Professional athletes. Famed pilots. Well-known philanthropists. Television personalities. Race car drivers. Corporate honchos. Politicians.

What do all these people have in common? They’re graduates of our neighborhood’s Woodrow Wilson High School, which commemorates its 75th anniversary next month with a community-wide celebration (see sidebar).

To help mark this milestone, we contacted three members of the school’s Hall of Fame (there are 51 members, with 11 more to be inducted in March), and sat down to talk with them.

Here are their stories.

CARROLL SHELBY, CLASS OF 1940

In high school, Shelby wasn’t what you’d call a model student.

“I spent a lot of time in Pop Ashburn’s office,” he says laughing, referring to the school’s beloved principal at that time.

“I wasn’t a bad boy, I was just always the one who got caught doing stuff.”

He wasn’t pulling straight A’s either, he says, adding: “All I cared about were cars and airplanes back then.”

Not surprising. Anyone who knows anything about cars knows Shelby’s name. He was the developer of the Cobra and Viper, many of his cars won national and international racing championships, he was a driver himself in the ’50s — named Sports Illustrated’s Race Car Driver of the Year in 1956 and 1957 — and he has been inducted into both the International MotorSports Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame.

But it may have been his induction into the Woodrow Wilson Hall of Fame that surprised him the most.

“I never thought I’d make it,” he says. “Now if they had a hall of shame …”

But Shelby was a natural pick. Though he has lived a wild life, with more wives than he cares to name and a lasting reputation as a hell-raiser, he has never left any stone unturned; if Shelby wanted to try his hand at something, he just did it.

In addition to his many automotive-related accomplishments, he and some friends started an event that survives to this day with the original 1967 Terlingua Chili Cook-off. Shelby even owned the town of Terlingua back then.

“When I owned it, it wasn’t anything but an old woman who collected cactus and a goat that lived there,” he says.

He also started the Carroll Shelby Foundation, an organization that helps fund heart transplants for indigent children.

The inspiration for the latter accomplishment came in the summer of 1990 when, after years of complications, Shelby underwent a heart transplant.

“I had two weeks to live. I was a very, very lucky human being,” he says now. Seven years later, Shelby had another transplant, receiving the kidney of one of his sons.

At 81 years old, having faced down some of life’s more difficult challenges, he isn’t through yet.

“I don’t know why the old man’s kept me around this long, but I’m still kicking, and I wake up every morning with a new project,” says Shelby, who lives in California but spends as much time as possible at his East Texas farm.

And, in true Shelby fashion, he adds: “I got a thousand things I wanna do before I croak. I look forward to life everyday.”

BRADLEY SUE HOWELL, CLASS OF 1951

While not a celebrity of Shelby’s caliber, Howell is no less likely a choice for Woodrow’s Hall of Fame. In fact, she’s probably an even more obvious choice.

When Howell was inducted five years ago, the ceremony program read: “Bradley Sue deserves to inscribe her academic credentials with B.S., M.S. and A.F.W.”

A.F.W.? It stands for “Anything For Woodrow.”

That’s because Howell, who’s maiden name is La Fon, has been the school librarian for 23 years and also has a well-earned reputation as one of Woodrow’s biggest supporters.

That reputation, she says, is just her carrying on a tradition.

“The original teachers and principals thought very highly of this school,” says Howell, who has lived in our neighborhood since 1945, and whose children and grandchildren have been Wildcats.

“There was not a whole lot of money in the ’30s, but they took care of this building and were proud of it. They set high standards and traditions and made Woodrow into what was really a top school. There were very proud of it, and they infused that in the students.”

And, though times have changed — students these days care less about their school, less about books and more about television, she says — Howell maintains Woodrow still has a lot of community support.

“We have probably the largest PTA in Dallas,” she says. “We have several students that are third and fourth generation kids here — their parents, grandparents even some great-grandparents went to school here. It’s really a community school.”

JERRY HAYNES, CLASS OF 1944

Who would have thought that the “shy, country boy” would grow up to become one of the Dallas’ most popular children’s TV characters.

Haynes is best known for his role as Mr. Peppermint on WFAA’s “Peppermint Place,” which he played from 1961-1995 (with a five-year hiatus in the ’70s). And even though he claims he was bashful in high school, it was there he discovered he had a knack for the spotlight.

His favorite class was speech and, one year, he was doing a presentation in front of the entire school at an assembly.

“It was a monologue somebody had written in the paper about a soldier, done in first person,” he says. “And I remember in the middle of it, I flat forgot the words.

“Somehow,” he continues, “I had enough presence to kind of bow my head and say to myself, ‘Now let me see.’ Miraculously, it came back. I came close to walking off.”

From high school, Haynes launched himself into a career dedicated to the world of entertainment, eventually landing at WFAA in 1952, where he did sports broadcasting, conducted interviews, hosted variety shows and a little show called Dallas Bandstand.

“I was kind of the Dick Clark of Dallas,” he says.

But it was his role as Mr. Peppermint that is his most cherished.

“It gave me a niche, and it also it was so much fun,” he says. “It was very creative, and when I went into it, I didn’t mess around. I studied French, took guitar lessons, took voice lessons.”

At the age of 76, Haynes is still throwing himself into projects. He was recently in Austin to film an HBO pilot called “$5.15/Hour.” The director? None other than Richard Linklater, director of such classics as “Slacker,” Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise,” and most recently, “The School of Rock.”

Of Linklater, Haynes says: “He was wonderful. Just totally unassuming and really a regular guy.”

In the pilot, Haynes’ plays Jim Hoak, a character who opens and closes an all-night diner in Austin called Grammaw’s Home Cookin’.

“We’re a sad lot,” Haynes says of the show’s characters. “A group of losers who work in the restaurant.”

If the pilot successful and the show is put into full-time production by HBO, Haynes says Linklater told him there was a “strong possibility I’d be called back from time to time for a semi-recurring role.”

It’s a proposition he would welcome, he says.

“You work to stay alive.”


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.