Friday, September 21, 2007

Return of the Natives

September 21, 2007

The Bell Building, Built 1904, First home of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education

In a Utopian community itself barely 106 years old, it’s not many an institution that can claim to have thrived for 100 years, surviving two world wars, an economic depression, the death of its founder, and years of struggle for its own place in the education sun.

The Marietta Johnson School, a.k.a. the Organic School, is such an institution in Fairhope. Founded by visionary educator Marietta Johnson, the school is poised for a reunion which will celebrate its one hundredth year of continous operation. Visitors, including graduates and former students from all over the country, are expected to convene here October 5-7 to reunite with old friends, check out the activities at the school, and learn some of the many stories their classmates have to tell.

The school was founded as one of the first progressive schools in the nation, and it has never closed its doors although it has endured financial crises, leadership shifts, petty disputes a certain amount of negative publicity throughout its lifetime. The negatives now in the past, the school is going forward this year with increased enrollment and an alumni base eager to help secure its future.

People are expected to begin arriving for the Centennial Reunion as early as Thursday morning from Massachusetts, Arizona, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and many locations in Alabama. Organizers say the pre-registration of graduates living in the Fairhope area is surprisingly low, but expected to be up to 200 by the time the events begin.

The Centennial Reunion will include an Open House at the school’s new campus on Marietta Drive (east of Section St.) at Pecan Avenue. At this, the buildings will be open and students will show visitors what a day in the life of the school is like. Current students will be assisted by graduates who are now of high school and college age, armed with videocams to record stories related to them by some of the older alums. This battery of roving reporters will add to the afternoon fun, which will include a pottery demonstration by Organic graduate and well-known local potter Tom Jones, a cake walk, and the graduates will enjoy a folk dance party Saturday night.

Beginning with Registration at 4 P.M. Friday, the old campus of the school -- now Faulkner Community College -- will be abuzz with activities including talks by Dr. Paul Gaston, Maggie Mosteller-Timbes, and Leslie Mulcahy, Director of the School. Being a graduate of the the school myself, I will probably be very visible on the scene and have a word or two to say to the assembled myself.

Events are open to the public and may serve to help inform the new Fairhope of its heritage. At least that's my hope, and a fair hope it is.

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