At this time of year, thoughts are turning to graduations and all the attendant ceremonies and festivities. In the last 122 years, area students have graduated from five different Plain City schools plus Canaan, Monroe and New California-Jerome.
The first class to graduate from a Plain City school were the three students who had completed the three-year high school course at the Union School on South Chillicothe Street (now our city hall). The original building had four rooms on two floors. When it was built in 1876, classes were offered through the eighth grade only. In 1883 high school classes were added. (It was not until the opening of the new school on West Main Street in 1892 that the high school curriculum was expanded to four years.)
I had anticipated that this would be a simple article to write — mention the graduates, the program, and perhaps the Alumni Association. But then a huge question mark reared its head. According to the program we have at the Historical Society, the “Commencement Exercises” were held at the Opera House on May 27, 1886. However, we have a typed copy of a newspaper article on the dedication of the Opera House which is dated 1890. It is of course possible that the dedication of the building was delayed for some reason, but four years seems an unusually long delay. We have never read or heard of another building in town called “The Opera House.” But since we have the original of the graduation program and only a copy of the newspaper article, we will have to assume that the Opera House was built in 1885-1886.
The three members of the first graduating class were Olive Black, Jacob Leonard Haner and Anna Shepper. According to the program, each of them took part in the exercises. Olive Black gave the Salutatorian’s address and played a duet with “Lennie” Haner. He also gave a speech, “The Signs of the Times.” Anna Shepper gave the Valedictorian’s address titled “The Unknown Quantity.” At the close of the program, the class song was sung, but there is no indication of what the song was.
Anna Shepper was born May 1, 1867, and was the daughter of Catherine and Jacob Shepper, for whom the Shepper Addition and Shepper Avenue are named. Anna was active in the Methodist Church as a choir member and Sunday School teacher. On Aug. 12, 1896 she married to Prof. S. A. Douglass of Plain City. They moved to Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts, where Mr. Douglass taught, and later to Ann Arbor and St. Louis.
On Dec. 13, 1903, their daughter Katharine was born. Anna’s health began to decline and she became a patient at the Missouri Baptist Sanitorium. On the morning of Feb. 23, 1904, Katharine died, and four hours later, her mother also died. Their funeral service was held in Plain City and they were buried together in Forest Grove Cemetery.
Jacob Leonard Haner was the son of Dr. Albert Haner and Elizabeth Leonard Haner. After graduation he attended Ohio State where he studied law. After being admitted to the bar in Ohio, he joined the firm of Powell, Owen, Ricketts and Black of Columbus, which also had an office in Plain City. In 1893 he was elected a probate judge in Madison County. He later moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma to practice law.
Olive Black, in 1895, married John Franklin Feather, a pharmacist. He sold his drug store in 1908 to Ormerod & Jones. He was active in the community, being secretary of the Building Committee for the Methodist Church, a board member of the Plain City Home and Savings Company, and a member of the Knights of Pythias and the Masons. Olive and John became parents of a daughter Elizabeth in 1896. In August of 1910 Mr. Feather was struck by a streetcar in Columbus and died two weeks later. Olive Black Feather was organist of the Methodist Church for many years and one of the founders of the Plain City High School Alumni Association. Her daughter, known by all as Bess, became a music teacher and taught for many years in Gary, Indiana. (One of her students was a girl who would grow up to become my best friend.)
The first Alumni Association banquet was held in 1889. The Historical Society has newspaper accounts of the fifth and sixth banquets in 1893 and 1894. The 1894 account includes the following sentence: “The hall was lit up by the new incandescent lamps until half-past one when darkness was declared at the power house by the stoppage of the dynamos.” Today’s alumni obviously lack the stamina of those early ones. We moan if the festivities go on until 9:30.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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