For 68 years prior to full integration, the school’s rich history was woven deep into the tapestry of the community and the students who matriculated there.
First known as the Refugio Colored School, the name was later changed to Barefield School in honor of Mr. A.T. Barefield, a respected educator.
In 1955, the last class graduated high school but students continued to attend from first through eighth grades until 1969 when the school was closed for good.
Two reunions have been conducted since then, one in 1982 and the other over the weekend.
For three-days, Friday, July 13, at VFW Post 6290; Saturday, July 14 at the Expo Center and Sunday at Mt. Pilgrim Baptist where the church was packed, hundreds of exes were drawn to the town of their youths.
Ronnie Green, who chaired the reunion, said he always tells people that he went to private school from first through eighth grade.
“The old African saying that it takes a village to raise a child — well, that was the atmosphere at Barefield,” Green said.
Larry Gipson has a host of fond memories of Alfred Marshall who laid the foundation for his lifelong love of math and science.
“I won the algebra medal at RHS my freshman year,” he said.
But his fourth grade teacher, Eloise Jones, remains his favorite.
Gipson, who now lives in Corpus Christi, retired in January after serving 24 years in the Navy where he was a welding instructor aboard Navy ships.
Now he serves as a referee for high school football games.
Sharon Allen of Desoto began at RHS in 1967 but developed her love of education at Barefield School. She has devoted her life to teaching children.
“The teachers and administrators were caring and wanted you to do well, and they made sure we studied and did what we were supposed to do,” Allen said.
Following her degree at Prairie View A&M, she taught at every grade levels from junior high to college. Following her retirement, she didn’t give up as an educator. Rather, she began teaching incarcerated youth.
“Education is a part of me - I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
Alvin Francis of Corpus Christi came to the reunion with friends.
“They really enjoy staying together as a group,” Francis said “They still keep in touch and it’s nice to participate.”
Willie Mae Wills was a majorette in the Tiger Band. She remembers that the teachers taught so much more than the core subjects.
“They taught us good manners and to have respect for each other,” Wills said.
Bullying or picking on other children had dire consequences - there was no sparing of the rod or spoiling of the children.
She and her husband Bobby Wills met at Barefield, remained high school sweethearts and married. They will celebrate their 46th anniversary.
Not all the memories are as sweet.
Johnnie Marie Green went to Corpus Christi with her father to purchase a pair of black, patent leather shoes to wear to 8th grade graduation.
“My daddy told me it would be my last chance to go so I went but I missed my English test,” she said.
The teacher had already told the students she would not make up another test.
“I missed the test so I didn’t get to walk with my class,” Johnnie said.
The administrator wouldn’t budge. Johnnie received her certificate of graduation but years passed before her feelings healed.
“Now, I look at it differently,” she said. “They couldn’t certify that I had completed my studies when I had not completed my English exam.”
For Johnnie, bringing together childhood friends like Travis Jones of Mobile, Ala. and Mary Anderson of Los Angeles, Calif. sparked excitement and happiness at once.
“This was just wonderful and I can’t thank Ronnie Green for carrying this through for all of us,” Johnnie said.
For Lorraine Cunningham Salone, who began her teaching career at Barefield, the reunion instilled a special blessing. Many of her relatives and friends continue to live in Refugio.
“My mother wanted me to be a teacher and she worked hard at it,” said Salone. “I actually wanted to be a nurse.”
Because it was difficult to land a teaching job right out of college, she worked a year at the Refugio Hospital under the Sisters of Mercy until the job at Barefield opened.
“I was only 22 so some of the high school students were close to my age,” she said. “I didn’t have a problem. I think they related to me.
As the educator sat at the long table, numerous alumni greeted her with her nickname, “Baby Sister!”
The fifth of 10 kids, her older brothers began calling her Baby Sister and the name stuck though five more siblings came later.
Salone taught for 36 years in Cuero, Victoria Corpus Christi and finally in Goliad where she retired after 19 years at that school.
“In those years, we were patient,” she said.
Many of the students shared one thought: when a student walked through the doors of Barefield, they felt unity and love. Hundreds of exes were drawn to Refugio for the reunion... they left with a resolve to not wait so long next time.