Class Of 1930 Graduation Ring With MGA Ties A Priceless Heirloom For Cochran Family

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Monday, January 29, 2024 12:00 AM
Categories: Pressroom | School of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Cochran, GA

Sonja Curtis, shown in Ebenezer Hall on the Cochran Campus. She is wearing her mother's class ring and is surrounded by grade reports and other papers her mother kept from her days at Middle Georgia College in the late 1920s to 1930.

From Sonja Curtis's earliest memories, the ring has loomed large in her life.

It’s a 14-karat gold class ring, worn smooth with age, that her mother, Ruth Monteen Cook, received in 1930 when she graduated from what many in Cochran and the surrounding communities apparently still referred to as New Ebenezer College, although by that time it had become Middle Georgia College.

“My mother lived on a farm in Roddy, about 10 miles outside of Cochran,” Curtis said. “She used to talk about driving to the campus in a Model T Ford and sometimes slipping and sliding on the muddy roads. She had a deep desire to get an education and to be constantly learning. She worked hard for that.”

Cook, who went on to establish a career in full-time and substitute teaching, wore the ring her entire adult life. She died in 1996 at the age of 86. Since then, Curtis has proudly worn the ring, inscribed on the head with the initials RMC, not only to honor her mother’s memory but to pay tribute to a historic college that is now part of Middle Georgia State University (MGA).

“This school has done so much for our family and for the community,” said Curtis, who herself attended Middle Georgia College in the 1960s.

In 1884, the New Ebenezer Baptist Association established New Ebenezer College, a junior college, in Cochran. The first classes were held in 1887. A dozen years later the association discontinued its support, forcing the college to close in 1898.

In 1919, the Georgia State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts – a division of the University of Georgia – opened a branch on the old Ebenezer campus. In 1927, the college’s name was changed to Middle Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical Junior College. In 1929 the name was changed to Middle Georgia College, which remained a two-year junior college operated by a board of trustees.

In 1931, the college became a junior college unit of a new organization called the University System of Georgia. More than 80 years later, Middle Georgia College merged with Macon State College to become what is now Middle Georgia State University.

Going by Curtis’s memories, her mother considered herself a graduate of New Ebenezer and referred to her treasured class ring as a New Ebenezer ring. The sentiment is understandable, given the institution’s origins. But most of the nearly translucent, index-card-sized grade reports (revealing a bevy of A’s) that Cook saved and are now in the hands of her daughter refer to the school as Middle Georgia College, as does the formal graduation program and the credential she received.

Cook was the second of five children who grew up in a farming family. According to Curtis, her mother possessed a larger-than-life curiosity about many subjects and was the only child in her family to receive much formal education. Curtis said her mother studied teacher education while at Middle Georgia College and began teaching right after graduation at the Roddy School, a community school just across the Bleckley County line near Eastman.

She taught various grade levels at Roddy, earning a reputation among students as a kind teacher who could nonetheless with one severe look get unruly kids to quiet down. With her meager earnings, she helped her parents buy feed for the farm hogs until they could get them to market and make a little money.

“I can’t imagine her parents even had the money to buy the class ring,” Curtis said. “They must have made a huge sacrifice and that’s why she loved the ring so much.”

Curtis said that her mother, after graduating from Middle Georgia College, got some scholarship offers to study pharmacy at the University of Georgia. But she decided not to go due to lacking the additional money she would need to fully support herself while going to school.

Instead, Cook married and began to have children, but she continued to substitute teach for many years at several different schools in the area. Throughout her life she taught herself things she wanted to learn, such as typing, crocheting, and playing the piano. She always, always wore her class ring, only removing it for brief periods to allow Curtis, as a child, to play with it while sitting beside her mother in a pew at Sunday morning church services.

With her mother’s encouragement, Curtis became an accomplished pianist, providing accompaniment at weddings before she was even a teenager, and later serving as a church organist. She had three daughters with her husband, Alan, a now-retired airline pilot and trustee emeritus for the Middle Georgia State University Foundation. Later in her life Curtis served several years as chair of the Bleckley County school board.

All three Curtis daughters graduated from Middle Georgia College. Most of their children, in turn, also got at least part of their university education at MGA, including two who were dual enrolled while in high school.

“It just goes on and on for what this school has done for our family,” Curtis said.

Her mother left her class ring to Curtis in her will because she knew how much her daughter loved it. Fondness for the ring extended to Curtis’s daughters, two of whom had copies made to wear. Her third daughter, Curtis said with a chuckle, hopes to one day inherit the real thing.

Curtis said she isn’t aware of any other families who own a Middle Georgia College-connected class ring that is as old as her mother’s and is still being worn. Not long ago, Curtis showed the ring to MGA President Christopher Blake, who has shared her mother’s story in public gatherings as a way of describing how the University’s thriving present and promising future is built on accomplishments of the past.

Her mother, Curtis said, would be thrilled.

“She believed that ring represented hard work and the importance of education,” Curtis said. “It represented an important part of her.”