recent photo of Union Grove Elem School |
Photo courtesy Sam Lester
Grove appears clearly on Upshur County maps, just outside the Gladewater
From the 1930s into the 40s - Union Grove had a church,
a cemetery, and a high school with a student body of about 125.
Upshur County Chronicles
I remember that balmy evening in May as I sat nervously waiting
for the principal to call my name signaling my turn to step up and receive my
Union Grove High School diploma. Sitting next to me was my brother Sam - also
waiting his turn. Around the state thousands of others were experiencing the same
thing…young, eager teenagers embarking on a journey into the future. But with
Sam and me it was different. We were both in our seventies.
Perry, with the help of others, provided the means for those who interrupted their
education to enter the service in World War Two to receive their belated diplomas.
Here we were, almost 60 years later finally becoming high school graduates.
Earlier that day Sam and I had spent a wonderful afternoon at the home of
Lloyd Pyle, a fellow graduate of Union Grove along with several other alumni of
the school. They had planned a little party in our honor prior to the graduation
ceremony. We were a bit embarrassed by the attention since almost all the other
guests had also been in the war; some with records that far surpassed ours. The
only difference was, we were the only ones receiving diplomas that night.
The fellowship and the conversation were warm and inviting as we sat around
and swapped stories from over a half-century before. Some of them I will share
with you now.
Grove in Dark Jerseys - East Mountain in Light|
Photo courtesy Sam Lester
Union Grove vs East Mountain - 1941
# 11 Thurman Starkley, #12 J.D. (Kinky) White, #15 Don McAfee, #17 Frank
Smith, # 20, Jo Berry Floyd, #22 Earl Tackett, #24 James Coulter, #40 Morris Kirk
(for some reason wearing a white jersey) Player nearer the camera on the right
with his arm around the other player is Bill McKean.
This photo was taken
after the Union Grove-East Mountain game in 1941. The game was always played on
neutral ground in Gilmer during the YAMBOREE festival. In those days there was
no such thing as a face mask penalty...since we had no face masks. Our helmets
were very thin and offered minimum protection against shock. That was long before
the days of Spandex so the pants were baggy causing the pads to flop around our
legs, leaving them vulnerable.
(For a brief rundown of 1940s rules
- see Helmets were Optional - Ed)
Union Grove only had 125 in the entire high school so the band director and
the football coach worked out an agreement so we could participate in both activities.
I remember our line averaged 165 pounds and our backfield averaged only 135. As
a third string back I weighed in at a hefty 118 pounds. I spent most of my high
school football career watching from the bench but I did make a good blocking
dummy during scrimmages. I was even knocked unconscious a couple of times by overly
I was a much better clarinet player.
the way, we won that game with East Mountain 13-6.
had to run it out or the other team got a safety if you were tackled in the end
zone." - George Lester |
Helmets were Optional|
Some 1940 Football Rules
There was no two-platoon system. The players were required to play both
offense and defense
In the early 40s there was no touchback rule when
you intercepted a pass in the end zone. You had to run it out or the other team
got a safety if you were tackled in the end zone.
There were no flags
for penalties. The referee had two sound-making devices. A whistle to stop play
and a horn to signal a penalty. It was very confusing The coach drummed it into
us "Stop playing when you hear a whistle, keep on playing when you hear a horn."
No wonder they changed it.
You could play without a helmet if you wanted
to. We had a great runner, Leonard Charles, who was deaf in one ear so he couldn't
hear signals. Five minutes into the game he would throw his helmet to the sidelines
and the crowd would go wild. Usually he'd score a touchdown in the next play.
The silent rule: A player coming into the game was not allowed to say a word
until a play was run. On one occasion, a player entering the game shouted "OK
boys, let's get going!" - and it cost us a 15-yard penalty.
| || Band
Members on tour in Waco|
From left, Truitt Smith, George AKA "Eddie" Lester, Gorman Prince and Earl Tackett
Photo courtesy George Lester
photo is my brother Sam taken at the old Alamo Plaza Tourist Court (the word "motel"
had not been coined yet) in Waco about '41 during a band contest. - Geroge
The band departing Waco's Alamo Courts|
Photo courtesy George Lester
Wells and High School|
Revenue sent Band to Waco
Even though the depression was still going on we at Union Grove High School
had it pretty good because the school district owned three producing oil wells.
