Prior to 1930, all students in Venice and Nokomis had to travel to Sarasota to finish high school. Starting at dawn each morning the bus would meander all around the area, gathering up students for the relatively long ride necessary to finish their education. Because the trip each way took so long, the kids could not stay after class for sports or other school programs. In 1930, all of that was forever changed when the Nokomis School added the 11th and 12th grade level classes to its single building, becoming the first Venice-Nokomis High School. Originally built in 1924 as a small schoolhouse, wings were added in 1927 to accommodate area growth. On September 8, 1927 the Venice News reported on the necessary expansion with, “We saw here fifteen or twenty small industries springing up – another guarantee that Venice will one day be a large and important city.”
The Nokomis School had finally become an accredited high school, with total enrollment of about 100 students. No longer would local teenagers have to make the daily bus trip, and they could fully participate in any of the after-school events. The down side was there were only eight senior class students, not enough to field most sports teams. This was compounded by improper equipment and uniforms and no home field at all. They managed to participate anyway, utilizing many underclassmen and substituting any available bodies for size and experience. Professor Stroud, the school’s principal, coached both football and basketball. Although the “Tarpons” did not win much, they were able to enjoy team sports and demonstrate their enthusiastic school spirit. The girls had fairly successful basketball and track teams. Elizabeth McMorrow won the 60-yard dash (in 8.5 seconds), and Kathleen Stinson won the baseball throw. The new high school quickly began leaving its mark in and around the state. Six students participated in the State Dramatic Contest held in St. Petersburg, Florida. The young thespians tied for 4th place in the state with their production of The Breaking of the Calm. Hands Up! was chosen as the senior class play and was presented to the public on April 11, 1930 at the Nokomis Theater. Most of the seniors participated in the comedy, and the proceeds were used for the creation of their yearbook. Admission was 25 cents per person.
The senior class worked wonders with their meager budget, hand-making their first yearbook; Volume 1, 1930 Silver King yearbook, published by the Senior Class of the Venice-Nokomis High School. Since they could not afford to have them printed, each of the 31 pages was typed. Mary Moore, who became Mary Eddy, lovingly typed each page herself. The yearbook is signed by the Silver King Staff: Milton Curry, Editor and Class Prophet; Mary Moore, Assistant Editor and Art Editor; Verna Arnold, Assistant Art Editor; Franklin Blackburn, Historian; Elizabeth McMorrow, Poetry Editor; Kathleen Stinson, Class Will; Roland Curry, Sports Editor; and Duese (pronounced Dew-eze) Blackburn, Advertising Manager. Duese sold advertisements in the back of the Silver King yearbook to area businesses, each also typed by hand. Some advertisers listed phone numbers like “42 Black,” reflecting the technology and lifestyle of that era.
The yearbook staff was comprised of the entire 1930 graduating class, all eight of them. Glimpses of their individual personalities are revealed with these telling quotes, captured forever in print:
Milton Curry served as Senior Class President, and was described as “gallant, graceful, gentle and tall, fair, noblest … best of all.” Frank Blackburn was Vice President and referred to as “a brim full of mischief, and whit and glee, as ever a human frame can be.” Mary Moore, Secretary-Treasurer, was pictured as “loathing pretense she did with cheerful will, what others talked of while their hands were still.” Captain of the girls basketball team, Verna Arnold was “prudent, wise, never complaining, she’ll not change in the years remaining.” Duese Blackburn was characterized as a rebel, “unliked to him the rigid rule, the dull restraint that chiding frown, that weary torture of the school.” He later married classmate Verna Arnold. Roland Curry, a sports enthusiast, was a “bright, free youth with sure wing feet, they tell of his prowess among fellow athletes.” Elizabeth McMorrow who quietly entered the senior class as a transfer student from Chicago, “some natures there are of so humble and quiet mien, one must know them long, ere their own worth is seen.” Tarpon Scream newspaper reporter, Kathleen Stinson, was portrayed as “happy go lucky from care I’m free, nothing exists that bothers me.”
The entire school had a faculty of only five educators who taught first graders to seniors. Mrs. Ruth Wright taught elementary grades 1, 2 and 3; Mrs. Hazel Woodard taught elementary grades 4, 5 and 6; Donald N. McQueen taught English and Spanish; Helen Billingsley taught social sciences; Katherine Blackshear taught art, science, home economics, junior business and math. Miss Blackshear also coached the “Tarponettes” girls teams.
The yearbook provided a section for the Class Will, humorously illustrating the notions on their youthful minds nearly 80 years ago:
“I, Duese Blackburn, do give and bequeath to Patty McEvoy my ability for making unnecessary noises and disturbances at the wrong time!”
“I, Mary Moore, do give and bequeath my famous 90 pound look to Lucile Blackburn, and my intelligent appearance to Ruth Williams that she may make as good an editor as I was!”
