Local Barn Gets Fresh Coat of CGHS Trojan Spirit 42 Years Later
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photography provided by CGHS and Brian Brosmer
Center Grove Juniors loading the buses for the 20th annual Junior class Day of Caring thought they were in for just another typical community service project. The class of almost 600 students was split up into 35 groups and headed to various locations for their projects. One group was headed to a local barn to repaint a message left on it more than 40 years ago. They had no idea what they were in for.
Meresa Girdley, a Special Services Assistant at CGHS, was on the bus with the kids that day. As she heard them shout comments asking what’s so important about painting a barn and what’s the big deal, she decided to take the opportunity to share the story with the kids.
She told them about the day back in 1975 when she was there painting the barn. Girdley was Meresa Baker back then, and she and her cousin Russell had gotten permission from Forest Stewart, the owner of the neighboring property that sits on the corner of Smokey Row road and 144, to paint a school spirit message on his barn to support the Trojan basketball team as they prepared to play in the regional championships.
Showing school spirit was a big deal back then.
“Fans decorated their cars with window paint,” Girdley says. “They put streamers on their cars and went to the game in caravans. Trojans showed their pride everywhere.”
So, when Meresa and Rusty came to ask their neighbors, the Stewarts, for permission to paint the barn, Forest didn’t think it was unusual. He strongly supported it, because like Meresa and Rusty, he too was a Center Grove alum.
Not only were Meresa and Rusty surrounded by fellow alum, they lived within a block of most of their extended family who were also Center Grove grads. Meresa’s grandfather, uncles and cousins all had homes near each other.
“I grew up having my extended family all around me,” Girdley says. Through the years, her family has remained in the area. As her grandparents’ home changed hands, she acquired the home and is living back in the house where she grew up. Her children live close by now too, and though Forest Stewart has passed on, his family still lives on the Stewart farm.
As Girdley conveyed her story, the students began to get a sense of history and community.
“I explained to them how important it is that they know they’re making a part of Center Grove history by bringing an icon back to life,” Girdley says. “I told them it’s important for them to learn the traditions of the past to look forward to what could happen in the future.”
When the kids got off the bus with a renewed sense of tradition and dove into their mission as a community. They repainted the barn exactly as it was in 1975. The message on the barn, fading but still present, came back to life. As the kids put a fresh coat of paint on the words, “Center Grove Trojans are DYN-O-MITE” (A nod to JJ in the 70s sitcom Good Times), they began to remark that it was awesome and how cool it was to be a part of history.
Girdley says she’s nostalgic by nature, but being present in 1975 and again on that day this year was incredible.
“Students don’t always realize the importance of history, but now they see the impact,” she says. “Tradition means a lot to me. My parents were 1946 and 1949 grads who never missed a basketball game until 2005. The school honored them on one of their parade floats, and my husband and I were honored as alumni of the year in 2011.”
Next year’s Day of Caring projects have yet to be determined. Spanish teacher Adam Gaff has coordinated the projects for 10 of the last 20 years. Gaff too didn’t realize at first what an impact the barn painting project was going to have.
“I was approached by local historian and Center Grove alumnus, Jeff Beck, about doing the project,” Gaff says. “I knew Meresa and the Bakers, but I had no idea at first they were the ones to paint the barn in the 70s. It was a great day and I’m delighted everyone really enjoyed it.”
No matter what the students do for next year’s Day of Caring, Russell Baker says he’s just happy the kids are showing their Trojan pride.
“It would be great if kids showed their school spirit with a message of their generation to pass down to future generations,” he says.