By J. Stuart Lassetter
In 1906, Fairmount Subdivision was established where the dormitories are presently located on Mississippi College’s East Campus. Part of the subdivision was bought for a new public school building that was constructed in 1916. A house was also acquired and provided for the principal. A north-south street with no name was included in the original subdivision plans and connected College Street with Fairmount Street. The principal’s house was on the east side of the street and had steps leading down to the sidewalk along College Street to the north.
In 1907, John Madison Lassetter came to Mississippi College as a freshman and graduated three years later in the Class of 1910. He was a born athlete and, along with his studies, enjoyed track best. Based on winning races (he never lost one as an Mississippi College runner) he was nicknamed “Marathon Matt.” As a senior, he represented Mississippi College in the five-mile race at the State Fair and, taking first place, became the State Champion. In 1977, he was inducted into the Mississippi College Sports Hall of Fame. Of all the Hall of Famers (about 230 by 2016), he is one of only three who were five sport lettermen; and, considering when the Hall of Fame members were students, Lassetter was the earliest one.
Matt and Annie McLean, a 1910 Hillman College graduate, were married in 1912 and spent several years in the Philippine Islands, where Matt was a U.S. Civil Service teacher, administrator and coach. He developed a regime of physical education and development that he used in his coaching. For a time, it was used by the U.S. Army for developing new recruits.
The Lassetters returned to the United States, where their only child, Mary Beth, was born. Matt came back to the town of his alma mater in 1923 as principal (often called superintendent) of the Clinton schools, and loving classroom interaction with students, he always taught a mathematics class. After “Prof,” as he became known during this time, and his family had lived in Clinton for a while and had become successful, respected Clintonians, the street by the principal’s house was named Lassetter Street in his honor. Mary Beth graduated from Hillman College in 1936.
In 1931, a new school building was built, Clinton’s first one dedicated to the high school grades nine through twelve. It was located on the west side of Lassetter Street. The elementary grades continued in the 1916 building east of the street. A problem arose because of students and teachers every school day crossing back and forth on a public street between the two buildings. As a solution, Lassetter Street north of the buildings was closed, and the part to the south was absorbed by the school parking lot. After that, all vehicular traffic entered the school grounds from Fairmount Street. A covered walkway was built to connect the two buildings. The original north roadbed of Lassetter Street was absorbed as part of the school lawn that faced College Street, and its connection with that street filled in.
When Lassetter was a student, golf was not one of his sports, but he later learned to play. During the 1930s and early 40s, there was a foursome of close friends that often played together. Three were at Mississippi College: Dr. Howard Spell (Professor, later Dean), Dr. D. M. Nelson, (President, Nelson Hall is named for him), and Dr. W. H. Sumrall (Professor, later Dean); and the fourth was “Prof” Lassetter, Clinton’s School Principal. “Prof” earned a Master’s Degree in 1932 from Mississippi College, where he also taught mathematics during summer school and to military students in the 1940’s V-12 program.
In 1941, Annie passed away from a heart attack. The next year, a new elementary building was completed on the site of the 1916 facility, and it was Clinton’s first dedicated to elementary grades. It had an auditorium and, to honor Annie, who was a fourth grade Clinton teacher, active in the community and for fifteen years organist at the Clinton Baptist Church, Clintonians named it Lassetter Auditorium.
Genevieve Stuart’s family moved to Clinton in 1919. She graduated from Hillman College in 1935 and Mississippi College in 1937 and became a public school teacher; some of her teaching was in Clinton when “Prof” was principal. “Prof” and Genevieve were married in 1942, and their first child, Stuart, was born in 1944. The three lived in the principal’s house until the summer of 1945, when “Prof” left public school service. The Lassetters continued living in Clinton and had three more children: Nina Ruth Lassetter Compton, Gene Estelle Lassetter Everitt and John Madison Lassetter, Jr. Stuart, Nina and Gene, are Mississippi College graduates, as is one grandchild, (Stuart’s daughter) Carrie Lassetter Reeves, who is an associate professor in the Mississippi College Art Department.
In 1977, “Prof” became a charter member of Mississippi College’s 50 Year Club and for years was the oldest living alumnus. He was honored as Clinton’s Outstanding Citizen for 1983. “Prof” was an eternal optimist and loved interacting with people. He lived life to the fullest and passed away in 1989 three months before 101 years of life. After his death, the J. M. Lassetter Education Award was established at Mississippi College in his honor.
Today, everything from “Prof’s” time is gone, except the 1942 building with its auditorium. In 2017, along with other information, the building’s bronze plaque still declares: “J. M. LASSETTER SUPT. CLINTON COLSOLIDATED SCHOOL.” The Clinton school grounds were bought by Mississippi College and now have the East College Street numbers 400 and 402. Development of the East Campus included plans for a north-south street to connect College and Fairmont (today’s spelling) Streets. If the original Lassetter Street and the new street were side by side today, they would be about twenty feet apart. And, the new street is named Lassetter Drive!
On July 25, a dedication ceremony was held on the East Campus. Mississippi College dignitaries who spoke were Dr. Lee G. Royce, President; Dr. Steve Stanford, Vice President for Administration and Government Relations, and Dr. Burn Page, Associate Professor of Christian Studies and Philosophy. Family members, including four of “Prof’s” children and two grandchildren, were present, and Rev. Dr. Stuart Lassetter spoke on behalf of “Prof’s” family. M.C. staff members, family friends, and others representing the City of Clinton also attended.