The Humble High graduates were supposed to gather under Howard and Sharon Mittag’s Water Tree last year but, like so many special occasions, it did not happen.

We all know why. COVID-19.

This year, June 11, the night before the 89th Annual Humble Alumni Banquet, the Humble High School Class of 1960 finally celebrated its 60th annual gathering on its 61st year — under Howard and Sharon’s Water Tree.

More about Howard and Sharon’s water tree a little later.

The highlight of the Class of 1960s stroll down memory lane no doubt was to first meet at their high school on Higgins Street near historic downtown Humble.

The old high school, the Charles Bender High School, was “decommissioned” when the current Humble High School was built on Wilson Road. Eventually, the school district turned it over to the city of Humble, which then renovated it in 2015 into the impressive Charles Bender Performing Arts Center.

“I remember it very well,” said Sally Burton Johnson. “We lived in the ‘teacherage’ on Avenue D across the street from the high school.”

Sally’s dad was Dr. Floyd Burton, the superintendent of Humble ISD.

“Mother and Daddy met as young teachers in Humble. He was named superintendent in 1941 and moved back to Humble,” she recalled. “I was just an infant at the time so Humble is the only home I knew throughout my school days.”

Dr. Burton was Humble ISD’s eighth superintendent.

“Daddy loved Humble and was very involved with the community,” Johnson said. “I remember him driving us down the old logging roads north of the San Jacinto. He would tell us over and over, ‘Someday these woods will be filled with houses and all the children will go to the Humble schools.’ He was a dreamer and a visionary. I often wonder what he would think of the incredible growth and success of the Humble ISD of today.”

Dr. Burton lost his life in a horrific auto accident just a few miles out of Humble. The teachers organized a scholarship fund in his honor which continues today.

“It has been my privilege to participate on the selection panel for these scholarships,” Johnson said.

For the Class of 1960, a highlight each year is attending the Humble High Alumni Banquet.

“It is something that our class always looks forward to,” Johnson said. “It keeps us connected with our classmates and the other classes we knew and loved throughout our days at Humble High.”

They may be celebrating their 61st year attending as alumni, but the Class of 1960 has been participating in the banquet for far more years.

“When we were junior and senior high students, the banquet was held annually at the Bender High building and we volunteered to serve. We can even remember serving when it was held in the gym, now the Performing Art Center’s theater,” Johnson said.

The Class of 1960 always gathers the night before the banquet around the Water Tree at the home of classmate Howard Mittag in Humble or at Sally Burton Johnson’s home in Forest Cove.

“We share a meal, talk about our years of growing up in Humble and ‘catch up’ with each other,” she said.

Before sharing their meal at the Mittag home this year, the class gathered at their old high school, in the lobby of the Bender Performing Arts Center, for a “photo op” around their 1960 graduation photo.

“One of the grads, Joyce Hammond Mehrens, saved the original senior picture of the entire 1960 class,” said Kathleen Brown. Brown graduated from Humble after 1960, but her husband, Larry Brown, is a 1960 graduate. “It was under Joyce’s bed, damaged in one of the floods. I had two friends who had it restored and Harold Mittag’s wife, Sharon, got permission to hang our graduation photo in The Bender lobby.”

Compared to today’s graduating classes, the Class of 1960 was small — 41 students.

“We were a close-knit group,” Johnson said. “What was unique about us was that 17 of our 41 classmates went all through school together from first grade to graduation. That probably is unheard of today. Some started off with us and moved away but we stay in contact and invite them to our banquet.”

Many from the Class of 1960 had parents who graduated from Charles Bender, children who graduated, and now grandchildren who are Humble ISD grads.

Of that group of 41, 16 have passed away, eight married classmates and seven became teachers, no doubt because of the positive impact that the teachers had on the class.

Howard Mittag recalled when Dr. Burton called him into his office, encouraging Howard to do better academically. Another teacher, Justus Smith, Howard’s future father-in-law, made Howard promise to go to college and graduate before he would consent to Howard marrying his daughter.

It worked. Howard earned his master’s degree at Sam Houston State and was a longtime agriculture teacher. Classmates Geraldine Crockett and Chester Slaughter married after high school. Chester, the class valedictorian, earned his master’s in public administration from the University of Texas before taking an executive position with the Department of Health and Human Services, first in Washington, D.C. and eventually in Dallas before retiring after 35 years.

Hayne Sheffield, Jr., earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch, specializing in ophthalmology.

“A neighbor’s son was playing with a pocketknife and sliced his eye. Hayne saved that eye. I’ll never forget it,” recalled Mittag.

Teachers have a special impact on their students, “ … I doubt if our teachers realized the beneficial impact they had on our lives,” Mittag said.

Johnson fondly recalled Coach Bevil Jarrell, “ … the most animated and colorful and memorable teacher. He grew up in Humble and was a master storyteller. I invited him to talk to my students about Humble history. Every time he spoke, he captivated those kids for hours with his stories about Pleasant Humble and the early oil days.”

Johnson was thrilled when the old San Jacinto Bridge was officially renamed the Bevil Jarrell Memorial Bridge after his death.

Mittag also recalled one of the bus drivers, Ray Hall, “ … who carried a paddle on his bus. If a boy misbehaved, Ray would warn him. If that did not work, he would stop the bus and apply the ‘board of education.’ Remarkably effective.”

The Class of 1960 has a significant message for the Class of 2021.

Mittag advised, “Do your best. Don’t take shortcuts.”

Johnson recalled an age-old song, “‘Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.’ The friends you have made while attending Humble High will be your friends for life. Wherever life leads you, don’t ever lose touch.”

“The Humble Alumni Banquet is an important event, the glue that keeps the Class of 1960 together,” said Johnson. “We want other graduates of Humble High to realize that our alumni banquet can be the glue that keeps them in touch with their classmates, too, the same way it has kept our class together. It is our strong desire that this worthy tradition continue for many years to come.”

About that Water Tree on the Mittag compound that the Class of 1960 gathers around at alumni time. Let Howard Mittag enlighten you.

“We planted the tree as a sapling. It is a special tree, drawing the water up from the soil,” he explained. “We have installed a spigot to obtain water and I am told the water from the tree is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Drinking it is somewhat like drinking from the fountain of youth. Obviously, it hasn’t worked for me.”

No doubt the Class of 1960 spent a portion of their special time together at the Mittag home enjoying a sip from the Mittag’s Water Tree.

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Columnist
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

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