The group included some of the last living pupils of Reddick High School, with those in attendance stretching as far back as the 1951 graduating class. Before COVID-19 interrupted their plans, the group would meet once a year for a reunion. But on that August day, they made an impromptu exception, coming together quickly to say goodbye to their beloved school.
The day after the reunion, a fence went up around the school, ahead of the planned demolition that began in earnest last week.
“It was very sad, but it was, you know, for everyone that showed up, it was important for them to say goodbye to the school,” recalled Annabelle Leitner this week.
Leitner and her siblings, sister Nancy and their late brother, David, as well as generations of family members, all attended Reddick High School in some fashion. She can trace her family history through the annuals of the old school.
So, it only felt right for the local photographer and area historian to document the steady destruction of the century-old building over the past two months, posting images to the Reddick High School Alumni group on Facebook, among other social media sites. It was on those platforms that many responders began to question if any of the iconic red bricks or school signage would be saved and perhaps be offered as mementoes or a memorial.
On Monday, the final stages of demolition began, targeting the iconic red brick frame and the auditorium.
“It’s sad. It’s heart wrenching. It’s devastating. It’s like seeing an old friend go,” Leitner said.
Reddick High School opened in 1923, with the gym added in 1936 as part of President Roosevelt’s Works Projects Administration. It first served as a 1-12 school, then later was for grades 1-8. According to Leitner, Reddick High was originally planned to be an agricultural tech school, before World War II changed the landscape of culture and education in America.
Through the years, the school united Reddick and the surrounding areas, drawing students from Shiloh, where the Leitner’s lived, and the communities of McIntosh, Orange Lake, Martin, Lowell and others, creating a family in its wake.
Leitner shared that a friend from Gainesville once told her, “‘Y’all have such a unique culture. I’ve never seen a group of people, no matter what age they went to the school, it’s like they’re one big family.’ And it doesn’t matter,” she emphasized, “people move away, and then come back; it is just like one big family.”
In 1957, the school was renamed North Marion High School. The last graduating class came through in 1963, which is when the school body was moved to the new North Marion High School in Sparr. Reddick-Collier Elementary School is situated on part of the old Reddick High School campus.
The Reddick High School building was used for various purposes over the years, from housing thrift stores to serving as a filming location for the 2001 movie “Jeepers Creepers.” But, eventually, it sat empty for too long and the deteriorating venue became a hot spot for vandalism. In July, the Marion County School Board voted to move forward with demolition of the building.As the Ocala Gazette reported at the time, Nancy Thrower, Marion County School Board chairwoman, said it was time for the facility to go.
“It’s an eyesore for the people of Reddick,” Thrower said.
Thrower alluded then to the possibility that brick from the building could be saved for a school monument or be sold to the public.
“Within reason, we would like to save some of that stuff,” Thrower said.
However, Kevin Christian, Director of Public Relations for Marion County Public Schools, told the Ocala Gazette last week, “The School Board considered a number of options regarding the old Reddick High School property, including the bricks. Based on research and talks with various companies, the Board does not plan to sell bricks or portions of the building at this time.”
For Leitner, any memento would have been appreciated.
“We had hoped to have the signs that were on the buildings that said Reddick High School and the auditorium, so a monument could be made,” she said.
But now, as the last of the building’s walls are turned into rubble, the chances of taking home any piece of the iconic 99-year-old structure are fading away.
“This is a very frustrating experience,” Leitner said.
The last remaining pupils of Reddick High School—the oldest of whom is 106—instead will hold on to their memories and the knowledge that even as their alma mater is unceremoniously leveled to the ground, the soul of the Terriers will last through those who knew it best.
“Everybody who has lived in the area, somehow that school has touched them,” Leitner said.
For information about the Reddick High School reunion set for April of 2022, find the group on Facebook.