“I, Verna Arnold, do give and bequeath my athletic career to Dorothy Platt, and my loud voice to Edith Oldham so that she may always be heard when talking in class!”
“I, Roland Curry, do give and bequeath to H.L. Moore my winning ways with girls (and also my favorite stick with which to beat them off) so that his Ford shall never lack occupants.”
“I, Elizabeth McMorrow, do give and bequeath my fashionable attire to Atlas Norman, also my ability to please Mr. McQueen to Tommy Wrede.”
“I, Milton Curry, do hereby give and bequeath my dramatic ability to Ernest Clark with the hope that he will be as successful as I have been in dramatics.”
“I, Franklin Blackburn, do give and bequeath my petite size to Vincent Shurtleff, so that he may make a good football player.”
I, Kathleen Stinson, do give and bequeath my beloved chewing gum to Ola V. Wrede to keep and preserve through the coming years.”
Mary Moore and Milton Curry were obviously well-liked and respected by their peers. The two were voted Most Dependable, Most Representative, Best Disposition, Most Intellectual, Most Courteous and Nicest!
After graduation, Mary Moore went to work for Dr. Albee as secretary and bookkeeper in his new hospital. She stayed there until the Venice Army Air Base took over the hospital. It was at the air base that Mary met Thomas Eddy. USO dances were held in the second story hall of the same building that originally housed the Venice Theatre. Apparently, local mothers baked cookies for the dances and chaperoned the girls. Mary remembered exactly how she felt about it all, “I was one of the older girls and didn’t have any interest in these soldiers.” But her sisters did attend the dances. They would come home talking about one soldier in particular saying, “If any of the soldiers get real fresh, all we have to do is give him the sign, and he’ll come rescue us and see that those misbehaving soldiers are taken out!” Mary reminisced about first meeting Thomas. “They kept talking about him … then one evening I went up to speak to my mother about something and he was talking to her. So my mother introduced me to him.”
Thomas took an immediate liking to Mary and persistently asked her for dates, until Mary finally thought, “Well, maybe I’d better check this out, because instead of saying, ‘Let’s go down and have a beer,’ he’d say, ‘Let’s go to Sarasota and have a lobster dinner!” He inevitably won her with his style and they eventually married.
Mary Eddy continued to work on Dr. Albee’s books in the morning and part time at the Venice/Nokomis Bank. As the bank grew, she became a full-time employee and worked there for 38 years as the bank changed to 1st Florida, Barnett, NationsBank and then to Bank of America. The couple lived in Nokomis until 1973, when they moved to Venice. They lived there together until Mr. Eddy’s death in 1977, and Mary resided in the same home for the remainder of her life.
“Milton Curry was the only one of us who went on to college,” Mary explained, providing insight into the lives of the other 1930 graduates. “He graduated from the University of Florida, then taught at a few schools, and then in 1937 he came back to Nokomis as principal, and he was there until 1941.” Milton eventually retired from the Daytona Beach School District and lived in Venice. Roland Curry, Milton’s cousin, stayed in the area, too. Relating an expression used to describe Roland, Mary jokingly exclaimed, “He’ll never set the world on fire, but if it gets on fire, he’ll help put it out!”
In 1978, an “all school” reunion was organized, open to everyone who had ever attended the Venice-Nokomis school. Letters were sent out all over the country. Two hundred and fifty people responded and joined in the festivities.
Mary Eddy described herself as “too busy sometimes,” being involved with many volunteer activities such as the Triangle Inn Association, the Venice Historical Commission, the hospital auxiliary and the Venice/Nokomis Methodist Church. Mary served for 17 years on the board of directors for Guaranty Bank, and was an active board member for the Widowed Persons Service.
The availability of modern world conveniences, like fire and police services, city water, and medical facilities, are not taken for granted by the people who have watched them develop over a long period of time. Progress always has a price, Mary confessed. “For so many years we knew everybody in town, knew them by their first names.” Mary echoes a familiar sentiment about the changes over decades, “Walking down the street would take three times as long as it should because you’d stop and talk to everybody. Now I go to the grocery store and don’t see anybody I know!” This was once a town where you did not walk past people without saying hello. Mary did not want to see the area “lose that small town, friendly feeling.” Fortunately, that’s something each of us can impact every day. Let’s try to slow down enough to smile, nod or say “hello”… to simply acknowledge each other. In this way, our “little piece of paradise” can remain a friendly, neighborly place for a long time to come.
For more information, contact James Hagler, Director of Historical Resources at 941-486-2487. The Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection is located in the Triangle Inn at 351 Nassau Street South. Hours through April are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You can also access the photo catalog online at VeniceFL.pastperfect-online.com.
Written by Marge Stolte
Photographs Courtesy of the Venice Historical Archives