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Hagerstown High class '34 has 75th reunion

June 06, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- No one has to tell Hagerstown High School's class of 1934 about tough economic times.

They lived through the Great Depression.

When they graduated -- all 304 of them -- good jobs were hard to find.

D. Earl Wolf Jr. said he went to work for A&P grocery store, stocking produce for $12 a week.

"I thought I was a lucky man," he said.

Al Gruber thought about going to college, but his family needed financial help, he said. So he landed a job with Pangborn Corp., where he stayed for the next 50 years.

Elsie Conner Moser wanted to study nursing.

"But my father said 'no,'" she recalled. "My parents needed me to stay on our farm."

Seventy-five years have passed since they and their classmates received their diplomas and moved on to the next phase of their lives.

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"A lot has happened during that time," said Wolf, 92. "We lived through the Depression, we went off to war, we had jobs and families. We have a lot of stories to tell."

Many of those stories were shared Saturday as the class of 1934 gathered for its 75th reunion at Fountain Head Country Club.

There were laughs as some recalled high school pranks. And there was a bit of sadness as the discussion turned to friends who had passed away.

Wolf, who serves as class treasurer, said their numbers are dwindling.

"We're all in our 90s," he said. "Many have died, some have moved away, others have difficulty coming to an event like this."

Wolf said about nine class members and five guests were expected to attend this year's reunion.

"I sent out 52 invitations and, of that number, I'm sure some are no longer living," he said.

Reunions once were held every five years, Wolf said. Now, the class gets together every year

"It's nice to see old friends," he said. "I'm lucky to be on two feet, so I have a lot to celebrate."

Wolf said graduating during the Great Depression made everyone appreciate what they had.

"You had to learn to make ends meet," he said. "I thought long and hard about spending a nickel for a Coca-Cola, things were that tight."

But there also were good memories.

Gruber said he played in the Club Royal Orchestra during high school. After graduation, he and fellow band members kept the music going for about 30 years, performing at local schools and clubs.

William Byers, 92, continued his education following high school, attending Frostburg (Md.) College, where he studied to be a teacher.

"The only reason I was able to go to college was because of a New York City philanthropist," he said. "I was in high school when I read about this man who, if you signed an agreement, would give you $200 towards college. I lived on a farm and was out plowing the fields when the check arrived. My family packed me up and off I went to Frostburg."

According to the agreement, Byers had to agree not to drink or smoke until he was 18.

Byers said it wasn't easy living during the Great Depression.

"You learned to live frugally," he said. "We killed hogs and cured ham and bacon. My mother canned fruits and vegetables and we killed chickens and took them to market. We would even gather wildflowers and sell them -- anything to make 10 or 15 cents."

Though the family didn't have much, Byers said they believed in sharing.

"Sometimes, people would be walking by our place, looking for work or heading to Washington to try to get money," he said. "They would ask for food and we'd give them milk or a slice of bread."

Byers said he served in the military and taught in Washington County -- from a one-room schoolhouse to Williamsport High School -- for 46 years.

He said he still lives in the farmhouse that has been in the family for about 100 years.

Married for almost 65 years, he and his wife, Ruby, said they seldom see members of his class other than the reunions, which are a good time to catch up on the latest news.

The topic of health usually comes up, he said.

"Most have walkers or canes," he said. "I'm still walking pretty good, so I consider myself very fortunate."

Wolf said when he graduated from high school, there were no expensive gifts, such as a new car, waiting for him at home.

But times have changed.

"My grandson got a car when he graduated," he said, smiling.

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