Hall of Pride inductions this week
By Suzannah Solomon Wilson
The Tallassee High School Alumni Association will induct its second class into the Tallassee High School Hall of Pride on Thursday, Jan. 21.
The THS Alumni Association was formed with three objectives in mind—to allow THS alumni a venue for fellowship, to award a scholarship to a Tallassee High School senior, and to recognize alumni who had performed outstanding work in their field of choice, whether it be in Tallassee or in the community in which they live.
The Class of 2016 includes the late Dr. Byron Nelson, Sr., a former Tallassee City Schools superintendent; the late Dr. Robert Piper, a chemist; and local historian William (Bill) Goss.
Dr. Nelson’s family came to Tallassee in 1924, when his father became the pastor at East Tallassee Baptist Church. After graduating from THS in 1925 and Howard College in 1928, he returned to Tallassee to teach and was named principal in 1932; he then became superintendent and remained in that position for 35 years. Dr. Nelson received his Ph.D. from George Peabody College, now Vanderbilt University.
According to Mr. W. C. Bryant, who wrote in support of Dr. Nelson’s nomination, “those 35 years saw Tallassee schools rise from a small-town system to one of the most recognizable, competitive, stable and academically sound establishments in Alabama.”
One of Dr. Nelson’s most noted accomplishments was implementing a plan for integration. “Seeing the inevitability of the force of law, Dr. Nelson quietly set about preparing Tallassee’s schools and the town itself for integration….In short, while other schools in Alabama were caught in damaging protests and conflicts, Dr. B.B. Nelson was making Tallassee’s school system and the town exemplary in courageous leadership,” Mr. Bryant wrote.
After retiring from the Tallassee system, Dr. Nelson served as a professor of school administration at Troy University in Montgomery for nine years and as a guest lecturer for 12 years.
Dr. Nelson spent 49 years as chairman of the Board of Deacons at Tallassee First Baptist Church, chairing the building committee and teaching Sunday School for 45 years. For over 40 years he was a trustee for the Baptist Children’s Home in Troy, and also served as president of the Rotary Club, chairman of Tallassee United Appeal, and was awarded the Silver Beaver (35 years) in the Boy Scouts of America.
Dr. James Robert Piper was a member of the Class of 1951, and was called to active duty in the Alabama National Guard in January of 1951. He enrolled in Auburn University (then called API) in the fall of 1952, and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, followed by a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1960.
Dr. Piper spent his entire career at Southern Research institute in Birmingham, and also taught chemisty at UAB and Birmingham-Southern College. He also served on Auburn University’s College of Science and Math Advisory Council for several years.
While at SRI, he worked on antiradiation agents, and the Army’s best agent, WR-2721, was synthesized by Dr. Piper. He also worked on antimalarial and anticancer agents, and on studies of antifolates to treat rheumatoid arthritis. One of his greatest accomplishments was working with a team tasked with making the cancer drug Methotrexate less toxic. The drug was approved by the FDA in 2009 and is sold under the name Folotyn.
In addition to his professional career, Dr. Piper had a love for the arts and supported the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
Dr. Piper’s daughter, Katherine Piper Whitfield, wrote lovingly of her father in support of his nomination. “My father was a special man; brilliant and normal, a small town boy who loved the simple things in life and was eager to know about the bigger world. Introspective and thoughtful, he exemplified integrity, attention to detail, and hard work,” she said.
Dr. Piper’s son Howard wrote that Dr. Piper’s “very core, so much of who he was as a person, came from his Tallassee upbringing…He was the finest man I have ever known.”
Mr. William E. (Bill) Goss is a 1948 graduate of Tallassee High School, and has spent the last twenty years working and volunteering in his hometown. In 2001, the Tallassee Chamber of Commerce presented the Frances H. Wagnon award to him.
He served as student body president in 1947-48, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 from Troy University, then called Troy Teachers College. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1955, and earned an M.Ed. from Auburn University in 1958.
For 38 years, he was a high school teacher of history, English, journalism, and principal/school administrator in public, Department of Defense, and private schools in Alabama, Germany, Turkey, Georgia, and Florida.
Since his return to Tallassee in 1995, he has worked as a cashier and tour guide at the Hotel Talisi, served as the Commander of the Tallassee American Legion, and served as the guest editor for the centennial edition of the Tallassee Tribune. He co-authored the book “Images of America: Tallassee” with Karren Pell, and “Gladys McNair’s 1941 Study of Tallassee” with Myra Singleton Johnson.
He has written the text for three historic markers in Tallassee, and currently serves as the curator of the Tallassee Falls Museum. He serves as the historian for the Talisi Historical Preservation Society, is a member of the Troy University World War II Era Reunion committee, and is a member of the Tallassee High School Alumni Association.
Mr. Goss has a weekly radio show on WTLS and is a frequent contributor to Elmore County Living magazine. Since 2000, he has authored more than 145 local history articles for area newspapers and magaines.
WTLS owner Michael Butler calls Mr. Goss “a voice for Tallassee history” and says he is “most impressed with Bill’s passion for the hometown he loves and his constant effort to educate those locally and abroad on Tallassee’s rich heritage.”
For more information on the Tallassee High School Alumni Association and the THS Hall of Pride, call THS Alumni Association president Suzannah Solomon Wilson at 334-283-8172. You can also follow the group on Facebook.