Lafayette High celebrates school’s 75th anniversary this weekend

April 21, 2015

150420Lafayette750004Lafayette 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.

150420Lafayette750024On 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.”

150422LafayetteHS1941Lafayette High School in 1941. It is the oldest active public school building in Lexington.

It’s curtains for drama teacher and her team

January 16, 2011
A tearful Cindy Kewin is given flowers Sunday at the end of the last performance of her final production. Photo by Tom Eblen

A tearful Cindy Kewin is given flowers Sunday at the end of the last performance of her final production. Photo by Tom Eblen

You may remember a column I wrote earlier this month about Cindy Kewin, who was staging her last production after 27 years as the drama teacher at Lafayette High School in Lexington. She will retire in June. Also calling it quits are her production team for the past 20 years: musical director Debby Owen and choreographer Luanne Franklin.

The last performance of their last musical, Bye Bye Birdie, was Sunday afternoon. Their productions have developed a reputation for exceptional quality over the years, and this one certainly lived up to the standard. Bravo!

Cindy Kewin, left, Debby Owen, center, and Luanne Franklin join students to sing a few bars of a number toward the end of their last show Sunday. Photo by Tom Eblen

Cindy Kewin, left, Debby Owen, center, and Luanne Franklin join students to sing a few bars Sunday near the end of their last show. Photo by Tom Eblen

It’s ‘Bye Bye’ for Lafayette drama teacher and team

January 7, 2011

Lafayette High School drama students this month will present the musical Bye Bye Birdie. But it just as easily could be called Bye Bye Cindy, Debby and Luanne.

That is because this will be the last show for Cindy McLendon Kewin, a Lafayette alumna who retires in June after 27 years as the school’s drama teacher.

Also leaving the stage will be her close friends, musical director Debby Owen and choreographer Luanne Franklin. Since 1991, they have helped Kewin produce shows several notches above typical high school musicals.

“I have season tickets to Broadway in Chicago, but some of Cindy’s productions rival the big-time productions,” said Diane Massie, a Lafayette classmate of Kewin who now works as an advertising executive in Chicago.

Massie is coming home for this last show, and so are many others. More than 40 of Kewin’s former students will appear in one Bye Bye Birdie number. Three will sing, and Franklin, who owns a dance school in Paris, will dance.

“I can’t believe Mrs. K is retiring,” said Brance Cornelius, a former student who lives in New York and has been a professional stage actor for a decade.

He and others describe Kewin as having the special magic that makes a teacher great. Strict but approachable, she can be both a taskmaster and a friend. She sets high standards and motivates students to achieve them.

“She expects the best of her casts, and because it is obvious how much she cares about the shows, her casts deliver their best,” Cornelius said. “Debby is still one of the best musical directors I have had to this date, and Luanne can make any non-dancer look like Gene Kelly or Vera-Ellen.”

Kewin caught the theater bug as a Lafayette student under drama teachers Thelma Beeler, who was there 29 years, and Bob Gardner. Kewin’s first acting role was in a Beeler production of Bye Bye Birdie.

I must admit to having some inside knowledge: Kewin was a year ahead of me at Lafayette. She was editor of the school newspaper the year before I was, but I always knew that drama was her first love, especially after I watched her act in a production of Lil’ Abner — while holding a live pig.

After graduating from Asbury College, Kewin knew she wanted to be a high school drama teacher. When Gardner changed jobs in 1983, Kewin begged the principal, Dwight Price, to let her succeed Gardner. Her first show was Bye Bye Birdie.

“I get teased at Lafayette reunions,” she said, “because I never really left.”

Excellence was always her goal, Kewin said, but it became easier to achieve after she recruited Franklin and Owen, whose children were in her shows. Franklin’s daughter Lyndy eventually made it to Broadway as assistant dance captain and the understudy for several roles in A Chorus Line.

“That first year, we realized there was a chemistry among us,” said Franklin, a Lafayette alumna who also studied under Beeler. “Cindy has always been generous to give us a lot of creative license. We just play off each other, there is so much mutual respect.”

In addition to their own friendships, they value those they have made with students. “We build very special relationships with these kids,” Franklin said. “The learning is more than just music and dance and acting.”

After staging 23 shows together, they have many favorites — Footloose, Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man and Hello Dolly! among them. The 2003 production of Honk! was special because their students performed it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.

And then there was The Sound of Music. In the final scene, the student actors climbed a re-creation of the Alps on stage. Kewin’s husband, Kevin, helped build all of the shows’ sets.

“This has kind of kept us young,” Owen said of the 20-year collaboration. “Next year, we won’t know what to do with ourselves.”

Kewin’s successor hasn’t been named, but she hopes it will be Katie Franklin (no relation to Luanne). The 24-year-old Lafayette English teacher is Kewin’s assistant for Bye Bye Birdie and will direct the senior variety show in the spring.

“I hope I’ll be able to live up to her standard,” Katie Franklin said as I talked with them after a rehearsal last month in Lafayette’s darkened Beeler Auditorium.

“You had better,” Kewin told her with a smile, “or I’ll kick your butt.”


‘Bye Bye Birdie’

When: 7 p.m., Jan 13-15, 2 p.m. Jan. 16

Where: Beeler Auditorium, Lafayette High School, 400 Reed Lane

Tickets: $12 reserved, $10 at door

Ticket information: (859) 489-8572

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