A smaller circle of friends

Reunion: Celebrating its 65th anniversary, the Polytechnic Institute Class of 1935 celebrates good times and mourns lost companions.

September 27, 2000|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Braving a chilly rain, they trickled into the small restaurant one by one, their hair a little bit grayer than the last time, their strides a little bit slower since last they met five years ago.

Youth has long slipped away, but its memories keep life flowing through the Polytechnic Institute's Class of 1935, which held its 65-year reunion yesterday.

Melvin F. Borleis, 83, was one of the first to arrive at Snyder's Willow Grove in Linthicum. He searched the small gathering of 49 alumni for that familiar face that would reconnect him to the past.

"You don't look any different than the last time I saw you," reunion organizer J. Howard Stein said to Borleis as he stepped inside the restaurant.

The pair exchanged vigorous handshakes like old fraternity brothers. But the joy of finding old friends often clashes with the harsh reality that there are some that will never be seen again. Reunions, Borleis has found, can be bittersweet.

"Each year, it gets smaller and smaller," said Borleis, whose been attending the class reunions since the first one - their 50th - was held in 1985.

About 160 got together back then and every five years since, a group has gathered to reminisce. About 80 managed to attend in 1990; 72, in 1995.

Among the nearly 400 graduating from what was an all-boys' technical school in 1935, reunion organizers said about 280 members have died, another 69 could not be found and 15 sent regrets.

"I guess they're getting too old," said 83-year old Stein. "They can't drive. ... It's probably the last one we'll have."

Living through the Depression, two World Wars, Vietnam and the civil rights movement, the lives of the class of 1935 virtually span the entire 20th century itself.

Many of those graduating from the school in 1935 went on to become engineers, businessman and philanthropists.

There were such notables as contractors Willard Hackerman, CEO of Whiting-Turner Corp. and Clinton Emich, retired chairman of the board of Riggs Distler & Co. Inc.

"It's very unusual to have a 65th reunion. It's just interesting to see who's around and what they look like," said Edgar W. Neal, 83.

But yesterday their thoughts were far away from ailments. Some brought their yearbook, "Poly Cracker," its worn covering featuring a picture of a parrot; the dining room filled with memories and laughter.

This was the first year that the wives of the "Poly Boys" were invited to attend the traditionally all-male event.

"They invited the wives, so they can push the hubby's wheelchair," joked 83-year-old Otto Schellhase.

Schellhase said the value of reunions is in meeting old companions, such as his childhood friend Edgar W. Weal, whom he's known since he was "first able to walk." The pair grew up in Pigtown in Southwest Baltimore and attended Poly together.

John T. Hartwig credits his training at Poly for his success and hopes many more Poly graduates live to reunite with their classmates.

"They have another one planned in five years," said Hartwig. "I hear they have one table reserved for that one," he joked.

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