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Alums share memories of early days at college

September 11, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - As a sailor who spent two years on a battleship, Frank Newcomer said he felt unprepared to return to school after serving in World War II.

Within a few years of the war's end, the University of Maryland graduate was searching for opportunities to teach students of his own.

Newcomer and other alumni of the college now called Hagerstown Community College gathered Sunday to remember the school that gave them their starts.

According to President Guy Altieri, about 120 people, including alumni and their guests, turned out for a reunion of the first 15 graduating classes of HCC, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

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Altieri said at least one person represented each class.

According to a program provided by the college, the first graduating class of Hagerstown Junior College - it was not called a community college until 1998 - was made up of 24 people, including Newcomer.

Newcomer said Sunday he does not believe he could have succeeded at the University of Maryland without first experiencing the attentive environment he found at HJC. If he had gone anywhere else, he would have failed chemistry, he said.

"Hey, we got all the help we needed, and believe me, we needed help, and all of us needed help because when we came back, I'm sure none of us had good study habits," Newcomer said.

According to former HJC President Atlee Kepler, scores of students have shared their own stories of success. Once a counselor at Hagerstown's only high school, Kepler said he tried to show students that college could be accessible to them. At that time, only 22 percent of students furthered their educations, he said.

Now, he said, he gets letters from people saying how much college meant to them.

For Lee Moser, the class president of 1959, HJC was a proving ground, where he said he gained confidence as a student. He is retired from the intelligence community after spending years advising the military about the construction of facilities worldwide, he said.

"That's what I probably learned most when I went to the junior college - was learning how to learn," said Moser, 66, of Ellicott City, Md. He said teachers nurtured the potential they saw in him and other students.

As Moser talked, Kepler described his own approach toward education: "That's the interesting thing about this - one of my greatest philosophies of education - is you want to be able to influence the lives of people who go on to do greater and more interesting and bigger things than you could do yourself."

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