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Bicentennial ends on nostalgic note

September 21, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A song written especially for Waynesboro's bicentennial, and sung by more than 100 of the town's high school alumni and community, officially ended the town's four-month celebration Sunday afternoon.

"Our Waynesboro Home," a cheerful tune composed by Waynesboro native Steve Engle, brought tears to the eyes of many who filled Waynesboro Area Senior High School's auditorium for two hour-long choral concerts.

Some who made up the nearly 150-member chorus, clad in white shirts and black pants or skirts, traveled thousands of miles to their alma mater to take part in the grand finale.

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"I just have very fond memories of growing up here. This is something I really wanted to come back for," said Rick Rodgers, a 1982 graduate who traveled back to his home town from Los Angeles, Calif.

Like Rodgers, most who participated in the bicentennial chorus had been involved in the music program in some form during their high school years.

Local residents Liane Miller Benchoff, class of 1962, and Carole Stoner Brake, a 1961 graduate, didn't have to come far to participate, but their reasons for showing up reflected the feelings of most.

"It's overwhelming. This shows the spirit of the bicentennial," Benchoff said.

"I hope the spirit stays," added Brake.

Others got caught up in the nostalgia of singing with their classmates again.

"I like to sing with a chorus. There's nothing like it," said Sharon Bennett, class of 1967.

"We're here to enjoy it - the fellowship and to sing," added Pat Vores, a 1961 graduate.

Debra Hollen, class of 1976, said a lump formed in her throat during some of the songs as their voices rang out into the auditorium.

"It's a thrill to sing with people who have a common thread," Hollen said of the group.

Some turned the event into a family affair, like Shirley Rook, class of 1951, her daughter, Linda Geesaman, class of 1973, and Geesaman's daughter Michelle Geesaman, who will graduate in 1999, who form three generations of Waynesboro choir and glee club members.

Richard and Linda Hovis, whose son Matthew was recently shot and killed in Hagerstown, sang in memory of him.

"We were all going to do it together as a family," Richard Hovis said, adding that his son was active in the band at the high school and had planned to join his parents, who also graduated from the school, in the alumni event.

Some of Matthew's school friends joined the family in the chorus.

"I came here to honor Matt and the school," said Mary Engel, class of 1988, who traveled from Philadelphia, Pa., where she is studying musical theater at the University of the Arts.

With just three practices under their belts, some with just one, the performance wasn't without its flaws, said Gerald Kowallis, conductor and current Waynesboro choral director for 34 years.

"I wasn't concerned about having a perfect, or even a near-perfect performance," Kowallis said. "The idea was to share together more than give a perfect performance."

Kowallis invited the audience to sing the refrain of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with the chorus, which added to the informal but united occasion.

Swaying to the songs, tapping their feet, joking and laughing in between numbers, and a few even dropping their music was all part of the fun of the concert, said conductor Francis Nogle, who taught music in the school district for over 30 years.

"It was just a joy singing together again. That was the purpose of it - and the bicentennial," Nogle said.

Janet Smedley conducted the women's choral selections and Engle conducted the chorus for the song he wrote. Charlene Good accompanied the chorus on the piano.

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