Sixty years ago, Ponte Vedra Beach did not much resemble what it looks like today. Most of the town was huddled around the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, and there were more dirt roads than paved. When PVPV/Rawlings Elementary School was built, it was a big deal.
Sam Veal, a lifelong resident of Ponte Vedra and first-year student of PVPV/Rawlings Elementary School in 1959, said there were days when the students weren’t allowed to play outside because of wild boars on the loose.
“You got to remember that when I went here, this was a little gravel two-lane road,” Veal said. “There was no bypass. There was nothing to the north.”
The Class of ’59 might have seen some dramatic changes throughout the years, but one thing has remained consistent — the school itself. In fact, the building is the oldest public building in Ponte Vedra Beach that still exists.
The school celebrated its 60th anniversary last February. Many local dignitaries are associated with the school, including, Jean Langston, the daughter of Roy and Alice Landrum; Sid Mickler and Harriet LeMaster.
Randy Brown was PTO president and master of fall ceremonies during the school’s first year. He moved to Ponte Vedra Beach in 1946. His father was the president of the Ponte Vedra Community Association in the 1950s and was instrumental in getting Eunice Pitt Odom Semmes to donate the 40 acres of land for the school. During his tenure, he was infamous for donning a top hat and tailcoat “morning suit” while hosting the elementary school’s fall festival.
George McLatchey and Jean Brooker Ellis were fourth-grade students on the first day the school opened in 1959 and were in Mrs. Myra Brown’s class. Years later, both McLatchey and Ellis would grow up and become teachers at PVPV/Rawlings. McLatchey taught from 1971 to 1981 before moving to Nease High School. Ellis taught fifth grade from 1975 to 2008. Both remember their time with Randy Brown, and McLatchey said Brown was the inspiration for his career in teaching.
Notable in the school’s history is also Cynthia Prince, who started the Readers Aloud program in 1986. Currently living at Vicar’s Landing, Prince is known as a leader in literacy in Ponte Vedra Beach for founding the program, which brings in a senior from the community to read aloud for 30 minutes a week in every classroom at PVPV. The Readers Aloud Program is still inspiring children today at the school.
Mrs. Betty Hatcher, Sam Veal’s fourth grade teacher in 1959, said some of her strongest memories from that first year involved a young Sam Veal standing up every day at lunch holding his sandwich high while it dripped down his arm. He always yelled, “Anybody else got a peanut butter SAM-ICH?” At the 60th Anniversary ceremony, Veal honored Hatcher with a PB&J, wrapped tightly in a brown paper bag.
Many things have changed since PVPV/Rawlings opened 60 years ago, however, some things always seem to remain the same.