By Ruth Morgan
For Starkville Daily News
The high school yearbooks at the Starkville Public Library provide some very interesting information concerning our history.
Recently, while researching some information in the Genealogy Suite, I glanced at a photo of the Youth Center and thought that held a lot of special memories for all those who spent so many fun times there.
In 1943 soldiers and Wacs had their USO—war workers had their entertainment—mom and pop were so busy with extra jobs that they did not have a lot of time to spend with their children.
Youth were being left out in the cold as far as fun was concerned. The only “haunts” were the drug store, the Ice Cream Bar and the movies, which were jammed with soldiers and workers that only a war can bring.
The High School P.T.A. Executive Board realized that teenagers needed an attractive place with the right kind of leadership to call their own. Thus, with the help of the mayor and Superintendent of City Schools, the Starkville Youth Recreation Center was formed and given a section of the Armory.
Experience had shown it wise to have one or more adults present at all teenage activities. Thus, a hostess or an assistant was always present on open nights to keep things running smoothly-a form of accident insurance guaranteeing youth a fair hearing and a square deal from our community.
Where did the money come from? The businessmen of the City gave the financial start with which the first equipment was purchased as well as old equipment given. The youth boasted of it and were as proud as any antique owner is of his period pieces.
During the first five years of activities at the armory, money-making entertainment such as a style show, beauty revue, box supper, barn dance, baby contest, street dance and a carnival were held.
These funds were used to purchase a record player, records and dishes. Thus, the latest musical hits were available for listening and dancing and dishes were needed because sometimes the young people made candy and popcorn. They also purchased books and magazines which young people could read while there.
The Youth Center became self supporting but never turned down a donation or gift. The Youth Center was very democratic in enjoyment of recreation and working together. There was a self-government council of students, two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and one freshman. The members along with committees for finance, refreshments, music, publicity, entertainment, and decoration met twice each month with the hostess to plan diversified programs. These committees had frequent meetings since the belief in the spice of life ran high. Every high school boy and girl were urged to take advantage of the opportunity to come to the Youth Center every Friday and Saturday night to enjoy the fun and fellowship.
In 1954, summer programs were offered at the Youth Center on Jackson Street across from Overstreet School. The summer program opened on June 22 at the Community and Youth Center under the direction of Edward Wamsley, assisted by Miss Virginia Veitch with Mrs. John Lusk in charge of arts and crafts and Mrs. I. C. Pope as resident chaperone. The program was offered children from third grade through Senior High School. Evening programs were offered for junior and senior high students only.
The Youth Center was open during the mornings only and on Friday and Saturday nights. Arts and crafts were scheduled for Tuesdays at no cost. But there was a minimum charge for materials in leather craft, metal craft and basketry.
The center was closed on Sunday and Monday with the exception of the art exhibit room. The outdoor tennis court could be used after closing hours in the afternoon. Outdoor recreation included badminton, basketball, croquet, paddle tennis, and outdoor dancing. Indoor recreation included checkers, Chinese checkers, monopoly, table tennis, dominoes and card games.
May Gwin Waggoner remembers, “I have so many wonderful images of the Youth Center and of Starkville in general that I love to share the memories.
I think the Youth Center was new when I was in Junior High; we got to have dances with the older students and watch them dance...and we learned from them. Kitty Crumpton was the best dancer I had ever seen. To watch her dance to the song “Seventeen” made me look forward to the day when I would be seventeen--and I hoped I would be as good a dancer as she was. Mr. Shipley walked around the sides of the room where the boys were taking refuge. He said nothing, but the paddle he carried in his hand carried the message and sufficed to make the shiest of them ask us to dance, taking refuge as we did on the other side of the room, giggling and trying not to look nervous.
Mrs. Pope was the housemother, or resident. I remember her well also. And those solid wood floors and the elegant staircase; wouldn’t it have been fun to live there. In those years I read as much as I could; even now the plot of “Rebecca” takes place in my mind in the house that was the Youth Center.
In high school, of course, the Youth Center was the place for after-football game dances, as well as the TWERP dance and various and sundry other activities. My Girl Scout troop met there, as did several of the troops I later helped with. I was a member of the Youth Council: Mrs. Lucile Seitz, mother of Billy Seitz (whom we all had crushes on) was secretary and I can still hear her read the minutes, concluding with “Respectfully submitted, Lucile Seitz, Secretary.” I hear her voice every time I read minutes I have taken for my respective organizations.
David Cardwell remembers, “My memories of the Starkville Youth Center start in the early 60’s. The Youth Center offered a variety of arts and crafts classes and was a good meeting spot for community youth organizations like the Girl Scouts. It was also a great spot for Starkville’s teenagers to dance and socialize. In those days, Starkville offered few entertainment opportunities for young people so the Youth Center was very popular. It provided something really fun in a well supervised and safe, yet ‘cool’ environment.
The Youth Center was the large house directly across Jackson Street from Overstreet School. There were two large front rooms on either side of the entrance hallway then the dance room was behind the front room on the right. It had a jukebox filled with our favorite music (nickel a play). Whenever the music would stop, kids would call out for someone to ‘feed the jukebox.’
I remember looking forward to being old enough to go to the Youth Center. I believe it was the summer after our 6th grade year in school. Junior High nights were Tuesday and Thursday and Senior High nights were Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
I recall those first awkward nights at the Youth Center. All of the girls were in the dance room and all of the boys were in the front room trying to get up enough courage to ask the girls to dance. The way I remember it, the girls got tired of waiting on us and just stormed into the front room and pulled us onto the dance floor and we danced.
To help get us started, the Youth Center offered beginner dance classes. We learned several traditional ballroom dances like the ‘Rumba’ and ‘Cha Cha’ then we learned to ‘Bop’ so we could ‘Rock and Roll.’ After classes, we would practice our moves in the dance parlor. I am certain no one would call what I did “dancing” but I had a lot of fun. I remember going with a group from the Youth Center to the WCBI-TV studios to dance on the station’s local version of American Bandstand.
Mrs. Haney was the resident hostess/chaperone in those years. What I remember most about Mrs. Haney was that she was invisible. You never realized she was there yet she kept a keen eye on everything and on those rare occasions when someone’s behavior was inappropriate, she suddenly appeared and remedied the situation with her calm ‘don’t think you can fool me’ demeanor.
During my high school years, the jukebox gave way to live music. There were several excellent bands in and around Starkville during the mid to late 60’s. I played with The House of Essex along with Dick Mallory, George Chesteen, Wayne Hartness, Ed and Sam Johnston, Steve Tischer and Dale Cohenour. Our band played for dances at the Youth Center after every home football game and for any other occasion we could think of. There was always a great crowd and a lot of fun.”