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Alumni Feature: Mr. David Grist '67

" Being the archivist at Rabun Gap has been great.  I am able to work part-time where I grew up and where my ancestors lived.  My father’s oldest brother married Mae Smoak who was one of the first teachers here at the Rabun Gap Industrial School in 1903.  So, I have a real connection to this place." 
Mr. David Grist ‘67 has a deep commitment to the history of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. His family has deep root at Rabun Gap. After attending Rabun Gap as a day student in the 60s, Mr. Grist returned in 2017 as the school’s archivist. As archivist, Mr. Grist spends his time running the archives, organizing and chronicling historical photos and artifacts,  and working with people who want to know more about Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School’s history.

Tell us about your family.
I am the youngest of six children.  My father, grandfather, and grandmother on my dad’s side all grew up in the Kelly Creek, Highlands Road in Dillard, GA.  My wife Sharon and I live in the house that my grandparents built. We have two children who are adults now: Ressie and John, and three grandchildren.
Were you a day student or a boarding student during your time here at Rabun Gap?
A day student but not like the day students of today.  Before 1978, students who lived north of Mountain City went to Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School.  So, I rode the public school bus to campus and my friends walked from either Bellingrath or Coit. The public high school in Clayton burned in the early 1970’s, so the county decided to build on consolidated high school for the county which left RGNS to go completely private in 1978.
How many years did you attend and what year did you start?
I began at RGNS in the eighth grade and graduated in 1967; so 5 years.
Tell us about where you went to college and what you’ve been up to after graduating from Rabun Gap. What have you done as a career?
After high school, I took a business course in Atlanta and then worked at the Burlington Industries plant here in Rabun Gap.  I went to college in 1971 at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, NC, and began my teaching career. I did my graduate and specialist work at Western Carolina University, North Georgia College and the University of Georgia.  I began teaching in Asheville, NC, but taught and was in educational administration here in Rabun County for 32 years.
What has it been like being the Rabun Gap Archivist?
Being the archivist at Rabun Gap has been great.  I am able to work part time where I grew up and where my ancestors lived.  My father’s oldest brother married Mae Smoak who was one of the first teachers here at the Rabun Gap Industrial School in 1903.  So, I have a real connection to this place. Each day in the archives, I discover more interesting things about the school. Each request for information also uncovers interesting facts about life at Rabun Gap.
How would you say Rabun Gap has impacted your life since graduating? Did it change you as a person?
Being a student at RGNS exposed me for the first time to students from many areas of the United States, and while I was here there was a Hispanic student and a Korean student. Great teachers like Mr. Morris Brown, Mr. Robert Philp, Mr. Billy Jo Stiles, Mr. Jack Beaver, Mr. Jim Burden, and Miss Lois Ellis were influential even though I did not realize it at the time.
What in your mind makes Rabun Gap a special place?  
The caring teachers whom I mentioned above and the good memories of classes and friends that were made here.
What was the greatest lesson being at Rabun Gap taught you?
Learning to get along with students who had grown up in other areas of the country and had very different backgrounds from me.
What's your favorite memory from Rabun Gap?
One of my favorite memories is of being in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and having the “vocational” connection with my learning.

Also - This will tell my generation for sure -  but I was in class here in the ’60s and we had the windows open, and someone came by and said that President Kennedy had been shot. You could ask this question to anyone who grew up in the ’60s and they could tell you where they were when President Kennedy passed away. That is a memory that stands out for me
What’s your family’s history with Rabun Gap?
As I mentioned, an aunt was among the first teachers here; my father served on the Board of Trustees for a short while; I have many family members (sisters and cousins) and many family friends who graduated from Rabun Gap Nacoochee.  My parents were friends with former president Skinner and Dr. and Mrs. Anderson.
What advice do you have for current Rabun Gap students that you wish someone told you during your time at school?  
Take advantage of all of the opportunities that you can. (I am sure I was told that but did not follow through)
As the archivist at Rabun Gap, have you uncovered an interesting story or do you have a favorite story that you like to tell?
We were looking at the date for when the Home Economics house, where Coach Bryson currently lives, was built and found out that the school had offered to build a house for the Harrells who were here at the time for them to live in. The story goes that Ms. Harrell said, “It doesn’t matter what size it is, as long as it’s a brick house.” That was a big thing during that day.

What are some positive changes that you have seen take place at Rabun Gap over the years?
Having more international students here, that’s been a good experience. The school is able to provide a high percentage of financial aid for students, which is impressive. Not many private schools can say that they are doing that.

Which teacher or coach had the greatest influence on you?
Mr. Jack Beaver and Mr. Morris Brown had the greatest influence on me.
Tell us something interesting about you that we wouldn’t otherwise know.
I enjoy camping, hiking and cooking over the fire.  I am a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and do elementary school presentation on early colonial life and the American Revolution.
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School is a private, coeducational day and boarding school for grades Pre-K through 12. Centrally located between Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, and Asheville, NC, we prepare young people for college, career, and a lifetime of leadership and service.