Lafayette High School celebrates its 75th anniversary this Friday and Saturday. Below, banners honoring distinguished alumni, staff and school groups have been hung in the hallways recently. Photos by Tom Eblen
Lafayette High School’s 75th anniversary celebration this weekend will be tempered for me by the realization that it was not quite half that old when I was a student.
I met the current principal this week. He was born two years after I graduated.
At least I won’t be the oldest of the hundreds of alumni coming back to the school Friday and Saturday. Not by a long shot. There is a dedicated group of 80-something Lafayette Generals who graduated in the 1940s.
“We are a school that is deeply, deeply rooted in the community that surrounds us,” said Bryne Jacobs, 36, who is in his third year as principal.
“A lot of our students have parents who went here,” Jacobs said. “Some have grandparents. We even had a girl at freshman orientation last year whose great-grandmother attended Lafayette.”
Everyone is invited to attend the free festivities that begin at 5 p.m. Friday. Former faculty and staff members will greet alumni in the library. Then about 150 of the school’s 2,200 students will lead tours of the campus.
The main building dates to the school’s founding in 1939, but there have been several additions and at least two major renovations. After the tours and socializing, there will be a vintage sock-hop dance in the gym, featuring an all-alumni rock band organized by David Hinkle.
On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., alumni will begin gathering by decade to visit before walking over to Ishmael Stadium at 1 p.m. for ceremonies and performances by Lafayette’s award-winning band, orchestra and chorus.
Former Govs. John Y. Brown Jr. (class of 1952) and Ernie Fletcher (class of 1969) will speak. Jacobs thinks Lafayette may be the only high school in the state with two former Kentucky governors as alumni.
The event’s master of ceremonies is Tom Hammond (class of 1962), a longtime NBC sportscaster. He is the voice of the Olympic Games and the Kentucky Derby, which he will be calling the next Saturday.
“For him to take time out of his schedule in the week before the Derby says a lot about his feelings toward our school,” Jacobs said.
Lafayette is the oldest active public school building in Fayette County, built on the grounds of a former orphanage that included an 1850s mansion, The Elms, which burned a few months after the school opened.
Lafayette replaced Picadome High School and was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution who visited Lexington in 1825. Fayette County also is named for him.
Jacobs wants to use the anniversary to highlight the school’s history and distinguished alumni, including actors Harry Dean Stanton and Jim Varney, musician Ben Sollee and politician Gatewood Galbraith.
Lafayette also has produced many star athletes, including golfer Gay Brewer, sprinter Tyson Gay, Major League Baseball’s Austin Kearns and the NBA’s Dirk Minniefield. Retired basketball Coach Jock Sutherland is a Kentucky legend.
Banners have recently been put up in school hallways highlighting the accomplishments of alumni, staff and school groups.
Dwight Price, 84, principal from 1972-1987, thinks a big reason for Lafayette’s success has been its diversity of culture and family income. It was the first white school in Lexington to be integrated, in 1955.
“We have a cross-section of America,” Price said. “And the staff has been tremendous the whole time. The early teachers set a great example, and the rest of us tried to follow that.”
I have always felt like a beneficiary of that tradition. So much of my life was shaped by great Lafayette teachers, including Julie Dodd, J. Larry Moore, Loris Points and Anne Combs.
Band taught me everything about discipline and teamwork, plus a thing or two about music. Being editor of The Lafayette Times set me off on a rewarding journalism career.
Lafayette’s principal was raised in Memphis but graduated from the University of Kentucky. He and his wife, a teacher at Breckinridge Elementary, settled in the neighborhood and quickly came to appreciate Lafayette’s culture. So, after a dozen years at Dunbar High School, Jacobs jumped at the chance to lead Lafayette.
“I’m only the eighth person to sit in this chair, so there’s some opportunity for longevity,” he said. “If I could still be here when my boys come through these doors, in the classes of 2026 and 2028, I think that would be great.”