After 50 years, graduates to reunite

April 29, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to The Sun

In 1944, 51 students graduated from Ellicott City High School, now Ellicott Mills Middle School on Montgomery Road, and headed off to make their way in the world. Today, 32 of them will meet again, for their 50-year high school reunion.

The event, which will take place at Snyder's Willow Grove in Baltimore County, is the class' first get-together since graduation, drawing graduates from as far away as Borrego Springs, Calif. Of the 45 surviving members of the class, 23 live in Howard County.

Seven former classmates, all residents of Howard County, recently reminisced about their old school as they worked out the details of the reunion.

"That was the cleanest school I have ever seen," said Calvin Stapf of Ellicott City, a 67-year-old former lineman retired from American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

The principal, John Yingling, "kept everybody on his toes," he recalled.

At the time Mr. Stapf attended the high school, it included grades eight through 11. It had 12 faculty members and 250 students.

"The war [World War II] was going on," said Mr. Stapf. "I remember Mr. Yingling making us do calisthenics in the middle of Montgomery Road. If the Germans were coming, we were going to get them."

Because of wartime conservation efforts, the class had no bound, hardback yearbook. That didn't keep the students from compiling their own mimeographed, stapled version, called "The Oracle," which included quirky tidbits about the school.

The war colors many of the memories students have of Ellicott City High, brought home at the recent planning meeting by such memorabilia as a book of ration stamps for gasoline.

Because Howard County was mainly a farming area and many of the field hands were fighting in the war, local farmers often relied on adolescent boys to pick their crops after school.

"We received 5 cents a bushel to pick apples and to cut corn. It made a man out of you," Mr. Stapf said.

The shortage of men also meant a shortage of dates, said Mary Jane Lohrig Meisel, 67, who likes to dance.

"We didn't have any boys to dance with," she said, noting that many of her male classmates enlisted at 17 in the Maryland National Guard.

"The Oracle" listed three students who had entered the service before the graduation ceremonies of 1944 and received their diplomas when they returned home after the war. In all, the graduating class consisted of 16 boys and 35 girls.

The former high school students at the recent planning meeting recalled hanging out on the street corners of downtown Ellicott City, now a historic district. In those days, the students could shop for clothes at Caplan's, now an antiques store, and at Blank's and Sach's. They could go to the movies at a theater on the corner of Main Street and Columbia Pike.

For special occasions, the girls could have their hair curled at the beauty shop where planning committee member Barbara Davis Perry, a 67-year-old Columbia resident, was a hairdresser after graduation.

Members of the reunion committee are excited about the prospect of discussing those times and of meeting former teachers and classmates, some of whom they haven't seen since graduation.

Former music teacher Eleanor M. Dries and former physical education teacher Betty Lang, both of Ellicott City, will be at the event. Also on hand will be Wilhelmina Oldfield, also of Ellicott City, a former teacher at Ellicott City Elementary School who taught many of the students in the Class of '44 when they were in grade school.

"There was a great relationship between students, faculty and parents," said Miss Dries. "The schools were much smaller, and you got to know the students and their parents very well."

Former Principal John Yingling, 95, who lives in Ellicott City, is recuperating from pneumonia and will not be able to attend.

The memories of Ellicott City High School remain as clear as yesterday for many in the Class of '44.

Asked to recite the class motto, for example, Ms. Meisel said without hesitation: "Not at the top, but climbing."

"And we're still climbing," she said.

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