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‘Piedmont panther’ comes home after 36 years

Debbie Drake Baucom, a former Piedmont High School student, sees for the first time a painting she did 37 years ago. The painting of the school’s mascot, a Columbia blue panther, was returned to the school recently by its former principal Jim Simeon, at right, who left in 1973. It will once again hang on the walls of the school.

Thirty-six years ago, Debbie Drake, a Piedmont High School student, painted the school’s mascot, a Columbia blue panther, to hang in the school’s office. That panther has now found its way home to once again hang on the walls of the school.
   
When former principal Jim Simeon left Piedmont High School in 1973 to take a job with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, he was presented the painting, which had hung in his office, as a memento of the school and his principalship. He was so fond of the painting, that he carried it with him through the years, always reminding him of his time in Union County.
   
Simeon decided it was time the panther came home, however, and returned the painting to the school recently. The emotion was apparent in his voice as he handed it back over to the artist who originally painted it.
   
“It has hung in various places in Raleigh, Wilkes County, Sampson County, Clinton, Lexington, Davison County, Atlanta, and now it’s back in North Carolina,” he said to the small group of onlookers, which included Union County Public Schools officials, two Piedmont art teachers and art students, and the painting’s artist, Debbie Drake Baucom.
   
“It’s a well-traveled panther,” he said. “I wanted to bring it back and to thank Debbie for what it’s meant to me because this was the last school where I was a principal. Piedmont is very special to me.”
   
“I’m stunned that he kept it,” Baucom said later. “We graduated in 1972, so that’s 37 years ago. I cannot believe he’s carried it with him all those years.”
   
Baucom said that as a teenager she frequently drew the leaping panther. There were no art classes at Piedmont High at the time, so she had taught herself how to paint. “I did this painting at home and gave it to the school. I was always a very proud Panther.” 
   
The panther’s return home began when Piedmont High School parent Fred Edwards, who serves on the board of Partnership for Excellence, had a conversation with Simeon, a fellow board member who now lives in Southern Pines. When Simeon, the incoming chair of the organization, heard that Edwards had children who attended Piedmont High School, he told him of the painting and the young artist who painted it. 
   
During the conversation, Simeon offered to return the painting to the school, a valuable reminder of the past.
   
Piedmont High School principal Jonathan Bowers said Simeon returning the painting is a good example of how committed people are to the Piedmont High School community. “This represents a bridge between the past and the present, so that we can bring together those artistic talents that were displayed back then and be able to share them with the students today. It shows just how important this school is to people long after they leave.”
   
“I think it’s so exciting,” said Traci Price, art teacher at Piedmont High School. “Even though there was no art teacher, to know that art was still alive and students were still very passionate. It shows the passion of art; one simple painting and how much it meant to him; all the ties and all the memories in one painting.” 
   
Price said it is appropriate that the painting was done by Baucom, who has been an active supporter of the school for many years. “She’s been such a wonderful supporter and avid leader in this community,” Price said.
   
Baucom admitted she was a little nervous about seeing the painting. “The students today do such wonderful work,” she said. “And our art department here is so good. The artwork I see students do today far exceeds anything that we did in the early 1970s because we were self taught.
   
“It’s a little embarrassing in front of these excellent art students, but it means so much that Mr. Simeon has taken it with him from one place to another,” Baucom added. “I never would have thought that this painting would have been here in 2009. It blows my mind.”
   
During the presentation, Simeon encouraged the art students to enjoy their time in high school. “It’s important to value the opportunity you have here at Piedmont,” he said. “You’ll be where I am some day. Remember what you have gained here and the opportunities these people have given you, because it will mold you to be the citizen that you want to be.”
   
The panther painting will be displayed in a prominent location at the school, Bowers said, so that students, staff and the community can enjoy it.
   
Edwards said the symbolism of the situation did not escape him. “Like so many panthers, we’re prone to roam, but we always end up coming home,” he said. “The symbolism is just unreal. This panther has been so many places and now he has come home to rest.”

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, Publications Coordinator
Posted: Jun 25, 2009 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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