This allowed the school to supply the students with a lot of things poorer schools
could not afford. When the band went on trips, transportation, hotel rooms and
food were all paid for.
Therefore, being in the band opened doors to
a lifestyle we couldn't hope to have otherwise. Our band director, Jack Mahan,
was a real taskmaster who stood for no nonsense. You could hear a pin drop during
rehearsals. He drove us and inspired us to rise high above our expectations and
our band soon gained a reputation of excellence that spread far beyond our area.
I remember the many times he would place sheet music on our music stands facing
away from us. Turning the music over on a signal from him forced us to learn sight
This drill paid off for me when I enlisted in the Marines. When
I got out of boot camp, there were forty-four Marines auditioning for the base
band in San Diego. As I heard some of the musicians warming up, I thought to myself:
"Golly, I don't stand a chance." However, when the sheet music was placed before
them, they faded away one at a time and I was one of only three that was accepted.
Thank you Jack Mahan.
In which "Eddie" receives a one-way ticket to Palookaville
I remember one summer I had a friend that lived in Gladewater,
Texas just a couple of miles from the Union Grove area. He had won several amateur
boxing matches and was willing to help me learn a bit about the manly art. We
spent many hours sparring behind the house in the hot summer sun. After a while
neighbor kids would come to watch. Against my wishes, my friend would take his
gloves off and invite one of the spectators to try his luck against his prize
student. To my surprise, I found that I had become a pretty good boxer and my
confidence grew with each newly-defeated opponent.
When school started
that fall I learned the school was going to have a boxing team for the first time
and I jumped at the chance to join. The school divided the boxers into two teams
who would later face each other in an event toward the end of the school year.
At practice each day, I continued to easily beat my sparring partners. My confidence
Finally, the big day came and the two teams were to face each
other - one bout at a time. I learned who my opponent would be and I knew him
to be a soft-spoken, shy fellow that wouldn't harm a flea.
I came out
of my corner at the opening bell and that's about all I can remember.
While I had been practicing jabs, hooks, upper cuts and dodging, he totally ignored
all rules and boxing logic and came at me like a Tasmanian devil - with fists
flying in every direction. I was totally overwhelmed and was thankful when the
referee stopped the fight.
I didn't come out for boxing the next year.
| || Trick
Photography (before Photoshop)|
Left: George Lester
Center: Paul ?
Right: Bill McKean
Photo courtesy George Lester
Saturday Night Fever (Upshur County Version)|
Thrills? Maybe. Chills? Yes.
We lived about four miles from Gladewater
on an oil lease that my dad maintained. My brother Sam and I thought nothing of
walking that little jaunt into town to take in a movie. One Saturday in the fall
we did just that. We found out there was a real good "picture show" playing at
the Liberty theatre, the one where admission was only 25 cents.
started the trek into town we noticed dark clouds gathering above, but that was
no deterrent to a couple of adventurous teenagers. We stubbornly marched on toward
town but as we entered the city limits the skies opened up. Making a mad dash
across the street to seek shelter, I slipped and fell into the gutter - becoming
completely submerged in the muddy water. Sam was soaked as well. The temperature
had dropped into the mid-60s and we were shivering badly. At this point you would
think that we'd turn around and head for home. No way!
We paid our admission
and entered the air-conditioned theater soaking wet. To make the best of a bad
situation, we went into the restroom, took off our clothes and began wringing
them out. As luck would have it, as we stood there in our underwear, the usher
walked in. He was almost ready to call a cop until we did some fast-talking and
explained what was going on. He walked out shaking his head.
in our damp clothes watching the movie for two hours. Our teeth were chattering
so loudly you could hear them several aisles away.
When we left the theatre
to face that four-mile walk back home the temperature had dropped further - into
the mid-50s and it was still raining hard. We made it home, but we were both sick
for a week. I don't remember what the movie was…but must have been a good one.
adventures of George "Eddie" Lester and Brother Sam can be found at Spunky
Grove Area Hotels > Longview
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