TURKEY CREEK – Pat Gibson Ballard is what you would call an ardent alumnus, the force behind two high school reunions spanning decades of interest in the Greater Plant City community. Her latest project is the upcoming Turkey Creek High School Alumni Picnic, on Nov. 16, which follows the old Plant City High School alumni gathering, held in July.
Ballard’s childhood and marriage bind her to the two closed high schools, thanks to her Dec. 22 nuptials to Jerry Ballard 47 years ago. He graduated in 1960 from the old Plant City High, home of the Planters, while she graduated six years later from rival Turkey Creek High, home of the Gobblers, and now a middle school.
Together the Dover couple attends each other’s combined — or “multi-classes” — reunion, made necessary by the fact that as time advances, many classes don’t hold as many individual reunions anymore, said Pat Ballard, who plans both gatherings. Also, many people know people “who were ahead of them in school or behind.”
This year’s Turkey Creek High School Alumni Picnic, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16, is for alumni “who attended any class through the year 1972,” Pat Ballard said. The cost is $15 per person and includes a lunch by Southern Style Catering at the Brownlee Barn at 5230 Berry Patch Road in the Turkey Creek area of Dover, where Connell and Jerry Smith roads meet.
“People ask me why I like to put so much work into planning the reunions,” Ballard said. “When I see the faces of people who haven’t seen each other for years, the excitement, the joy, that makes it all worthwhile to me. It’s just a good feeling to visit with people and talk with people you haven’t seen in a long time.”
For Plant City alumni, the July reunion was held July 27 at the Florida Strawberry Festival Expo Hall, less than one mile from the old school, which now houses Tomlin Middle School, Ballard said. It was for the classes 1956 through 1972.
The Turkey Creek reunion, she added, started with a sock hop in 2011 and has evolved into an alumni picnic, now in its third presentation. “It’s a great time for all of us to get back together,” she said. “Turkey Creek has always been like a family. Back then you were either related or you were friends with everyone.”
“Back then” is before today’s Plant City High School, home of the Raiders, opened its doors at 1 Raider Place to an enrollment populated with students from the newly closed Turkey Creek, Marshall, Pinecrest and old Plant City high schools. The year was 1972 and Durant and Strawberry Crest high schools wouldn’t open for another 23 and 37 years, respectively.
“We were an agricultural community, which means we had to go home and work in the fields,” Ballard said about her high school days 47 years ago. “Some of us took care of the kids so our parents could work out in the fields. Either way, everyone worked hard.”
Now, it’s time to remember.
“There were a lot of mixed feelings about closing Turkey Creek,” said Ballard, whose graduating class had about 90 members. “Of course, we would have liked to see it continue the way it was, because that was our alma mater, and I’m sure the other schools felt the same way. The big school, to me, lacks the closeness, the bonding that smaller schools have.”
Today’s Plant City High is where the Ballards’ children, Jay and Susan Ballard Beck, earned their diplomas, in 1988 and 1993, respectively.
Still, for Pat Ballard, old allegiances are hard to shake, as came to light when the discussion for this year’s old Plant City High School reunion concerned the banner that was to accompany a goal-post decoration.
“They wanted it to read, ‘Go Planters, Beat the Creek,’ ” said Ballard, who overruled the sentiment. “But I told them, ‘There are limits. I can only go so far.’ ”
For information about the Nov. 16 Turkey Creek High School Alumni Picnic, contact Pat Ballard at (813) 659-1240, or by email at [email protected]