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Memories flow at Brown's Mill reunion

August 03, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

KAUFFMAN, Pa. - She left school after the seventh grade to work, but Viola Daley Plum amazed a few of the people sitting with her Thursday evening by recalling the names of all her teachers going back 83 years.

"I know Mrs. Hoover was my teacher in first grade," the 90-year-old Greencastle, Pa., woman said before listing off the other six at a reunion of students from the Brown's Mill Consolidated School. In 1921, however, the school had yet to open and Plum was attending the Old Brown's Mill School across the road.

Built in 1836, the one-room schoolhouse closed when the consolidated school opened its doors in 1922, said Delores Shindle, who headed the reunion committee.

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"They had a rough time teaching me. It seems I couldn't learn ... But I got along better as time went on," Plum said before dinner at the Kauffman Community Center. When she left school, she got a job working at the former Windsor Stocking Factory in Greencastle, earning 10 cents an hour making socks for the Army.

"It was a culture shock ... There were too many kids. They still had eight grades here then," Janet Crider said of her first day at the consolidated school in 1948. Crider, who lives across the road, came to Brown's Mill from a tiny school of 21 students near Chambersburg, Pa.

Sylvia Sellers of Denver, Pa., a classmate of Crider's, said Brown's Mill students had to take an entrance test to attend the former Greencastle High School. "The town kids didn't have to take a test," she said of borough students.

Old Home Week itself is one big reunion for the Greencastle area and Sellers attended her 50th high school reunion Saturday. That school was torn down and replaced by townhouses in the 1980s, but she has a brick from it as a keepsake.

"I really expected to come here and see something awful," Sellers said of the consolidated school, which she had not visited in half a century. Instead, she found it open and functioning as an alternative school for troubled students run by Manito Inc.

Shindle said she and her three children all attended the consolidated school and the youngest was still a student there when it closed in 1977. "The original plan was for it to be torn down," she said of the building, which briefly served as a Christian school for the deaf in the 1980s.

"There was discipline, but there was also a lot of love," Shindle said of the school.

In the 1930s principal Frank Smith enforced that discipline with a rubber hose, according to Glen Kuhn. "I never got it, but I knew about it," the Fayetteville, Pa., man said.

Fred Oaks of Greencastle said Smith's threat of corporal punishment was more imagined than real. "He talked about it, but you never saw it," he said.

Education has changed in other ways. Dean Gearhart taught at the school when his father, Lowell, was the principal and said each day began with 10 verses of Scripture, the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

If spirits still needed lifting, Gearhart said his father would lead students in singing to help wake them up.

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