Smithsburg reunion brings laughs, lessons and surprises

August 07, 2007|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

SMITHSBURG - One of Charles Newcomer's favorite high school memories from the late 1940s is one that might shock students today. Newcomer said his high school principal, Rex Hartle, was well-liked by the students.

Then Newcomer said Hartle carried a paddle up his coat sleeve.

"If somebody didn't act right, he'd whack 'em," said Newcomer, 77, of Smithsburg. "I tell you, he was a good principal. We all liked him." Newcomer laughed as he thought back.

Memories flowed freely on the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 5, during the Smithsburg High School alumni reunion. Graduating classes 1916 to 1966 met at Veterans Park in Smithsburg. Approximately 370 people attended.

Visible flickers of remembrance appeared on faces of alumni as they perused black-and-white class photos of boys wearing neckties and girls in pressed blouses.


Kenneth Phetteplace remembered that his senior class of 62 students dwindled to 19 during World War II due to the draft and voluntary enlistments. Phetteplace, 79, of Hagerstown, said the graduating class of 1945 was left with only four boys. Being one of the four, he reaped the benefits.

"On the night of graduation, we went running around and I was driving the car with a girl on each side of me," Phetteplace said with a grin. "And the boy in the back seat had a girl on each side of him, too."

When the English teacher did not have enough boys for the school play and actively recruited them, Phetteplace said he played his hand carefully.

"I would say, 'I can't get my English work done. I have to memorize my lines.' I would con her a little bit. We had a lot of fun," he said.

Phetteplace said unlike many others, all of the students from his graduating class survived the war and returned home.

Frank Schaller, 62, of Smithsburg, said one of his most vivid memories from high school was of his history teacher, Mrs. St. Clair, whom he called a "neat person."

"She was always saying we would rather make history than study it," he said. "She had eyes on the back of her head. She could stand there writing with her eyes on the blackboard and know who was misbehaving behind her."

Schaller noted that because the school and the classes were small, most people at the school knew each other.

Bob Hahn, 65, of Ringgold, said classes were "fun, like a great big family." A 1961 graduate, he recalled a lesson he learned from his principal. Hahn had been pitching a no-hitter baseball game when, during the fifth inning, the shortstop "muffed the ball." Hahn went to the sideline and threw his glove to the ground. His principal asked, "Now how does that look?" and suspended Hahn from playing in the next game.

"What I really didn't realize at the time was that I was a star athlete and kids were looking at me. That was a tough thing to learn. But that's life," Hahn said.

Instead of sharing an amusing memory or a life lesson, 1961 graduate Bill Eccard of Boonsboro had a surprise for his former classmates: his wife, Lorraine. A bachelor until age 60, Eccard married in 2004. Since the Smithsburg High School alumni reunion usually happens every three years, Sunday was the first time many of his classmates had ever seen Eccard as a married man.

"People were shocked to find out," Eccard said.

The honored guest and earliest graduate alumna to attend the reunion was Estelle (Shank) Pitcock of Hagerstown. Pitcock graduated from Smithsburg High School in 1933.

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