More than 200 people attend Saturday’s GHS all-school reunion

Photo courtesy Janet Taber Donna Murphy Walker, who graduated from Gainesville High School in 1944, was given an award for being the oldest graduate who attended the all-school reunion Saturday at the school. The award was delivered by Trevor Hicks, a 2007 GHS graduate who is now assistant junior/senior high principal. Hicks helped with reunion – and was given the award as the youngest graduate there.

Photo courtesy Janet Taber Joan Rackley Young, right, a 1957 GHS grad, was given the award as the alum who came the farthest to attending Saturday’s all-school reunion. She lives in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and was accompanied by her sister, 1962 grad Judy Rackley Vangilder of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Reunion chair Paula Herd Rose presented the award.

Photo courtesy Janet Taber The three Gainesville High School graduates who were honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award at the Sept. 4 all-school reunion were John Harlin, seated, class of 1954; Karla Lamar Eslinger, second from left, class of 1977; and Chris Harlin, second from right, class of 1987. They are pictured with reunion chair Paula Rose (class of 1979), left, and Sue Ann Luna Jones (class of 1969), right, who presented the awards during the afternoon program.

Times photo / Sue Ann Jones Current GHS students helped welcome former students to the all-school reunion Saturday. FBLA members, with sponsor Chelsey Gilmore, served lunch to 200 diners. FFA members, including Wyatt Alms, class of 2023, shuttled arriving guests from the parking lot to the building, including Carol Crownover Tucker, class of 1965, shown here. The FFA members, with sponsor Jon Wilson, also served as door-holders and greeters and also helped with setup and takedown.

More than 200 people from several states attended the Gainesville High School all-school reunion Saturday. Chairperson Paula Herd Rose said the 20-plus-member organizing committee was pleased with the turnout and the enthusiastic response of those who attended.

Paula said the four oldest alumni who attended the reunion all graduated in the 1940s. Mary White Stewart, who grew up in the Nottinghill area and graduated in 1945, now lives in St. Louis; 1946 graduate Calvin Williamson grew up in Nottinghill and drove himself to the reunion from his home in Oklahoma City. Lifelong Zanoni resident Colene Pitcock Rose graduated in 1949, and 1944 graduate Donna Murphy Walker grew up in the Souder area and now lives in Ava. (Donna won the award for being the oldest graduate in attendance.)

Other attendees included 34 alumni who graduated in the 1950s; 57 who graduated in the 1960s; 39 who graduated in the 1970s; 25 who graduated in the 1980s. Only two people who had graduated in the 1990s and later attended. One of them, 2007 graduate Trevor Hicks, won the award for being the youngest alum in attendance; Hicks, now Gainesville assistant high school and junior high principal, also helped with the reunion.

During the morning, 150 graduates registered; many were accompanied by friends, spouses or other family members. Attendees mingled with friends and classmates, looking over tables of loose photos that were available for the taking. They also browsed a collection of old yearbooks that were available for purchase then moved on to the hospitality room or to classrooms where specific years’ graduates gathered before heading to the cafeteria, where lunch was served by current GHS teacher Chelsey Gilmore and Gainesville FBLA members. Two hundred meals were served, Paula said.


Burkhart’s school prints 

GHS graduates Barbara Rackley Luna and Janet Taber sold prints of a picture of the old Gainesville School created several years ago by the late James Burkhart, a beloved Ozarks artist. The original was owned by the First Home Bank branch in Gainesville (now Stockmens Bank) which operates in a remodeled portion of the old school’s gym on Elm Street in Gainesville. Burkhart and the bank allowed prints to be made of the picture as a fundraiser for the alumni association’s annual scholarship. The artist, who died in 2011, oversaw the process in Springfield so that the prints met his high standards, recalled Janet Taber, who accompanied him to Springfield all those years ago. 

Burkhart signed and numbered 200 of the prints – and also gave the alumni association several unsigned and unnumbered copies to sell. The prints have been sold at previous reunions, and Saturday, the last of the numbered and signed prints were sold, said Barbara Luna. A few unsigned, unnumbered copies remain. The price is $30 plus shipping, if mailed. For more information, contact Barbara at 417-712-1946 or 

The GHS Alumni Scholarship Fund merged a few years ago with the Rex Ebrite Memorial Scholarship fund, with the permission of the Ebrite fund’s three founders, the late Jollie Pace, Don Rackley and Gene Johnson. 


Recognitions and awards

The afternoon program began with music performed by GHS grads Kim Lamar Sullivan and Kris Gillespie Ledbetter. Herd then presented award certificates to the youngest and oldest graduate attending, and also to the graduate who had come the farthest.

GHS graduate and current assistant principal Hicks, class of 2007, was the youngest alum in attendance. Herd also noted that Hicks is the son of the late June Hicks, a longtime Gainesville educator. 

The award for oldest graduate in attendance went to Donna Murphy Walker, class of 1944, now living in Ava. Walker, who will be 94 on Sept. 13. She attended the reunion with her daughter-in-law, Sandra Walker, a former Gainesville School employee. Walker’s brother, Max Murphy, class of 1956, also attended the reunion along with his wife, Wanda, who graduated from Ava High School.

