“We raise more hell, get more kicks, because we are the Class of ’66!” chanted Susan Willis Updegraff to rile up the crowd of about 60 Sandy Springs High School graduates and their spouses gathered at Heritage Sandy Springs Aug. 19 for their 50th reunion.
Updegraff, the reunion chairperson, was among those who shared memories about the era when Sandy Springs was a suburban community rather than a rapidly developing city. To illustrate her favorite high school memory, Updegraff proudly brandished a copy of the senior yearbook with a photo of her on the school football field—today the Kroger at City Walk—crowned as Homecoming Queen.
“It is ironic that I am essentially the only person from my high school class who still lives in Sandy Springs,” said longtime resident Bill Gannon.
Many live over in Cobb County, such as David and Donna Rumrill and Elaine “Woody” Woodall Markert, who say they moved across the Chattahoochee for tax breaks. Some came as far as Las Vegas to catch up with old classmates and reflect on their high school experiences.
The relationships and bonds that came out of the school still remain strong. Updegraff remains close friends with a group of seven women. Jeffrey Sharon Koontz spoke with tears in her eyes, clutching the sides of longtime friend Trudy Kitchin Woodard, about how she moved to Sandy Springs in the middle of her junior year of high school and young Trudy befriended her in French class and introduced her to everyone.
“I love her, she is like a sister,” she announced, eager to get this on the record. “We ended up going to college together for two years. She’s been my dearest friend for 50 years. “
Others found love. “After I left high school, I went to Georgia Tech, and then I started dating my later to be wife who was a senior at the high school,” said David Rumrill, class of ’64. “My fondest memories are coming back and getting the cheerleader. She wanted the college guy!”
His wife, Donna Crawford Rumrill, Class of ’66, spilled about that first date. “We snuck in through the back of the Piedmont Drive-In and we got caught. He was thinking he was mister big shot, because I just met him, and the next thing I knew, the guard caught him. So we drove out of there and didn’t know what to do, so we went to the Zesto’s.”
“The girls would go to the Dairy Queen or McDonald’s after school, and when the girls wanted to find the boys, we drove down Roswell Road,” said Donna Rumrill about what high school was like. “There was a grocery store [and a] florist that all the boys worked at, and nothing else. That’s where all the girls would pretend to shop to see the boys.”
Sandy Springs 50 years ago was very different than the suburban city easily connected to Atlanta we know today.
“The change, ‘CHANGE’ in all capital letters,” stressed Elaine Woody” Woodall Markert, Class of 1964, who was present to promote the Sandy Springs High School tent at the upcoming Sandy Springs Festival. “It is unreal.”
Classmates said change started in Atlanta in the ’60s with the arrival of Lockheed Martin and IBM, bringing Northern employees into the area and transforming the rural community into a suburban one. The construction of I-285 was slow, and the teenagers would use the strip of highway from Highway 41 to Chamblee-Dunwoody Road as a place to drag race on Saturday nights, according to Updegraff.
“The first part of I-285 wiped out our neighborhood softball field, and the expansion took our neighborhood pool,” Gannon said.
“Everyone was really worried. What kind of riffraff will this bring?” Markert said of the general reactions to the highway construction connecting the Perimeter together.
“However, I-285 was a big benefit to me, since it improved my ability to get around ATL,” Gannon said.
Roswell Road hosted a single traffic light, and it was only two lanes wide. The intersection between Roswell Road and Abernathy was a dairy farm; Johnson Ferry was a tiny wooden one-lane bridge across the Chattahoochee. The first and only shopping center of the time, Sandy Springs Shopping Center, which housed a hardware store and a grocery store and later became the home of the recently closed local landmark restaurant The Brickery, is being razed for a new mixed-use project.
“When we had our 50th reunion, everyone wanted to go back to the street they grew up on,” Markert said. “When they tried to go back, they couldn’t find their street or their house because so much has changed.”