by Tom George,


- William Gilbert is retiring as Putnam County's Head Start director after serving for 48 years.

- Head Start began in 1965 to give low-income students a chance to attend preschool.

-Some of Gilbert's former students are now doctors and lawyers.

When William Gilbert of Eatonton began as director of Putnam County's Head Start program, Lyndon B. Johnson was president and schools were still segregated.

In 1965, Johnson passed the Head Start Program, which gave an opportunity for low-income students to attend preschool. Gilbert wrote the grant for Putnam County to start a program and got it.

But in its early years, Gilbert's program faced funding issues and had to change buildings a few times. During segregation, he says he also had trouble getting white students to sign up.

And without buses, he had to creative.

"I bought two station wagons," he explains. He says he managed fit 25 students in his station wagons.

He says the preschool program was a good way for kids to have an outlet where they could learn instead of wandering the streets or getting into trouble.

And over the years, Gilbert's 'Head Start' program grew to a success. It was even used as a national model for other programs. In addition to the ABC's and 123's, students learned songs and did activities.

All culminating in a yearly graduation ceremony marking the end of preschool and the beginning of Kindergarten.

Sunday, that ceremony had around 100 children at the Rock Eagle Auditorium in Eatonton. This year marks Gilbert's last as director. He's retiring after 48 years.

With former students as doctors, lawyers, and parents or grandparents of other Head Start students, people in Putnam County say he'll be missed.

"I'm gonna miss Head Start," he said. "But I'll be around."

Follow Tom George on Twitter @thetomgeorge

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