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Bill Kirby Jr.: First graduating class of Fayetteville Academy celebrates 50 years


Once upon a time, they were just teenagers and settling into the single building surrounded by pine trees along Morganton Road.

You might say they were a touch apprehensive.

After all, Fayetteville Academy was a fledgling private school when the first bell rang in September 1970, with Joe Lassister as the no-nonsense headmaster with a 20-member teaching faculty.

“Classes were small, and the teachers cared about our learning,” Zan Monroe, 67, says about the first graduating class of 1973 that returned to the school Friday to celebrate 50 years. “It was college preparatory, and we were really prepared. Our graduating class was 12 of us, as I recall. They say I was senior class president, but I cannot verify that from my memory.”

He was the senior class president.

Other class members were James Davidson, Lauren Barnett, Barbara “Barbie” Newman, Marlene Johnson, Kenneth Norris, Virginia “Ginny” Lee, Jimmy Swann, Margaret deRosset and Nancy Boyette. Classmates Steven Dawson and John Harvey Oliver III are deceased.

The class of ’73 shared in the celebration with the classes of 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977.

“The first five classes were included,” says Alison Jones, director of communication and alumni relations for the school, “because they were all a close-knit bunch.”

All classes were recognized Friday at halftime of the boys’ varsity basketball game and later attended a reception at Luigi’s Italian Chophouse and Bar on North McPherson Church Road.

“It’s hard to realize 50 years have passed and flown by,” says Nancy Boyette Miller, 67. “My father was one of the founders of the school. Parents, at least in my family, back then made the decision about their children's education. I went because I was told that was where I was going, and looking back, I’m so thankful I did. In our first year of 10th grade, I experienced two firsts. It was the first time I had had a male teacher, and I had two. It also was the first time I was in class with an African American, a beautiful, graceful girl that I enjoyed getting to know.”

The first board of directors for the school included Graham A. Bell, Oscar L. Norris, Leon Sugar, Mrs. Stuart V. Kerr, Mrs. Richard S. Kelly Jr., John Boyette, M.J. Weeks, C.C. Ingram, Robert Exum, Dr. Charles Hoffman, Dr. Robert Caviness, Dorothy Hutaff, James D. Adams Jr., Richard Player Jr., H.H. Williamson, Charles Fox, J. Duane Gilliam, Gregory Holmes, Phillip B. Harris, James M. Thornton, Walter C. Moorman, Dr. Albert Stewart Jr., Col. Jean Hollstein and Billy Bill.

Faculty members for all grades under Lassiter were Dorothy McGougan, Janie Williams, Barbara Lambert, Otis P. Lambert, Mary Sutton, Phyllis Watson, Faye Thornton, Margaret Nicholas, Delores Neal, Lillian Edwards, Marsha Beard McLaurin, Margaret Gehrke, Annette Cargill, Donna McCormick, Linda Carver, Ann Maddox, Delos Hanna, W. Lethco Wrenn, Michael Lewis and James A. Hall Jr.

‘Great learning environment’

“We were seniors for three years — leaders of the school,” Monroe says about the school that opened with grades one through 10. “We had to choose the school colors and mascot. We created the first yearbook. I think I was the editor of one of them. By 1973, we had grown to a couple of buildings and the new gym.”

He looks back on the academy with appreciation.

“It was a great learning environment,” says Monroe, who attended Florida Institute of Technology after graduation before transferring to N.C. State University to study marine biology and compete for a year on the men’s varsity tennis team. “I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau, but organic chemistry sent me home.”

Monroe opened Cloverfield Tennis and Swim Club in Eastover, where he was a U.S. Professional Tennis Association member for 10 years while also working as a land developer and homebuilder.

Today, he is chief executive officer of Longleaf Pines Realtor Association after working in real estate since 1985. He has taught real-estate classes in every state with the exception of South Dakota, and he has taught seminars in Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.

‘Yes, I was nervous but …’

Miller recalls her years at the academy with equal appreciation.

“Yes, I was nervous but trusted it would work,” she says about her initial enrollment at the academy. “It helped it was small, so that helped with the nerves. I would have been nervous at Terry Sanford High, too, because it would have been the first year there. So, it was a wash. I was wondering how good an education I was getting.”

Miller wasn’t wondering by graduation.

“I was accepted into five colleges,” she says.

Miller graduated in 1977 from Meredith College with a degree in business administration with a concentration in management that led to a position with Electronic Data Systems in Buffalo, New York, and later with Carolina Power & Light in Asheville, where she met and married her husband. The couple raised two children and now reside in Durham.

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We had great teachers’

Virginia “Ginny” Lee Starks enrolled at the academy after attending boarding school in Gainesville, Georgia.

And she’s grateful she did.

“I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be in one of the first graduating classes there,” says Starks, 67, who is the daughter of former Mayor Jack Lee. “Though I didn’t know my classmates initially, we formed a fairly nice group of kids. We had great teachers who only wanted us to succeed, and we did.”

She attended Mitchell Community College in Statesville for one year, followed by earning a secretarial degree from Hardbarger Business College in Raleigh. She also worked in the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1976 that led to a position with a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“So, I went and then worked on the ’80 Reagan campaign,” she says, when Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide victory to become the 40th president.

Starks later worked in the departments of Justice, Interior and Energy.

She married a diplomatic security officer with the U.S. State Department in 1985 and later lived in Somalia, Australia and the Philippines while raising three children. She and her husband resided in Eagle River, Wisconsin, 15 years before they returned to North Carolina.

“We found a lovely home here in Kinston and love it,” Starks says. “We enjoy being close enough to Fayetteville and Raleigh to see family and friends.”


Friday was for memories of yesteryear for Fayetteville Academy’s Class of 1973. For cheering on the basketball team at the old Salvation Army gymnasium before the school had one of its own. For school dances and cramming for exams and just being with one another.

Memories, too, for the Class of 1974 that gave the us Joe Riddle III, who has become a successful land developer in this city, and John Franklin Johnson III, who is a prominent real-estate broker; for the Class of 1975 that gave us Mike Williford, the school’s boys’ varsity basketball standout who became a noted attorney in town and a member of the University of North Carolina board of governors; Barbara Lambert, Class of 1976, a leader of the girls’ varsity basketball team who would follow in her parents’ footsteps as a teacher at the school and now serves as the longtime admissions director; and retired pharmacist Susan Clelland Hinkamp and City Council Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins from the Class of 1977.

“The lessons I learned from the Fayetteville Academy prepared me well for a life well lived,” Zan Monroe says. “I stay in touch with classmates who are local, seeing some of them every week. We work together, build together and helped build Fayetteville into a better city.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.
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