Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Coming Home // 500 INVITED BACK

(ran PAS edition)

The idea came to Land O'Lakes High School teaching assistant Wendy White like this: It's homecoming, so why not bring everyone home?

A few days later, more than 500 invitations hit the mail, bound for hundreds of Land O'Lakes High graduates throughout Florida.

"The meaning of homecoming is for people to come home," said White, 38. "So I said to myself: "That's what we should do, invite all the graduating seniors to come home.'

"Everybody thought it was a great idea."

So they assigned White the task of finding out which graduates still lived in the state, then inviting them to a tailgate party Thursday to celebrate Land O'Lakes High School's 20th anniversary homecoming.

Of course, some graduates never left.

White, you see, began her connection to Land O'Lakes High as a member of the school's first graduating class in 1976. Back then, when White's last name was Thompson, and the best thing about the new high school that opened its doors on U.S. 41 was that it was much closer than the alternative _ Pasco High School in Dade City.

It was a journey White has never missed.

"It was 20 miles to Dade City," she said. "We had to ride the bus there every single day and it was long and hot. So it was great to have our own new school."

Land O'Lakes High's first senior class had about 87 students divided into three cliques.

"There weren't that many of us so you just hung with everybody in your class," White said. "There were the cool people, the people we didn't think were cool, and the "cowboy types.' It was an easy-going class, no waves. You didn't have as many cliques then as you do now.

"Nowadays there's so many different cliques. Back then, I don't remember the fights we have now. I think everybody just stayed in their groups then."

So which clique was she in?

"I guess you could say I was a rebel child," White said. "I didn't make good grades until my senior year. I dropped out for half a year, then came back and graduated."

White said the fashion and culture was also decidedly different then, too.

"There was no place to hang out here, everybody went to Tampa," she said. "Everybody had long hair. The girls did. And most of the guys did. It was kind of the hippies' days."

Well, maybe it's not that different from today.

"All the clothes I see the kids wearing today _ the bell bottoms, the hip huggers, baggy pants, etc. _ are the ones we wore back in 1976," White said. "They just dragged all those old clothes back out.

"The other teachers and I tell them to save them _ they might need them again one day."

White said that unlike many of her peers, she doesn't see that much difference between the generations.

"I don't see any difference in the temptations they face," White said. "I think people see that more because there's just more kids than ever before."

White and husband John have three kids of their own: Selena, 18, who graduated from Land O'Lakes High last year; Alicia, a 14-year-old ninth-grader and cheerleader; and Melissa, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Sanders Elementary School.

White was born in England (her father was in the Air Force stationed there when he met her mother). Then the family moved around the south, headed for Tampa, and later Land O'Lakes. White never left the area because both sides of her family live here, as does just about everybody else she knows _ including many Land O'Lakes High alums.

"You see people who graduated from here all the time," she said. "You can see them just going to the grocery store."

That's why the prospects of meeting all those Land O'Lakes High graduates doesn't make her nervous. The alums have been invited to the school's annual tailgate party in the school commons area at 4 p.m. Admission is $4, and benefits the school's cheerleading squad. Food and drinks will be served.

"We've had the tailgating party for the past two years," White said. "But this is the biggest yet."