If there’s ever an event that lifts history up close and personal, it’s a class reunion. Memories, after all, are what history is made of, and most ex-students have stories to tell from their senior year back to their first year in school.

In 1941-42, two groups of Robert E. Lee High School students were unique. They started out together in the first grade at various elementary schools but graduated a year apart at REL.  The split occurred when the Goose Creek district added the 12th grade to the system that previously had 11 grades.   

I’ll pass along a few things I learned about these 1941-42 classmates from reunion leaders Ernestine Moore Bright, Gertrude Moskowitz Teter and Lou Fuller Britton.

Ever heard of Kenneth “Smokey” Moak? A renowned marine artist, he was commissioned to do the official painting of the historic Elissa ship at Galveston. One of his paintings hangs in the royal palace in Oslo, Norway. Acquainted with his family in Baytown, I remember when Smokey left Baytown for Chicago, where he gained fame as a cartoonist and later switched to oil paintings.

Louis Strobel of Pearland became an IBM systems engineer at NASA … Rodney B. Reilly, a publisher with Gulf Publishing Co. … George Gordy, a retired chief engineer of Grace Lines Steam Ship Co.  … Ellis Leatherwood, a former state secretary of the Texas Elk Lodge …  Bob Lanier, a banking tycoon who had been described in his  yearbook as a “promising journalist.” (In high school, he worked part-time at The Sun.) Though Lanier didn’t know it then, one day he would be elected mayor of Houston. The title “Mayor Bob” stuck with him even after he left office  … Frank Salter of Lake Charles, La., a Calcasieu Parish district attorney who once ran for governor of Louisiana … H.L. Jackson of Grand Isle, La., a drilling supervisor … Susanna Stern Friedman, the head librarian at the Hyman Judah Schachtel Library in Houston.

Mildred Steed Schmidt, a counselor at the University of Houston, and Gertrude Moskowitz Teter, a counselor at Lee College … Gordon Ashwood, off-shore superintendent for Exxon drilling rigs east of Malaysia … Horace Thompson, an area supervisor at Exxon’s Baytown Refinery … Oswall Harman, an accountant and Goose Creek school trustee … Harold Hooper, senior engineer and father of Margie Hooper, Miss Baytown/Lee College … Gordon Cragg of Garden City, N.Y., vice president of Cargo-Mail Services for Pan American Airways … Herman “Tut” Thibodeaux, a former horticulturist for the city of Baytown and Sears retiree.

Class officers in 1941 included Louis Strobel, president; Jack Reber, vice president; and Doris Carroll Ferguson, secretary.

At the helm of the class of 1942 were Perry Whatley, president; A.R. Bettis, vice president; and Rose Enoch Cravey, secretary.

During a reunion, off-shore drilling boss Gordon Ashwood won a special award. Classmates – including many men with receding hairlines -- singled out Ashwood for having the most hair. Put that down in history!


Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor of The Sun. She can be reached at viewpoints@baytownsun.com, Attention: Wanda Orton.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.