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Hagerstown High School class of 1940 celebrates with reunion

September 20, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • Ruth Willis Bileci, left, and Jayne Fernsner Sterling talk at a reunion of the 1940 Hagerstown High School class Sunday at Fountain Head Country Club.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

"We had fun in those days," James Russell said.

Nostalgia filled Russell's voice as he spoke of playing on the Hagerstown High School football team and of the summer after graduation that he spent in Ocean City, Md., as a lifeguard.

Behind him, his sepia-toned face smiled from a panoramic photograph of his high school class. The year was 1940, they were about to graduate from Hagerstown High and they had their whole lives in front of them.

It was a small group that met Sunday at Fountain Head Country Club to celebrate the 70th reunion of the class of 1940.

When the class walked into the world 70 years ago, it was a tumultuous time, said Robert Hyssong, chairman of the reunion.

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At graduation, they sang Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," he said.

"It starts, 'While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,'" he said. "It was fitting; 1940, that's when things were really getting hot in Europe."

Still, each graduate ventured into a world soon to be ravaged by war, much as graduates still do today, "in various directions, with volumes of dreams," Mary Black Stains said as she offered the invocation.

"Truthfully, we believed in something," Russell said.

On Sunday, the members of the class of 1940 raised their voices again in Berlin's famed chorus.

"God Bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her, through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans' white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home," they sang.

The class of 1940 has met annually to catch up with old friends and meet new friends who might have been in a different classroom during high school, Hyssong said.

"We were a good class," said Jayne Fernsner Sterling, who said she has attended almost every reunion.

Some, like Hyssong, stayed close to home and married a classmate.

He said he met his wife, Bettie, years after graduation, only to learn that she, too, was part of the class of 1940.

Jane Stickell Cochran said she married her high school sweetheart, Edward Cochran.

Now more than half of the faces in the panoramic class photograph were meeting for what one member called in a letter, "a grand reunion" in the sky.

After a time, the class started remembering who died with a memorial, Hyssong said.

More than 200 of the 357-member class are deceased, he said.

And each year the number of faces on the memorial grows, Sterling said.

This year, eight new faces were added, Hyssong said.

Cochran smiled as she admitted to searching for her own face on the memorial before realizing that the pictures were of her deceased classmates.

Only 23 members of the class were well enough or able to meet Sunday, said Hyssong.

Russell, who now lives in Murrells Inlet, S.C., said he has not been to a reunion in five years.

He came Sunday because he said he did not know if he would be around for the next one.

Hyssong said that after 70 years, it might be time to discuss how the class would handle future reunions.

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