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South San Antonio ISD Remembers Inaugural Graduating Class of 1923

By John C. Garcia

As we get closer to the end of the Centennial year of South San Antonio Independent School District, we take a look back at the very first graduating class from South San Antonio High School in 1923.

To properly appreciate the first graduating class, you have to understand what it took to even have a school. By the turn of the century in 1900, the area that is the South San Antonio Independent School District existed as a predominantly rural and unincorporated part of southern Bexar County.

Most of the area was populated by vegetable farms, dairy farms and flower and plant nurseries primarily established by Belgian, German and Japanese immigrants. The town center surrounded the present day area of Dwight Middle School and Price Elementary.

The town existed solely based on the fact that it was a station on the Texas/New Orleans Railroad. For the few families that did live in the area and were interested in education, you had to travel by horse drawn carriage to the Edgewood School as it was the nearest public school to the area.

By 1916, the town was still small and sparsely populated, but that would soon begin the challenge. Humble Oil, which was chartered in 1911, would soon open an oil refinery in town and the United States would soon be embroiled in World War I.

With visions of a prosperous city, Charles Fowler officially promoted the area to the Office of the PostMaster General as a town site in 1916.  Fowler’s vision began to materialize in 1917 when the United States officially entered World War I.

The United States Army Air Corps, back then housed in San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston, had a very inadequate runway for military aircraft. As such, the Army sought a new location close by for a new runway and pilot training center.

The military chose a relatively flat piece of land just west of the town that was currently occupied by farmland. They liked the location not only for the grade of the terrain, but also because the railroad ran close by, which meant they could get in men and equipment easily.

Thus, in 1917, a new Army air field was constructed and opened with the name the South San Antonio Aviation Camp. The facility would later be renamed Kelly Field. This would begin a military presence in the town that still exists today.

In 1919, Charles Fowler would finally get his wish as a post office was officially built and opened in the newly incorporated city of South San Antonio. At this time, the population of the city of South San Antonio was approximately 700 residents.

Because of this, the city's forefathers felt it was time to open a local school for the children of South San Antonio. Thus, the decision was made to purchase and repurpose a three-story building located on Fleming Street, just off of Main Avenue (now W. Southcross Blvd.). The building previously was a theater, so the inside of the structure would have to be rebuilt to house a school. The school officially opened in the fall of 1919, just two months after the end of World War I.

The name of the school was the South San Antonio School after the name of the city. The school building housed all grades in one location. Back in the 1920’s, there were only ten grade levels, so graduates were usually 16-years-old instead of 18-years-old like today.

Eleventh grade would be added by the 1930’s and twelfth grade by the 1940’s. As the city leaders foresaw the growth of the area with the military and other industries such as Humble Oil and the refinery they would open in South San Antonio, they also felt the need for an official school district and began the process.

In 1922, the South San Antonio Independent School District was officially born. The first president of the South San Antonio School Board was L.E. Trapp Sr. and his wife, Laura Trapp, is the one given credit for naming the city South San Antonio. As such, the school would also become South San Antonio High School.

The first Superintendent of the South San Antonio Independent School District was A.S. West, who was the father of graduate Clyde West. In the spring of 1923, South San Antonio High School was ready for its first graduating class. The class of 1923 was a total of seven graduates, as the entire school had only thirty-five students. Among the seven graduates were Dorothy Trapp, Kathryn Kempen, Marie Kempen, Clyde West, Lee Bruce, Armand Ginther and Maria Medellin.

As the class of 2023 walks across the stage to accept their diplomas, we hope they tip their graduation caps in honor of the seven graduates who preceded them 100 years earlier. Congratulations to the South San Antonio Independent School District for this huge milestone and to the Class of 2023 graduates from South San Antonio and West Campus High Schools!