Willow Run alumni and graduates celebrate the end of an era
Lisa Carolin | For AnnArbor.com
Gordon Dooley and Opio Shaah were classmates at Willow Run High School. They played football together, enjoyed a winning season their senior year, and graduated together in 1996. Now they work together, and they're both serving on the committee that organized Saturday's celebration in honor of the Flyers, the WIllow Run Community School district.
"This is a proud community," said Dooley. "Many of us are lifers who not only went to school here, but sent our kids here."
According to Shaah, the theme of the event was "Forever Willow Run" and was meant to celebrate the history of the school and the future of the students.
"An event like this is for encouraging students and staff who are getting ready to transition into the unified school district," Shaah said.
This year's graduation on Friday, May 31, will be the last graduation for the Willow Run Flyers. In July, the Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts begin their merger as Ypsilanti Community Schools.
Hundreds of people ranging from early Willow Run graduates to current students attended Saturday's celebration, many wearing red T-shirts with the words "1943 Forever Willow Run."
1958 graduate Lavada Weathers moved to the area in 1944 when her dad got out of the army.
"There wouldn't have been a Willow Run School without the plant," said Weathers, who went on to teach for the school district from 1973 to 1998. "All of us are so close. We grew up like one big family."
The Willow Run community was established in 1941 when Henry Ford built a huge assembly plant to produce B-24 Liberator bombers for WWII. The plant employed more than 42,000 people, and more than 8,000 bombers were built between 1942-1945.
"The way that Willow Run was constructed more than 70 years ago to grow to what it is now is amazing," said Shaah.
"Both of our families moved here from Kentucky," said 1959 Willow Run graduate Joy Powers, who met her husband Scott Powers at Willow Run High School. "Our families came from coal mining to have a better life, and I think it was a good move."
Pat and Earl Roberson attended today's celebration to represent their daughter Erica Roberson — a 1996 graduate — honored in the school's hall of fame. Earl Roberson served on the Willow Run school board from 1992 to 2001.
"I hope the transition works well," said Earl Roberson. "I think once things get together, people will unify, and I think that will happen in the first year."
Wallace Hall, who will graduate in 2014, attended Saturday's celebration with mixed feelings.
"It's kind of sad that I can't finish high school here, but we can share memories with a lot of the folks who went here," he said.
"The Flyers have a long history," said Alston. "Everybody knows each other here. We've got each other's backs — we all are family."
Willow Run High School Sophomore Jaylin Alston and Hall agree that combining the two school districts should make for improved sports teams.
Joy Powers says that she and her husband will continue to attend high school reunions but that closing the high school will be a loss.
"We'll still hold Willow Run in our hearts," she says.