Walker High Class of ’78 still looking after classmate

‘Always a Viking’

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Despite the passage of more than 40 years, a group of  Walker High School graduates is helping take care of a classmate now confined to a rehabilitation center. 

Debra Garrett, a 1978 Walker High graduate, began a drive about a month ago to raise money to buy a few items to help fellow classmate Sammy McClendon pass the time now that he’s living at Walker Rehabilitation Center (Consult America) in Carbon Hill.

Garrett, who now lives in Gardendale, posted on social media her quest to raise money to help McClendon. Since that posting, she has received more than $1,700 from fellow classmates living across the U.S.

“It was incredible the amount of support I got,” she said. “it just shows that even after all these years, everybody still loves Sammy.”

Garrett, along with Carol Starnes Cates of Chelsea and Melanie Farren Dale of West Jefferson, visited with McClendon Saturday to surprise him with the gifts that included an iPad, Nintendo Switch gaming system, numerous games, gift cards, golf shirts, and lots of snacks.

McClendon, who is unable to walk now due to a leg injury suffered last year, was not aware that Garrett, Cates and Dale were stopping by to spend time with him Saturday morning. He also had no know idea of the gifts they would be bringing. 

“This is amazing,” said McClendon, who’s been at Walker Rehab for about a year now.   He has no other family members living since his dad, former Jasper City Council member Ray McClendon, passed away a few years ago.

“The love that these people are showing to me is amazing. I don’t really know what to think about this,” he said.

McClendon called the Class of 1978 “a close bunch.”

McClendon, who worked for 29 years for the Walker County Commission, mostly doing odd jobs, became sick late last year after contracting COVID-19. “That was rough,” he said. 

“This is just a total outpouring of love for Sammy,” Garrett said. “Sammy is so well-loved by everybody we went to school with. I don’t know where you would have been at school if you didn’t know Sammy.”

Garrett said the idea to help McClendon started out as a birthday wish for her. “I told my husband, Billy, that for my birthday I wanted to get Sammy a gaming system,” she said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I knew this would mean so much more to Sammy coming from all the people who love and care about him than just from me.”

Garrett said when she first posted her desire to help McClendon on social media, she didn’t know what kind of response she’d get.

“It’s been incredible. There were 40-plus people who donated money just for Sammy,” she said. “I had no idea it would be like this. I knew there would be several who would come through, but our class just showed up in a big way.”

Garrett said she simply asked for $20 donations. “Some have been much more than that,” she said. “I’m just humbled that so many people entrusted me to spend their money and buy things for Sammy. 

Cates said she’s hoping that since McClendon now has an iPad, he can stay in touch with his former classmates as much as possible and let them know if he has any needs.

“It’s hard not to love Sammy,” she said. “Our class was really special in that we seemed to bond more than a lot of classes did.”