The very first Inaugural Hays High graduating class celebrates 50th anniversary

Much like a fine wine, volume one of “The Rebel” always seems to get better with age for Kyle Nations, Shirley Sturdivant, David Dabelgott and Marian Loep.

Every turn of a yellowed page in the 50-year-old high school yearbook elicits a cornucopia of emotions and memories – moments that ranged from good and bad to happy and sad.

For the foursome, flipping through that yearbook – their yearbook – May 30 was a chance to recollect on a year when so much was happening around them.

It was also an opportunity to take pride in being the inaugural class to graduate from Hays High under what is now Hays CISD.

While many have gone their separate ways, five decades later, Dabelgott said surviving members of the 63-person class share a bond that can never be broken.

“It doesn’t matter. If anyone from that class called me and asked if they needed something, I’d be there,” Dabelgott said.

Burying old grudges
The foundation for that unbreakable bond was forged in summer 1968. Ironically, building that camaraderie meant having to bury old grudges that, in some cases, went back generations.

Asking Buda High and Kyle High students, two fierce and bitter rivals, to come together under one roof was a tall task. Doing so on the orders of school officials who opted to consolidate Buda and Kyle ISDs into Hays CISD several months earlier wasn’t exactly a popular option for incoming seniors that year. 

“We were very disappointed that we weren’t going to graduate as Kyle Panthers (or Buda Bulldogs),” Nations said. “We had been there three years, and then we find out our senior year we were going to be something else.”

Adding to the skepticism was the lack of just about everything that goes with a high school. That included an actual campus. Seniors in fall 1968 attended classes at what was Kyle High, which is now Kyle Elementary.

Hays High’s campus on FM 2770 wasn’t completed until fall 1969.

Despite it all, members of the 1969 senior class came together and hashed things out. It began when students agreed upon the school’s mascot (Rebels) as well as colors (red and blue), fight song and a school song.

The true test came when the first day of school arrived in August. Dabelgott, who had gone to Kyle High, feared fights were bound to happen, based on the histories of the two cities.

Sturdivant, nee Roach, remembered how Buda students bussed to Kyle High felt as if they “were on display.”

“I remember that it was hard to get off of the bus,” Sturdivant said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, they’re looking at everything.’”

Other challenges included working with new educators, some of whom were from the opposite campus.

Dabelgott, who played sports under Edwin Abernathy at KHS, wasn’t happy about Buda coach Bob Shelton coming in and helming the football program. It wasn’t until later that Dabelgott realized administrators had made the right choice.

“He was our rival. We were going to play football for our rival’s coach,” Dabeltgott said. “But it all worked out fine.”

Finding common ground
Their worst fears, however, were unfounded. Much like most high schoolers today, members of the class of 1969 coalesced. 

Often that meant finding things to do in two communities, brimming with wide open land; each community had fewer than 1,000 people. All four pointed to similar upbringings in a rural small town as a commonality.

Nations, nee Dorman, Sturdivant and Leop, nee Borthwick, all remember coming together for slumber parties after football games in what is now the Kimbro Building at KES. Dabelgott said students often came together for bonfires, without the need to protect them from being destroyed by their cross-town rival.

Other memories centered on places and locations in and around Buda and Kyle. Walking to Holt’s Café or the Bon Ton was the norm back then. All fondly remember moments such as Prom or Homecoming and how excited everyone was for it.

Perhaps the most unifying ground, however, centered on the cloud of the Vietnam War, which impacted some more than others. Nations lost her brother in combat weeks before graduation.

For Dabelgott and much of the male student population, fear of being drafted and going to war was always in the back of their minds. Reinforcing those fears were former classmates who saw combat and came back irrevocably changed.

Sturdivant said she feared her then boyfriend could have been drafted.

“We were going to Canada,” Dabelgott said. “If they drafted us, we were out of there. It wasn’t being a chicken, we knew it wasn’t good.”

Thinking ahead

Of course, plans for the future were always on the minds of seniors in 1969. Finding a job or going to college was a frequent topic of discussion, much like teens of today’s generation.

So was planning for graduation and walking the stage. All four marveled at how district officials found a place large enough for the then-record 63 person graduating class. Former Buda High and Kyle High students were used to graduating classes that ranged from 10 to 30 students.

For some, future work in the public or private sector was their path. Others became parents and grandparents. Sadly, some passed away.

All are proud to have played a role in history.

For Loep, who attended Buda High, receiving help from Nations and many more helped to ease that transition.

“We felt like we were coming into a place where everyone had their cliques,” Loep said to Nations. “It meant a lot, going in and meeting us.”

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