More than 1,000 alumni and their friends and family gathered on the grounds of the old Stoco High School for the eighth annual Stoco Community Reunion in Coal City. Stoco High School and the old Sophia High School were the predecessors to Independence High School.

Thirty years ago, Stoco High School’s last graduating class walked out its doors.

Nevertheless, cars from Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia — all over the country — packed its parking lot Saturday as more than 1,000 alumni and their friends and family gathered on the school grounds.

Those on hand for the eighth annual Stoco Community Reunion in Coal City and the event’s president, John Aliff, said it was a success despite rain. While an exact turnout was not available, Aliff said numbers had increased over the previous year — and the reunion’s usual draw is between 1,000 and 1,500.

“They come from all over — California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio ... In previous years, we had a man come here from Germany,” he said.

The reunion, Aliff noted, is planned throughout the year, and a hard-working group of citizens makes sure it happens. While events are free, donations are taken, and people have given generously. That also helps keep the reunion going.

The last high school class graduated in 1976, according to reunion committee member John Thompson. The building was used as a junior high until 1993.

Stoco High School and the old Sophia High School were the predecessors to Independence High School. The Stoco High School building is now owned by Clyde Bell, who allows the reunion committee to use the facility, and the football field was deeded by the Raleigh County Board of Education a few years ago to the Raleigh County Restoration Committee. It has now been developed into a park with a shelter and concession stand.

One of the most beautiful additions to the school building, Aliff said, is the veterans’ memorial, dedicated May 31, 2004. The memorial is still being expanded. It was designed by Stoco alumnus and Maryland resident Grant Helvey, then built by several committee members — too many to name.

The committee is in the process of selling bricks that can have any veteran’s name engraved, he said. All veterans are eligible, regardless of whether they are alumni of Stoco.

Even after 30 years, alumni keep coming back to their alma mater.

“I like to think there’s a great deal of allegiance to this part of the county,” Aliff said. “They even come here from out-of-state. It’s where their roots are. They come back and renew old acquaintances, and a lot of them still have family in the area. It’s also a great opportunity to make new acquaintances.

“It’s just a grand day for everyone. We feel blessed to continue to have this event.”

Aliff, now president of the Raleigh County Commission, graduated from the school in 1957, and his best memory is being a part of a small school, where people got to know each other better.

That was part of the appeal for Class of 1963 members Paulette Cole Parker of Daniels and Silas Manning of Winston-Salem, N.C.

“We were a small school where everybody knew everybody,” Parker said. “We were the tightest class. There’s about 18 to 20 of us girls that still meet up every month. It’s just great. We just talk so much.”

Parker said her class has its own reunions every so often, but Manning noted it had been about 12 years since he had been to a reunion.

“I threatened him,” Parker laughed. “I said, ‘Call Silas’, and if he didn’t come, I was coming after him.

“We were one of the closest classes. We were just one big bunch.”

Parker, laughing, gave Manning a hug.

“I needed a hug,” Manning joked.

Parker said her best high school memories were being a majorette and first performing at ball games, then going to a place called Teen Town that was beside a nearby drug store. After ball games, the place was so crowded some people could not even get inside. On a more serious note, the Vietnam War raged during that time.

“There was no nonsense for us because it was the middle of Vietnam,” she said. “We didn’t have the opportunity to go find ourselves. We just had to find ourselves real quick.”

Manning and Parker noted that because the class members were so close, there were no surprises as to what everyone managed to do with their lives after high school.

“I was the quiet one, and I turned out to be an accountant,” he said.

“Everyone turned out the way we thought they did — we were just that close,” Parker said.

— E-mail: apridemore@

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