Happy times, heartbreak revisited at Howard Park school reunion

October 05, 1991|By Ann LoLordo

It wasn't a wedding or the birth of a child or a funeral that brought Michael Adler 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Woodlawn yesterday evening.

It was the chance to see Miss Siegel, Miss Anna Siegel, her fourth-grade teacher, at the first ever reunion of the old School 218, Howard Park Elementary.

Or Patsy Centofanti, the very first Italian girl the young Michael Adler befriended and with whom she ate her very first Easter egg.

Or better yet, Joyce Merkle.

"I hope she's there," Ms. Adler said hours before the reunion at Martin's West. "She had a blond ponytail and she sat in front of me."

A resident of Chaville, France, for 12 years, Ms. Adler didn't think she would be able to attend the reunion. It was just too far to come. But her mother and husband convinced her otherwise.

"How many times in your life do you have a chance to do this?" said the 46-year-old businesswoman. "What are frequent flier miles for?"

But as much as Ms. Adler wanted to see Miss Siegel and her other grade-school teachers -- she remembers the names of each one, except for the substitute she had in the second grade -- it was the nostalgia for a lost time and much favored neighborhood that brought her and more than 400 other alumni together for an evening of reminiscing and reacquainting.

"It really was an era that I don't think we could recapture. People

took care of one another. It really was America," said Ms. Adler.

They drove from Catonsville and Sykesville, Ocean City and Fallston. They came from Santa Monica, Calif., Sehner, Tenn., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Columbus, Ohio.

Lynne Magruder Mason looked across the crowded ballroom. And there he was: Peter Sullivan. Her sixth-grade love. She shrieked.

"I didn't meant to laugh hysterically. I didn't think you'd be here," Ms. Mason, of Catonsville, said to her first boyfriend, now a tall, tanned man with light brown hair.

"She broke my heart," Mr. Sullivan said to a bystander.

Michael Adler scanned the list of guests for her childhood friends, Patsy Centofanti and Joyce Merkle. Their names were missing.

But out of the corner of her eye she spotted a diminutive woman with salt-and-pepper hair and a spit curl in the middle of her forehead: Miss Anna Siegel, her fourth grade teacher. She was much shorter than Ms. Adler had remembered her.

But the 85-year-old teacher recognized her former pupil.

"She said my coloring was the same," Ms. Adler said later.

Arthur M. Lynch knew he wouldn't be seeing any of his old teachers. Even running into old classmates would be a long shot -- Mr. Lynch is 85 years old. But he brought a photograph of his seventh-grade class, taken in 1919 just in case, and his daughter and son, both school alumni.

"I remember my teachers really well," he said. "I had wonderful teachers. All ladies. Josie Shea, seventh grade teacher. She was helpful. She was kind and yet she was disciplined. She had a velvet iron glove."

Nancy Ricks used to walk to school from her home on Norwood Avenue. In fact, in Howard Park, kids could walk just about anywhere they wanted to go, the movies, the bowling alley, the park, and not be afraid, she recalled.

"It was a safe time. Kids could go out and run the streets. For 50 cents you could go to the movies and live there all day. Everyone knew everybody else," said Ms. Ricks, who has spent a good chunk of this year planning the reunion.

It was a newspaper advertisement placed by Howard Park alumnus John L. Segall that first suggested a reunion.

Mr. Segall, 43, decided to organize a reunion after several old classmates stopped by to see him after his mother's death in November 1989. When the ad first ran in January 1990, more than 300 people called the photography business Mr. Segall and his brother, Jeffrey, operate.

"I don't think my secretary's forgiven me yet," Mr. Segall said.

Although the school, located on Liberty Heights Avenue near Gwynn Oak Junction, has been closed since 1980, Mr. Segall remembered that compositions from Howard Park students had been placed in a time capsule in the corner stone for the recreation center in 1958.

Mr. Segall got permission from the city to open the time capsule and hired a contractor, but the 12- to 13-inch concrete block proved too formidable to crack.

"There are always future reunions," he said. "I have that as a goal to get that open."

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