A reunion of school pioneers

For these former kindergartners, the dawn of integration was no big deal at the time

September 16, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

They were pioneers, among the first students to be racially integrated as kindergartners in Baltimore's public schools.

Fifty years later, what the former students of Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary (Public School No. 18) remembered was the smell -- and taste -- of paste, old Ms. Buisick, the coatroom they'd hide in before classes, the old drive-in theater across the street. And the Mussenden twins.

No one had forgotten Christine and Caryl Mussenden, the vivacious duo who, it seemed, were friends with everyone.

"I adored them growing up. I never forgot them and always wondered what happened to them," said Lynn Foehrkolb, a 56-year-old nurse in Howard County. "I Googled their names and found Caryl."

They met for lunch and got together later, inviting other former classmates. Dozens of e-mails and Google searches later, about 15 of the former classmates met for lunch yesterday at Joey Chiu's Greenspring Inn in Brooklandville for their official 50th-year reunion.

"At the time, none of us realized we were integrating a school," said Janet Waters, a 57-year-old artist.

She was among the black students at the school also attended by many Jewish children. "It was so easy," she said. "I do remember the Jewish holidays and all the empty seats. I remember we didn't have our normal lessons and thinking, `Come on. What's the point of having school?'"

Foehrkolb describes herself as one of the very poor Jewish students who attended the three-story brick school at Druid Park Drive, between Reisterstown Road and Liberty Heights Avenue.

She was great friends with the twins, who are black.

"We didn't care about color or social status," said Foehrkolb, whose maiden name was Ruthenberg.

On June 3, 1954 -- just 17 days after the Supreme Court outlawed segregated public schools -- Baltimore's school board voted unanimously to end school segregation in Baltimore. The children who started kindergarten in 1957 in Room 106 were among the first city students to begin their education not knowing what a segregated school was like.

The city school board voted to close the school in 1981. Yet many of the students held on to fond memories of the school and their friends there.

Waters still has the charm engraved with the number 18 given to her and other students by sixth-grade teacher Karene McGlothem (now Johnson), who traveled to yesterday's reunion from Boston. Waters said she has vivid memories of playing under the kitchen table of classmate Michele Elsey, with whom she's remained in touch.

Foehrkolb had lost track of her elementary school classmates. But, she said, Caryl Mussenden was easy to track. Her married last name is Ellis, but the 56-year-old physician living in Northern Virginia has kept her maiden name for professional reasons.

Christine Mussenden married, taking the last name William. The travel agent from Fort Washington in Prince George's County has three children and is expecting her third grandchild.

Their friends say the twins are just as "wild" and fun-loving as they were in elementary school.

Caryl was the student who remembered how the paste tasted. "It was sweet," she said, laughing.

Manuela Eisman remembers hiding in the coatroom with the twins and other girls in the class. "We'd stay in there until the teacher called one of us, then all [would] run out laughing," said Eisman, who helped organize the event yesterday.

"Everyone has high school and college reunions," said Eisman, a 56-year-old semiretired medical administrator who lives in Cross Keys. "When they said a kindergarten reunion, I thought, `What a unique idea.'"

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Information about Public School No. 18 future class get-togethers: e-mail m.i.eisman@comcast.net.

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