Salem High School Alumni Association, Ohio

Sustaining Friendships and Memories Since 1882








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Salem High School Alumni Association—one of the first high school alumni groups in Ohio—keeps alumni connected to each other and gives numerous scholarships each year.

The Salem High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) began on June 14, 1882, when 33 Salem High School alumni met with several of their former teachers. The next year the association's tradition of holding an annual reunion banquet started with a dinner at the high school.

Several years later, association members decided that they wanted to do more than keep alive memories of high school days. They decided to help outstanding graduates attend college. On June 20, 1903, they established the first high school alumni scholarship fund in Ohio. SHS graduates and friends were contacted to raise funds, and within four years the group had enough money to buy a $1,000 bond. The $60 interest generated by the bond was awarded as the first alumni scholarship to Walter French when he graduated in 1908.

For the first 16 years of the scholarship program, a single student was selected to receive a scholarship. The fourth alumni scholarship recipient was Charles E. Burchfield, who, after his graduation in 1911, attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. He is regarded as one of America's finest watercolor painters. In 1912 Esther Gearhart was the first female recipient of an SHSAA scholarship. (In fact, of those first 16 single recipients, 8 were female.) Two years later in 1914, Clement Charles Johnson was SHSAA's first African American scholarship recipient. Johnson, who would become the first African American engineering graduate of Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State University), has been recognized as America's first African American automotive engineer and one of its first rocket-research engineers. A scholarship/mentoring program at MSU was instituted in his name.

Much of what is known about the association and Salem High School during the 20th century is due to the excellent recordkeeping of Laura Mae Hovermale Whinnery '30. For many years Mrs. Whinnery collected and carefully archived information about SHS classes, sports, extracurricular activities, and alumni. Many wonderful items—newspaper clippings, photographs, and memorabilia—preserved by Mrs. Whinnery were donated to the association and are now on display at the association's office at 330 East State Street.

The association's office has been in downtown Salem since 1983 when Daniel E. Smith '46 generously gave the association a 15-year, rent-free lease for the three-story building that he owned at 328/330 East State Street. Next door to Smith's jewelry store, this building will be remembered by many as the site of Schafer's Tavern although over the years it also housed a shoe store, hardware store, billiard hall, tobacconist, photography studio, and cosmetology school. During 1983 and 1984, the second floor of the building was extensively remodeled with support from members of 18 different SHS classes. The association later purchased the building for $54,306.

In 2008, with the need for more space and easier accessibility becoming apparent, the association renovated and moved the office to the first floor of the building. Many alumni donated money, in-kind contributions, and time to the renovation of the 2,800-square-foot space that includes an office, display areas to showcase memorabilia, and a conference room that is available for class reunion planning meetings.

Because of the office's deteriorating façade and front foundation, the association embarked in 2019 on an important renovation project, one that would maintain the 150 year old building, address safety concerns, improve the display of memorabilia, and support Salem's historic downtown.

Beginning in 1984, the association employed office coordinators to manage its busy office. Robert Dixon '40 served in this capacity from 1984 to 1995; Henrietta Hilliard Kilbreath '42 from 1995 to 1998; and Helen Potter Hayes '57 from 1998 to December 2017.  The office staff keeps the database of graduates' names and addresses up to date, supplies information and other assistance to class reunion planners, collects and archives information about SHS and its alumni, records contributions, corresponds with donors, and coordinates the twice yearly mailing of the association's newsletter.

With continued growth of the association, the decision was made to hire an executive director. The executive director is responsible for implementing board policies, ensuring the organization's compliance with government regulations, engaging with the public and SHS alumni, and overseeing the daily operations of the SHSAA office. In 2015 Lauren Arnold '05 was hired in a part-time capacity to act as the association's first executive director. Audrey Cleveland Null '76, hired in the fall of 2018, is the association's first full-time executive director. She is assisted by an office manager, who currently is Denise Chasar.

SHSAA is in its second century of granting scholarships. On May 1, 2020, SHSAA awarded 98 scholarships--52 to graduating seniors, 44 to alumni, and 2 to current students--for a total of $318,250.  Since 1908 the association has awarded over $7.9 million, more than half of which was given during the last fifteen years.

All members of the Board of Trustees shall be elected at the annual membership meeting of the association. The trustees shall be elected for a term of three years, and no member shall serve more than three consecutive terms. There shall be six standing committees: Alumni Relations, Executive, Finance, Nominating, Facilities, and Scholarship. Every trustee shall serve on a standing committee; there shall be a minimum of three trustees on each committee.

READ MORE SHSAA HISTORY - from H.H. Sharp, Class of 1878, Written in 1925

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