Ralph Driskell

Ralph Driskell holds on to his memories of Cobb Avenue High School the same way he clutches his cream-and-gold 1972 yearbook: tenderly.

Cobb High School closed its doors for the final time 45 years ago, but talk with the schools alumni, and it’s clear the lessons that mattered never really stopped.

“Time lets us know what we have left ... Cobb was like a family,” Arlene Mallard Driskell said.

Cobb High School closed in 1973 after Alabama began court-ordered integration, but the men and women who attended haven’t forgotten their time there. Driskell is an organizer for the 2018 Cobb High School mass reunion to take place June 27 through July 1. As of Thursday, 450 are expected to attend, but that number could easily rise. Driskell said the last mass reunion was unable to accept anyone else after 521 committed.

The week will include a parade and the 45th anniversary of the class of 1973, but Driskell said the highlight will come on Thursday night.

“That’s going to be the best night because they’re recognizing the veterans,” Driskell said.

One of those honored, John Ringo, is a 92-year-old World War II veteran who now lives in Ohio. His daughter Norma Richards said it will mean a lot to see her father recognized.

“Because I’ve heard a lot of stories from my dad about how it was a hostile environment for black men,” Richards said.

Regardless of the circumstances, Richards said her father took a lot of pride in supporting the wounded at their most vulnerable as a medic in the Navy.

“It made me feel very, very good what I was doing for the soldiers,” Ringo said.

Ringo continued taking care of injured servicemenas a medic evenafter he returned home. One of his favorite memories from that time was the welcome he received from a fellow serviceman and his white family in New York. It was an unusual experience for a black man who’d grown up in the segregated South.

Everything didn’t always go smoothly. One bar told him he was the first black person to stop in the town in 20 years before turning him away. When his fellow servicemen protested, Ringo cooled things down.

“I told them let’s forget about it and get back on the train,” Ringo said.

Ringo’s interest in the medical field existed before the war, and after he returned home he majored in biology at Talladega College.

Ringo said a number of teachers at Cobb encouraged him and his classmates to pursue higher education.

He comes back to Anniston almost every year to catch up with relatives and others, but he’s still excited to reunitewith his fellow Cobb Panthers even if most of them attended after he did.

“Thank God we still have Anniston ... and they will have us there for the reunion,” Ringo said.

Ringo will be one of five in attendance representing classes that graduated from Cobb before 1950. The earliest class with members in attendance, 1943, will be represented by Rosetta Dennis. The other three are Sarah Glover, Mary Maxwell and Ringo’s classmate Mozell Merritt.

Driskell said she is expecting plenty of Cobb alumni to travel for the reunion. One of the first five people to pay their registration fee was Jerome Mitchell who is traveling 4,638 miles from Rockenhausen, Germany, but Albert Wynn of the United Arab Emirates has an even longer journey —  more than 7,000 miles.

Perhaps no one is as enthusiastic about the reunion as Driskell. She’s sure she’s gotten on people’s nerves, but it will all be worth it when she gets to see all those new and old faces gathered together again to remember their old school, she said.

“I get so excited ... I found out through talking to a lady that she’s my cousin,” Driskell said.

 

Staff Writer Tyler Waldrep: 256-510-1751. On Twitter: @TWaldrep_Star