Mount Vernon Though Fort Hunt High School has not operated for over 20 years, hundreds of graduates will reunite this weekend at Fort Hunt Park to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.
Fort Hunt High faced many changes since opening its doors 50 years ago, but what remains is a community of alumni kept together by the pride they hold for their alma mater.
“We’re celebrating the spirit that’s still alive, and the spirit we’re trying to keep going,” said alumni association President Joseph Gililland.
First opened in 1963, due to an increasing student population in area, Fort Hunt High had a short but successful stint as a high school. Tom Harvey, a member of the class of 1967, fondly remembered the community that Fort Hunt created. “It was an incredible group of people,” said Harvey, whose class was the first to attend all four years at the school. “[Fort Hunt] was absolutely the quintessential neighborhood high school.”
According to another graduate, Patricia Miller, who attended the school almost a decade after Harvey, the school also featured some of the strongest spirit around. “We were proud of our sports teams, proud of our band and proud of our drama department” said Miller, “[and] I think that sense of pride carries on to this day.”
However, even this immense pride could not stop the school from shutting down in 1985 due to decreased enrollment, only 22 years after it opened. Gililland explained the closing as something “everyone thought would never happen, up until the spring of ’85.”
According to Gililland, when the closure did finally materialize, much of the Fort Hunt memorabilia, such as athletic uniforms, banners and trophies, was thrown away by the county, stripping away much of the school’s history in the process.
In the 28 years since the closing, the property that was once Fort Hunt High School has changed a great deal, yet the admiration and esteem the alumni feels for their high school has remained intact.
It was for this reason that Gililland began attending reunions, but he soon found himself frustrated by the disorganization. “I thought to myself, we’ve got to do better than this,” said Gililland. As a result, he started organizing his own gatherings, contacting as many people from his class as he could.
This eventually led Gililland to come into contact with Fort Hunt alumna Terry Kinder Alers, a graduate of the class of 1979, who suggested that instead of organizing 20 separate events for the 20 graduating classes, they could collaborate to create one “all-class event.”
From this, Alers and Gililland began work on compiling a comprehensive list of Fort Hunt alumni. Using old graduation commencement programs, they, with the help of other volunteers, were able to gather the almost 10,000 names of alumni from 20 graduating classes. Once completed, Gililland and Alers began notifying those on the list about the association.
By the end of the year almost 2,000 graduates had registered, a fact that Gililland is extremely proud of. “Not everyone had a great time in high school, [but] most people are happy to register, and it feels good to get everybody reconnected,” said Gililland.
Since its creation and implementation, the alumni association has put on all-class events for the past two years, which Gililland described as a huge success.
“At first there was some resistance,” said Gililland. “They were saying, we don’t want to hang around with those babies that graduated in ’83, [or] we don’t want to hang out with those old people from the class of ’65, but it turns out everybody gets along great.
“Everybody went to the same school and rooted for the same football team on Friday night. We have a lot in common,” said Gililland who also believes that the fact that the Fort Hunt alumni are “a finite group” adds an incentive to get together.
Alers, meanwhile, described the upcoming event as a chance to celebrate “a new Federals legacy while reinforcing our historic presence within the Fort Hunt community.”
“We are beginning to recognize not only our own eventual mortality, but also a fading knowledge about our very existence,” said Alers.
“At first there was some resistance. They were saying, we don’t want to hang around with those babies that graduated in ’83, [or] we don’t want to hang out with those old people from the class of ’65, but it turns out everybody gets along great.”
— Joseph Gililland
The alumni association is keeping Fort Hunt alive through more than reunion events. The association, according to Gililland, worked with the county to ensure that the Fort Hunt cannons will remain out front of the property, even after renovations on Carl Sandburg Middle School are completed. “We had to work with the Fairfax County Public Schools to let them know those cannons were our past and our memory,” said Gililland.
Additionally, the association has set up a scholarship award in Fort Hunt’s name for a selected college-bound senior from West Potomac, the first of which was awarded this year.
The reunion’s first events will kick off Friday and Saturday with individual class events, eventually culminating into the all-class celebration on Sunday which Gililland believes is not simply a celebration of high school, but “a chance to reconnect with everybody and recognize things have changed. We don’t want the name of Fort Hunt High School to disappear.”