This column was originally published in 2004.

Going down memory lane with us today is Willena Latapie Cherry, who graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1946.

For starters, she remembers when the Quack Shack held dances in the school gym before the teen social center obtained its own building.

During the school year of 1944-45, REL students organized the original Quack Shack, using three-fourths of the space in the gym for dancing and the remaining area for a game room. The center usually was open during weekend nights.

Winnie Brown, then dean of girls at REL, sponsored the Student Council and provided a guiding role in creating the Quack Shack.  The gym had a movable wall, used during school hours to divide the boys and girls physical education classes, and there also was a stage on which programs were presented.

Quack Shack dancers used a juke box, Willena said, and sometimes a student band would play.

The first officers elected for the Quack Shack were Kirk Busch, president; S.L. Knowles, vice president; and Betty Jo Cope, secretary. The governing body also included representatives from each class. Willena, that first year, was a representative from the junior class.

She shared another fond memory concerning Winnie Brown and the Student Council. During Willena’s senior year in 1945-46, Mrs. Brown was responsible for REL joining the Southern Assembly of Student Councils. “She was so instrumental in promoting Lee while she was there,” Willena said, “and later (as its first principal) in promoting Sterling. What a wonderful lady.”

Willena was elected to go with Mrs. Brown to the convention of the Southern Association of Students in Little Rock, Ark., and never will forget what a great experience that was.

After graduating from REL, Willena attended Lee College and enjoyed being a radio commentator for 15 minutes every Sunday afternoon. Byard Sooy, an Exxon employee who had a second job working for the new Radio Station KREL on Decker Drive, visited the LC drama class in search of a student to present a weekly talk on behalf of the Texan Theater. Before the Brunson Theater opened, the Texan was the primary movie entertainment on Texas Avenue.

Willena was selected for the radio assignment.  “My pay was two tickets to the Texan every week. It was a fun experience.”

More Quack Shack history: The teen center moved across the road from REL in 1949 into a two-story, frame building donated by the Baytown Ordnance Works, an industry active here during World War II.

The Baytown Jaycees sponsored the center with Gander track coach Beverly Rockhold and his wife Lucile serving as directors.

Sam Stassi owned the property, leasing it to the Jaycees for a dollar a year.

If any one person merits the title of “Father of the Quack Shack” it would be W.D. “Bill” Hinson, who in the mid-1940s urged the Jaycees to provide a form of teen recreation. The talk Hinson made about providing recreation for youth served as the catalyst for the Quack Shack. At the time he was a county probation officer but soon would become the principal of Horace Mann Junior High School and eventually, an assistant superintendent in the Goose Creek district.

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


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