother considered herself a teacher first, an author second and a poet last, and gave me a childhood here in Gainesville that I will never forget.”
Then came the Rogers brothers, starting with the oldest: Yandell “Tog” Rogers, from the Class of 1952. After graduating from Gainesville High School, Rogers became a lawyer and entrepreneur in the office reproduction blueprinting business with L.L. Ridgway Enterprises.
Honoring his second inductee of the day, Kennedy spoke on Roger’s past accomplishments while presenting him.
“He became a key benefactor for a number of institutions after graduating from Southern Methodist University, where each of his five children went to school,” Kennedy said. “He made an impact in business, education and law, and he’s made this school proud.”
The eldest Rogers was followed by his younger brother of one year Steve Rogers, an entrepreneur, engineer and co-founder of Rogers-O’Brien Investment, a construction company based in Dallas. Steve was a graduate of Texas Tech and spent two years of military service in Korea. He was honored by his longtime friend and business partner and Rogers-O’Brien, Pat O’Brien.
“Steve was successful and a great partner to me at Rogers-O’Brien as we built the company from nothing to what it is today,” O’Brien said. “I think what made Steve successful ties back to the way he was even growing up here in Gainesville: Independence, tenacity, independence and a good work ethic.”
Bill Rogers, the youngest of the trio and a geologist in the oil and gas exploration industry, served as the day’s final inductee.
“I just want to reiterate what has already been said, that it was great growing up in Gainesville,” Bill Rogers said. “The community we had, established by our parents, is what made it so nice. I also want to thank my older brothers, who have been helping me since they were boosting me into trees and pulling me through fences when we were little.”