Gilman School celebrates centennial Thousands of alumni return for weekend

October 19, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

They came from Paris, Hong Kong and all neighborhoods of metropolitan Baltimore to celebrate 100 years of learning at Gilman School.

Yesterday, as bagpipers solemnly led a parade of Gilman alumni to the stately private boys' school's Roland Park campus, hundreds of graduates tipped their hats to the institution in a spirited birthday tribute marked by rowdy cheers, sweet memories and emotional reunions.

Centered under a white tent nearly the size of two football fields, the school's centennial weekend called about 2,000 Gilmanites back to the Colonial red-brick campus to pay tribute to past educational successes and toast future endeavors.

"Here, there is a history of producing leaders for this city and state," said Headmaster Archibald R. Montgomery IV. "Our ethos is to transform boys of promise into men of character."

As the parade of Gilman graduates streamed across Roland Avenue and in front of a reviewing stand yesterday morning, each class was recognized for the number of lawyers, doctors, judges, Cabinet secretaries and university presidents it produced.

As the parade progressed, bystanders could see the school's social history unfold, too. Once a preppie bastion for non-Jewish, white males, Gilman diversified in the mid-1950s and today enrolls 970 boys, one-fourth of them minorities.

"I was the beginning of what is now a true community school," said George B. Hess Jr., Gilman's first Jewish student, Class of 1955, and a member of the family that owns Hess Shoes. "I feel as though I've helped to give something back to an institution that gave me so much."

Gilman opened in 1897 as the Country School for Boys, the project of 32-year-old Anne Galbraith Carey, who sought a school for her 8-year-old son, Frank. The first students arrived for the first day of classes via electric car or horse-drawn carriage on Sept. 30, 1897, at Homewood, the mansion on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1909, the school's trustees bought 68 acres in Roland Park for $75,000 and hired a local architect to design Carey Hall, which remains the centerpiece the Gilman campus. In 1910, the school changed its name to the Gilman Country School for Boys, for Daniel Coit Gilman, first president of the Johns Hopkins University who, with Baltimore Judge William A. Fisher, helped open the school for boys. The name was shortened to Gilman School in 1951.

Over the years, the school has graduated students who have led prominent careers: U.S. Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, sportswriter Frank Deford, CBS chief correspondent Tom Fenton and historian Walter Lord, who wrote "A Night to Remember," a book on the Titanic that has had 50 printings.

With 4,500 living Gilman alumni, the 100th birthday weekend featured an alumni rock 'n' roll band, a 25-minute fireworks show, a gala dinner dance and even a soft-shoe performance by Montgomery. The event began with a picnic supper Friday evening and will end this morning with a thanksgiving prayer service.

"This is the greatest school anyone could attend -- it gave me a superb education," said Edward Supplee, 76, a retired attorney and a member of the Class of 1939, also known as "the class of destiny" because many of its graduates faced World War II duty.

George Radcliffe, son of U.S. Sen. George L. Radcliffe -- also of the Class of 1939 -- agreed.

"Today, I run a windmill on the Eastern Shore in Dorchester County," he said. "I'm not sure where a Gilman education came into that except for the love of tradition, history and our country in all of us. It's wonderful to come back. Wonderful and nostalgic, a part of our life."

Harris Jones, Hal Whitaker, Tom Burdette and Scott Sullivan, Class of 1954, carried signs bearing photographs of themselves as teen-agers. The 38 boys who graduated that year remain close, hold reunions every five years and still rib each other over who went to Yale and who went to Princeton.

"Gilman means everything to me," said Sullivan, a former city editor of The Sun and until recently European editor of Newsweek magazine.

Sullivan wrote an essay on Gilman for the 454-page "Gilman Voices," a history of the school published this year.

Of the school in the 1950s, he wrote: "In the end, though, the school was about what happened in the classroom. The faculty, especially the senior teachers and the headmaster, set the tone, made the school. They were hilariously eccentric, every one, a collection of originals as colorful as Mister Pickwick's companions. About the only trait they had in common was TC dogged dedication to teaching, and a surprising skill at doing it."

Amid the fanfare, Montgomery was asked about Gilman's future. As the institution builds a larger lower school on the Roland Avenue-Northern Parkway corner of its campus, the headmaster predicted the school's second century will hold different challenges.

Increases in the school's $1.5 million financial aid budget are at the top of his wish list, as is a desire to maintain Gilman's holistic mission to educate "in mind, body and spirit."

"I see more math and science, more travel and Internet use to solve problems and approach issues," Montgomery said. "The amount of knowledge out there is so staggering. We have to be flexible and have the ability to adapt -- to see something new and use all of our skills."

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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