By ELIZABETH BEILMAN
Brenda Bramble said that when she first went to Jeffersonville High School in 1959, no one had heard of Prather Consolidated School.
“They’d say, ‘Where did you go to school?’ and I’d say ‘Prather,’ and they’d say, ‘Where?’” Bramble said. “Nobody knew about Prather.”
And yet, more than 50 years later, the four-room brick schoolhouse on top of a hill that no one knew about still brings its former pupils together.
Prather School Friends, a reunion group that has met every month since 2012 and brings as many as 45 alumni to meet, has continued to remember the school’s legacy — even though it’s been closed since 1968.
“Oh, we’re a wild group, now,” Terisha Johnson, a 1957 Prather graduate, said as she hollers for someone to come over in the party room at Logan’s Roadhouse Thursday.
As each new group enters the room, they are greeted with wide smiles and pulled into hugs. Raucous laughter erupts every minute or so from a table. It’s as if no time has passed since their school days.
“It was kind of like we were all family,” said Dan Brafford, a 1960 graduate. “No one was above anyone else.”
This sentiment is echoed by multiple Prather School Friends, who said that’s just what happens when you have about 100 students who all have recess together and live in the same neighborhoods.
The school was opened in 1924 on an acre of land at the corner of Charlestown Pike and Salem Road, educating mostly children from Prather and Watson, both small farming communities. Because there were so few students, grades were combined in pairs, beginning with first and second grades taught in one room, and so on.
In 1951, students from the Watson Black School, which burned down, were integrated into Prather Consolidated School.
The building expanded by two rooms about four or five years later to accommodate the extra students. First and second grades were separated, and the spare room was used as a library.
In 1968, Prather School was closed down because of its size, and students were sent to Thomas Jefferson School, Utica School and Charlestown schools, ending the its 44-year run. The schoolhouse is now used for apartments.
Bramble said shared memories are what has kept the spirit of Prather alive.
“Most everybody that has been here, except for a couple, I have known,” she said.
In 1993, Prather had its first reunion at the Watson Ballpark and brought in about 180 alumni. The group didn’t meet again until 2012 and thereafter Brafford organized Prather School Friends to keep the connection going.
Bramble said it wasn’t hard slipping right back into old friendships and making new ones with people she never knew while at school.
“As soon as we started talking ... You remember things about people,” she said. “It was easy to start back.”
She and Jo Ann Orman, who taught first grade at Prather School from 1957 to 1959, look over a 1958 yearbook, the lone yearbook that Prather School made. Between the two of them, they know where just about everyone is today — where they live, who has since died, who were sweethearts back in the day, who talked too much during class.
They all said everybody just sort of got along.
“You never had any turmoil,’ Brafford said. “There wasn’t any fighting.”
Orman, whose first years teaching were at Prather, said she saw the same.
“I don’t ever remember a fight. It didn’t surprise me,” Orman said. “We’d go out at lunch time, and the first grade boys ... would play softball with the eighth grade boys. They might disagree, but they didn’t go to blows.”
Orman remembers her first day teaching.
“After I signed my contract, [the school’s trustee] handed me a box of chalk and an eraser and said, ‘Well there you are,’” she said. “And I walked into the classroom and it was concrete block all the way around, a window in the back, chalkboard across the front and two restrooms over on the right. And that was it.”
Brafford and others remember Mrs. Collins, the head cook who made delicious lunches.
“There’s meals that people eat today that’s still based on what [we were] eating,” Brafford said. “If you have sauerkraut and wieners, you’ve got to have peas and mashed potatoes.”
Johnson said she remembers the annual fall festivals, which were the biggest event Prather hosted. There was a turkey dinner the night before, and booths and auctions at the festival. Every year, two students were named king and queen, Brafford earning the title his eighth grade year.
“It was one of my fondest memories,” she said.
Beyond the old memories of bygone school days, of lunches and festivals and sweethearts, Prather School Friends has opened a new chapter for its alumni that will continue.
“It’s meant reuniting with people I hadn’t seen, some of them over 50 years,” Bramble said. “It’s meant rekindling friendships.”