WHAT WOULD JOHN DENTON SAY?

By NOWELL BRISCOE

 

            As dark clouds of debate, discussion and discord swirl around the fate of two of Monroe’s well-known and beloved educational icons of the past, The Launius Memorial Library and Denton Hall, I paused recently to ponder what John Newman Denton would think  about the situation that has so many of Monroe’s citizens concerned.

            Readers of the Tribune along with longtime friends of the Launius family know the details of how the memorial library came to be with its beautiful marble and brick structure, standing on property that once housed the old Monroe High School building.  Some ways from this building, in the lower area of the grounds, stands what is left of Monroe’s first gymnasium, Denton Hall.  It has always been known as Denton Hall and not “the rock gym” as it has incorrectly been referred to.

            There are possibly only a handful of people left, maybe even fewer, who remember the man instrumental in building the city’s first real athletic center.  I dug through some old records to share some background information on John Denton.

            John Newman Denton was born and reared in McRae, Georgia.  After completing his studies at Elon College and the University of Georgia, he arrived in Monroe in 1925 at the age of twenty, to teach math and chemistry in the high school along with serving as principal.  In 1929 he became the superintendent of the school system.

            During his tenure as principal and superintendent, John Denton built one of the best school systems in the state at Monroe and was regarded as one of the top educators in Georgia.

            Early on as both teacher and principal, Denton realized a need for his students to have physical activity in addition to the classroom studies.  He saw a demanding need for a facility in which to accomplish his goal.  With funding limited, he set about to create and design the building he had in mind.

            Working alongside student s recruited from various classes in school, Denton’s gym became a reality.  A strong, sturdy building comprised of stone walls and wooden siding for the front and rear portions of the building rose from the dust standing proud.  The inside contained bleachers and a polished wooden floor for basketball games to be enjoyed along with the physical education programs he proposed for the students.  The building was completed in late January 1933.  On February 9th, the building was dedicated in his honor and officially named “Denton Hall”.

            Saturday, April 14th found John Denton in Atlanta when he was stricken by an acute case of appendicitis.  He was rushed back to the hospital in Monroe where Dr. Harry Nunnally performed surgery.  Complications from the surgery arose resulting in his death on April 18th.  He was 29 years old.

            Members of the school board deemed it appropriate his funeral be held in the building bearing his name.  On Wednesday, April 19th, largely attended services were held in Denton Hall with burial the following day in McRae, Ga.

            How would John Denton react today over the controversy on the fate of the building he helped create?  Would he say the building has long since served its purpose and should be torn down or would he look beyond the rubble and rotting wood to envision another building created from the remnants of the original which could house a youth center or perhaps a history museum to help preserve Monroe’s past along with the lineage of those instrumental in the building of the town.

            Monroe has lost so many noteworthy buildings through the years to “the forward progress of the city”, only to later regret the demolition of these sites.

            John Denton gave Monroe a large part of his young life and energy and the only testament to his legacy now stands in a precarious position.  The Launius family has given generously and freely of their resources through the years for the betterment of Monroe, never asking anything in return.  It would be a slap in the face to the city if these buildings were not looked upon as future sites for community endeavors.  The buildings are there; all that needs be done is to find the resources in which to breathe new life into them and have them continue to serve the city as they have done for so long.  It is time for  Monroe to show its  appreciation to these individuals and their memory by seeing the buildings that are so loved and cherished become active again for future generations to enjoy.