15-cent burgers? Cruising in a ’57 Chevy?

Ocala High Class of 1963 gathers to remember the good ol’ days

From left, Carolyn Shealy Freleigh, Kim Nolan Steve, Kerren Mathena Bickerton, Sally Jo Landphair Pitts, Kathy McDonald Walkup, Pam Stafford and Yvette Sutton enjoy a tour at the Fort King Historic Landmark during 60th reunion events for the Ocala High School Class of 1963. [Andy Fillmore/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted May 2, 2023 | By Andy Fillmore, andy@ocalagazette.com

Ocala High School (OHS) Class of 1963 members recalled happy times like cruising to the Big D for Cherry Cokes and onion rings and worrisome times like the Cuban missile crisis and the risk of nuclear war at their 60th class reunion, held April 28 through 30 at several Ocala venues.

They also remembered that the valedictorian’s speech back in 1963 sent them off to live up to President John F. Kennedy’s words to give back to society.

The reunion events included a meet-and-greet, veteran appreciation, classmate memorial, brunch at a class member’s home and a tour of the museum and circa 1827 wooden fort reconstruction at the Fort King National Historic Landmark and Visitors Center.

In 1963, Ocala High School was located at 1614 E. Fort King St., the current site of Marion Technical Institute. The 1963 class had 303 members, 91 of whom have passed away. Eighty-four class members attended some reunion activities, according to Kathy (McDonald) Walkup, a class member and reunion organizer.

About 20 class members and guests joined the April 29 tour of the fort and museum. A few shared their recollections of OHS and details about their lives after graduation.
Walkup compared early 1960s Ocala to “Mayberry,” the laid-back, quiet Southern town portrayed in the Andy Griffith television series. She said in the 1960s, “everything was downtown” in Ocala.

She said the Marion County Courthouse was located on the site of the current downtown square and the area “was the absolute heart of Ocala … encircled by merchants, drug stores and restaurants. It was our hub of life and all activity. There were two theatres here, the Marion, which is still operating, and the Ritz,” she said.

Class member Frank Stafford attended the tour with his wife, Pamela Stafford, a past president of the Fort King Heritage Association. She led a tour of the reconstructed wooden fort and a peek at the new working blacksmith shop, which will be dedicated later this month.

Frank Stafford and Walkup recalled the Chicken Ranch restaurant on the “S” curve (Southwest 10th Street) and the Big D, an eatery in the 800 block of South Pine Avenue where waitress Iva Wood served up favorites like Cherry Cokes and onion rings. Walkup said Wood was “like a mother” to the teens.

He recalled that following a fire at a popular teen spot called the Cat’s Corner, a melted record was found on the jukebox. The record was “Runaround Sue.”

The two chatted about class members driving around town in cars like a 1957 Chevy and an early model Ford with a “rumble seat.”

“It was a time of innocence,” he said.

Walkup recalled how some students at OHS reacted to the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which raised the threat of nuclear war, particularly for Florida, which is 90 miles away from Cuba.

“(O)ur teenage boys dressed in camouflage and held signs and placards that read ’To Hell with Fidel!’ It’s in our 1963 yearbook,” she said.

She noted that Q.V. Lowe, a baseball Hall of Famer at Auburn University, and Dr. Bill Brawner, a professor emeritus in diagnostic imaging and radiation oncology at Auburn, are both members of the OHS Class of 1963.

Class member Janet Behnke remembered “playing volleyball at Silver Springs” attraction, which had a beach set up at the time. Behnke served as the first female attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit and later as a Marion County judge. She a former president of the Ocala Marion County Chamber of Commerce and a former president of the Marion County Bar Association.

Janet Behnke, left, a member of the Ocala High School Class of 1963, is given a look at the new blacksmith shop at the Fort King National Historic Landmark by Pamela Stafford, during a tour as part of the class’s 60th reunion. [Andy Fillmore/Ocala Gazette]

Yevette Phillips-Sutter accompanied her class member husband, Don Sutter, on the tour. He was on the OHS track team that set a school record for the sprint relay. She is a graduate of the OHS Class of 1964 and the daughter of the late Navy Chief James Phillips, a World War II veteran who was very active in local veterans’ organizations. She remembered the Fort King site as the vicinity where her Brownie Troop had campfire gatherings and “told ghost stories.”


Belton Jennings, a member of the Ocala High School Class of 1963, shows his student photo during 60th class reunion events held April 28-30 in Ocala. [Andy Fillmore/Ocala Gazette]

Belton Jennings worked for a time, including the morning after the class’s senior prom, as a broadcaster on Ocala’s WWKE AM radio, using the on-air personality name “Terry Lee.”
“Whenever I’d play a Beatles record, the phone lines would light up,” he recalled.

Jennings also worked as a conductor on the antique steam train at Six Gun Territory and recalled seeing Dan Blocker, who played “Hoss” Cartwright on the television series “Bonanza,” at the theme park.

Jennings served 34 years active and reserve service in the Navy, including on the carrier U.S.S. Forrestal. He attained the rank of captain. His civilian career included working as a “trade association executive” with chambers of commerce in Gainesville and Virginia and CEO for Realtor associations in Virginia Beach, Orlando and the Virgin Islands. He also worked for a time at a newspaper in Gainesville.

Dr. Milo Hatch, a member of the class, moved to Ocala with his family from Atlanta when he was 3 years old. He said his mother’s family dates back many generations in the Ocala area and his uncle Lewis Chazel co-wrote the historical account, “Ocali Country, Kingdom of the Sun.”

Hatch earned his degree in dentistry at Emory School of Medicine and served as a dentist in the Navy for two years and then for 29 years at VA Bay Pines Health Care in St. Petersburg. He joked that in 31 years, he “never gave a patient a bill.”

Hatch said he worked at Ocala’s first McDonald’s restaurant on South Pine Avenue and was one of the earliest youth workers at the location. He recalled the price of a hamburger was 15 cents; a bag of French fries was 12 cents.

Class valedictorian Joyce Hendley-Pollack attended Duke University and remained in North Carolina where she raised two children. She most recently worked in the field of medical office software.  She remembered her address, which drew upon remarks Kennedy made in a speech to the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on Jan. 9, 1961.

“For those to whom much is given, much is required,” Kennedy stated. Hendley-Pollack recalled that her speech noted, “Those of us blessed to be alive and healthy and graduate from high school should make our lives worthwhile.”

Walkup said the class members sponsor a fundraiser to donate a $1,000 scholarship annually to a student attending the College of Central Florida.


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