Fort Walton Beach, Florida, resident Joan Rackley Young, class of 1957, was given the award as the graduate who had come the farthest to attend the event. She was accompanied by her sister, 1962 graduate Judy Rackley VanGilder of Jonesboro, Arkansas.  

These former school employees were recognized: Retired kindergarten teacher Kris Gillespie Ledbetter, former elementary principal Karla Eslinger, secretary Colene Rose, teachers Sandra Walker and Barbara Luna, and paraprofessional and substitute teacher Kay Rackley Young. Former teacher Wayman King, former cook Rebecca Long Madewell and former cook and paraprofessional Pam Usrey McGinnis also attended but weren’t present when the former employees were recognized. Reunion chair Paula Rose is also a former teacher; she retired in 2014.


Distinguished Alumni Award

Three GHS graduates were presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award, and for all three, the reunion was a family affair.

Distinguished Alumni Award recipient John Harlin, class of 1954, was accompanied by his wife, Linda, a Houston (Missouri) High School graduate, as well as his sister, Sherrill Harlin Hardcastle and her husband Joe (both GHS 1957 grads) and Joe’s brother Jerry Hardcastle (class of 1954). John and Linda Harlin’s son, Chris Harlin (class of 1987), was also honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

The Harlins were recognized for their leadership at what is now Century Bank of the Ozarks, established by the Harlin family as the Bank of Gainesville in 1894, and for their many years of service to the community. 

John Harlin’s achievements include not only his banking and community leadership but also his work as a professional comedian. After attending what is now Missouri State University, he served four years in the Air Force and entered the Air Force Talent Contests – and won the World-Wide Contest in Comedy. After his discharge, he was in demand for many years as an after-dinner or keynote speaker for business conventions and other meetings. He and Linda lived in West Plains for three years then moved home to Gainesville in 1963, where he joined his family in operating the bank. In addition to serving as past-president and CEO of the bank for many years, John has also served on many community and state boards and in nonprofit organizations, including serving as Hootin an Hollarin Committee chairman for many years.

Chris Harlin, who has been CEO of Century Bank since 1999, is the fourth generation of the Harlin family to do so. Chris is also chairman of Springfield-based Legacy Bank and Trust, which has five locations. He graduated from what is now Missouri State University in 1991. Like his dad, Chris has served on many community and state boards, including the Missouri Bankers Association, where Chris was the third generation of his family to serve as MBA president. He followed in the footsteps of his dad and grandfather, the late H. T. Harlin. The Harlins are the only family in the state to have had three generations serve as MBA president. 

Like his parents, Chris has also been part of the Hootin an Hollarin Committee for many years, holding the treasurer’s job. He currently serves alongside his mother, Linda, who was the queen pageant director for many years and now handles publicity duties. Chris’ wife, Missy, also served on the Hootin an Hollarin committee for several years as parade chairperson. 

The Harlins have two daughters, Faith Harlin, a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and Abbi Harlin Martin, who also lives in Fayetteville with her husband, Alex Martin. Abbi is a freelance graphic designer, and Alex is vice president in charge of Century Bank’s new Loan Production Office in Fayetteville.

The third Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, 1977 GHS graduate Karla Lamar Eslinger, currently serves as Missouri Senator representing the 33rd District. She was elected senator in 2020 after first being elected to the Missouri Legislature in 2018 as the 155th House District Representative. She holds a teaching degree from the College of the Ozarks, an educational administration degree from what is now Missouri State University and a doctoral degree from the University of Missouri.

Before being elected to the legislature, Karla spent nearly 40 years as an educator, including a year as principal at Gainesville Elementary School. She retired as superintendent of the West Plains School District in 2009 and then served as assistant commissioner of education for the Missouri Department of Education. She was also a senior analyst for AEM Corporation, providing technical assistance to school districts nationwide under contract with the U.S. Department of Education. Karla has been honored for her service by many educational and governmental groups. 

She and her husband, David Eslinger, have two daughters, Chelsey Gil-more and Katy Chapman; both are teachers. Chelsey teaches at GHS, where her husband, Justin Gilmore is superintendent. Chelsey and Justin were both present – and working – during the reunion. Karla’s sister, Kim Lamar Sullivan (class of 1976), was one of the entertainers who opened the afternoon program, and her brother, Jeff Lamar (1978), also attended the reunion.

Thanks and gratitude

Reunion chairperson Paula Rose told the Times she was pleased with how the reunion played out, and she expressed sincere gratitude to her fellow committee members and to the dozens of people who helped provide or track down classmates’ contact information.

Paula also thanked others who worked behind the scenes to make the day a success, including GHS teacher Chelsey Gilmore and members of the Gainesville FBLA, who served the meal and helped clean up afterward. Chelsey also designed and printed all the registration sign-up sheets, the award certificates and all the directional and information signs posted on doors and walls, Paula said. 

She also expressed thanks to GHS ag teacher Jon Wilson and the FFA members who shuttled arriving guests to the building Saturday morning and served as greeters and door-holders and then also helped with setup and takedown.

Rob Collins of D&D Signs also deserves thanks, said Paula, for helping with the outdoor signage, and so does Wayman King of KingCo Printing, “who spent many hours working on 200 flyers and mailing labels and printing maps and lunch tickets.”

Ozark County Times

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