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Shawmut school hosts reunion

VALLEY — Many attendees at Saturday’s annual Shawmut School Reunion will be missing a long-time friend.

Phillip “P.I.” Johnson passed away in April at age 87. He’d been a major influence in getting the reunions started and sustaining them.

One of P.I.’s oldest friends, Charles Hall, plans to be there this Saturday and will follow his lead on having plenty of Shawmut-related photos, newspaper clippings and the like on display. Johnson grew up in the Camp Hill area and moved to Shawmut with his family when he was in his early teens.

“His family lived very close to us,” Hall said. “I guess we must have been 13 or 14 years old at the time and became great friends. I guess there were times when we may have done some things we shouldn’t have, but it didn’t hurt anyone and who’s not into mischief when you’re young. P.I. was just a good old guy, and I’m glad I had him for a friend.”

When the Korean War broke out, Hall and Johnson joined the Army. Both wanted to do their duty for their country.

“We both went to South Carolina before parting,” Hall said. “I went on to Fort Lee in Virginia, and P.I. got held up by a medical problem. He had to have some treatment for his ears, and that delayed his entry in the military. He got over it, and they sent him to Korea. I was already there.”

While on the Korean peninsula, the two friends’ paths didn’t cross until they were leaving the country upon completion of their service.

“We happened to be rotating off at the same time,” Hall explained. “We were in Inchon, and he was standing a good distance away from me. I hollering out ‘Hey P.I.!’ and hid from him. I was just messing with him, and it was such fun watching him look for who it was who called for him. I snuck up on him and got real close before he saw me. We were so happy to see each other so far away from home. We hugged and maybe cried a little bit. We were able to travel all the way back home together. It was so good.”

Back home, the two good friends went separate ways. Hall got a job in Shawmut Mill and Johnson went off to college.

“We stayed in touch but didn’t see each other very often,” Hall said.

Johnson attended Livingston State Teachers College in Livingston, where he earned a degree in 1958. He went on to teach school in Georgia and Florida. In 1965, he was named the first teacher of the year for the Brevard County system in Florida.

“He married a fine woman named June, and they were married for 63 years,” Hall said. “They had three daughters and lots of grandchildren.”

P.I. and June reversed the trend of most couples. They had a primary residence in Florida and a vacation home north of there.

“They had a beautiful home on West Point Lake,” Hall said. “We had a number of our Shawmut School Reunion planning meetings there.”

Another favorite meeting place for the committee was Hall’s backyard on 35th Street in Shawmut.

“I spent almost all of my life only a few hundred yards from the place I was born,” Hall said. “I had a good life in Shawmut. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

“P.I. loved those reunions, and did so much for them to happen,” Hall added. “I can remember him contacting me and asking if we could get one started. We did, and it’s turned into something many people have enjoyed for a long time. We also have to give some credit to Cindy Daniel. She does a great job every year of keeping these reunions going. There’s a lot of other people, too, who love Shawmut and want to keep these reunions going. I’m proud that we can raise money every year to help with current needs at our elementary school.”

Hall is proud of the fact he started his education in what was known as “the little school.” It was in the 1930s when Shawmut High was a two-story brick building in the same spot Bob Harding-Shawmut Elementary School is located today.

“Shawmut High was well respected in its day,” he said. “It closed in 1939 to be consolidated into Valley High along with schools in Langdale, Fairfax and River View.

“I don’t know how much longer these reunions will be going on, but it has been such a good thing,” Hall said. “In memory of my good friend P.I. I’m going to be doing what he was so good at at these reunions,” Hall said. “I’m going to have a lot of my stuff on display on the walls and the tables.”