Joined: 19 Aug 2005
Location: Starkville, MS
|Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2010 12:17 pm Post subject: Column by JB Leftwich
|From Macfadden’s razing
to Macfadden’s raising
By J B Leftwich
Lebanon Democrat Columnist
The proposed razing of Macfadden Auditorium calls to mind the raising of Macfadden Auditorium at Castle Heights Military Academy in 1941, my first year of teaching there.
The new building was much more than a school auditorium. It became a community center where countless plays and other entertainment functions were staged.
I remember the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas produced jointly by Castle Heights music department and Ward Belmont School for Girls in Nashville.
Mrs. J. H. Kraemer, known affectionately by cadets as Ma Kraemer, directed the cadet glee club and co-directed the operettas. They were professionally produced and staged.
The auditorium was completed early in December 1941, and was opened at the beginning of the second semester. I was one of the first half-dozen instructors to teach in a spacious classroom in the building’s basement.
Three days each week, we held chapel exercises. Graduation crowds often over-heated the auditorium, and we wished for air conditioning, which the building never had.
Bernarr Macfadden was usually present at graduation exercises and delighted in handing graduates their diplomas. The colorful publisher and physical fitness guru took pleasure in doing or saying things that often affronted Col. Harry L. Armstrong, long-time president of Castle Heights.
Once Macfadden, well advanced in years, excited the graduates and embarrassed the colonel by finishing his duties on stage and making a running leap off it as he exited the building.
Civic clubs made use of the building. I remember appearing in drag in a skit produced by the Lion’s Club. Mattie Donnell graciously allowed me to use one her dresses, which I managed to squeeze into. (My sons have a picture of me in the dress and enjoy showing it.)
The Kiwanis Club held its minstrels in the auditorium, a part of their history they now would like to erase. Often religious services were conducted therein.
When the school was forced to close its doors in 1986, Cracker Barrel bought the building, and Dan Evins, the company’s CEO and a Heights alumnus, hoped to restore it as a community center.
But times were changing and interests were shifting in other directions. Restoration plans never developed, and the building suffered the fate common to most vacant buildings.
In recent months, a group of alumni, including Tom Clemmons, made valiant efforts to purchase and restore the building. But their goal was never reached.
Just as alumni and other teachers, I rue its demise. But it can meet its doom with dignity and pride, and somewhat as a symbol of the times.
+ + +
Person of the Past: Mary Fahey.
She could be unbending or resilient, distant or loving, cranky or understanding.
But in one arena, she never varied. Her passion for the Castle Heights cadets was unswerving and intense.
To be more specific, her most intense passion was for the cadet “under-dog,” and to paint an accurate picture, her goal in life was to redeem the troublemaker. Except for football players whom she loved, she had little to do with highly rated cadets.
She came to Castle Heights as the commandant’s secretary in 1941, after a career at Shannon’s drugstore where cadets often sought her counsel. To many cadets, who thrived through her tough love, she was a mother-in-absentia.
Ted Lavit ’57, came to Castle Heights in the first grade and, in effect, grew up on the campus. Mary Fahey “adopted” him. Says Ted:
“It's hard to imagine a day in the life of a cadet without contact with Mary Fahey. She was in the dining room at every meal and was the eyes and ears of the commandant and superintendent. She was the postmistress, academy social secretary and as the secretary to Col. D. T. Ingram, was present each time a cadet answered a report before the commandant.
“The first time the word ‘tacky’ took root with me was when Mary Fahey, instead of placing a letter from my girlfriend, Rita Ianarella (Brooklyn, New York) in my mailbox, handed it to me with the back side up pointing to lipstick, glaring at me and at the same time uttering: ‘That's tacky’. Sometimes a cadet would receive his mail by special delivery from Mary Fahey without paying the extra postage.”
Mary Fahey lent to the character of Castle Heights. Many cadets changed their ways and graduated because of her tough love. And the football team knew it had no greater fan.
Her memory is honored in Academy Place where the clubhouse is named for her.
Jim Leftwich 63