Great memories from the past can become great memories of the present with some imagination and sometimes with a lot of work. Tift College created loads of memories for its students, faculty and staff and for the Forsyth community, and the annual May Day celebration was an event that fueled many of the most lasting memories.
After a conversation with friends, Shelia Wade Keener, Tift Class of 1973, decided that it would be fun to get together as many past May Day participants as possible to share their memories. She, with help from some friends, took on the arduous task of contacting as many May Queens, members of the May Court and WAA Presidents as possible from 1950 to 1987 and inviting them to Forsyth for an afternoon of re-connecting and sharing memories.
She secured the Monroe County Clubhouse and planned decorations and refreshments in all those pastel, shiny, dressy May Day styles. She began researching yearbooks and archives and picking at brains for all the memories she could find to assemble information about over 30 May Day celebrations and all the people involved in them.
It took time and effort, but Shelia said she had a lot of fun along the way with the people she met and all the dots she connected as she created images of the Tift College May Day festivities over the years.She said that of the people she invited to the luncheon on May 4, over 90 responded.
“It started as a joke at Grits last year,” said Shelia. “Some of them haven’t seen each other since they graduated.”
However, many of those who reigned as May Day queens, served on the queen’s court or helped organize May Day activities have made Forsyth their home. Wynella Martin of the Class of 1950 represented the most distant May Day at the luncheon. Some of the other Forsyth ladies present were Kay Bonner, Adecia Walker, Mary Isla Haygood, Carey Russell, LaVue Sanders, Shelly Shuman and Johnnie Sylvain.
Signs, posters, a photo backdrop, tables bedecked with pastel ribbons and flowers and even be-jeweled name tags all proclaimed the elegant May Day court salute to Spring. Pictures from the past showed girls in flowing, formal dresses, ready to welcome all admirers, and memories of the Maypole dance on the courthouse lawn were shared.
“Bless our fellowship and our sisterhood and those who prepared this luncheon, especially Shelia,” was the prayer before the guests lined up for refreshments.
“I never talked to so many people I didn’t know,” said Shelia. “Tift girls will talk to anyone. Thank you for making a pipe dream a reality.”
She said she felt like she asked people to help her identify hundreds of thousands of pictures. She said she found some amazing memories along the way.
One of the special guests was Dr. Cathryn Futral, a beloved Tift College professor. As Shelia introduced Gloria Raney Dean, one of those with a good memory, she commented, “I never saw so many accolades as her senior yearbook.”
Shelia said she did find a May Day pattern; many who served on the court eventually became May queen. There were special stories of younger brothers who served on their sister’s courts. There were memories of the Gordon Military College cadets who escorted the May queen and her court.
Shelly Salter Shuman kept extensive scrapbooks and yearbooks. She explained how her Tift class from the 1960’s gets together quarterly at different places around Georgia.
After the pink, lavender, baby blue, pale yellow or mint green full-skirted antebellum-style dresses or some variation all made alike by dedicated seamstresses, there were field days with three-legged races, high jump contests, cheerleading exhibitions. There were memories of the bowling league, the volleyball teams, the tumbling team, the swimming club and earning athletic letters on the point system.
“This has far exceeded my expectations!” said Shelia.