MHS alumni look back over six decades to a simpler time
MIDDLEBURY — It can take a howitzer, cymbals and a foghorn to rouse some of today’s children from slumber to get to morning classes on time.
Pat (James) Brogan didn’t have that problem; sleeping late was a luxury neither she nor her family could afford, running Monument Farms Dairy in Weybridge during the early 1940s. Most of the menfolk had left to fight on distant battlefields during World War II, leaving women and children to perform most of the agricultural chores.
“My mom drove the (milk) truck, and we made deliveries in Middlebury until it was time to go to school,” Brogan recalled of her and her sister’s morning ritual. “We asked mom to drop us off a block away from school so we wouldn’t be recognized as ‘the farm girls.’”
“They recognized us anyway,” she said with a chuckle, noting the “milk maid” needling she would receive from classmates.
Now in her late 70s, James was in Middlebury this past Saturday to reminisce about these and other memories with fellow members of the Middlebury High School (MHS) class of 1953 for a reunion. They marked the 60th anniversary of their graduation, which occurred during a simpler era when farming was still king, gasoline cost 29 cents per gallon and everyone looked after each other.
“Yes, our class has some wonderful stories to tell,” said Jean Hadley, member of the class of ’53 and organizer of Saturday’s 60th reunion held at the Middlebury Inn.
“Big or small stories, these rural America stories represent the very essence of what built our great country,” she added. “We shall never see the likes of it again.”
While Hadley, Brogan and their 63 classmates weren’t old enough to have participated in World War II, some served in Korea and others went on to fight in Vietnam. All were children of the Great Depression, so they knew the value of a dollar and stretched it as far as they could.
The class of 1953 was the last to graduate from an intact MHS building, as a fire would rip through the structure in February of 1954, claiming its top floor (the class of ’54 was able to hold their commencement ceremony at the old gym, which still stands).
A portion of the high school was salvaged to accommodate Middlebury’s town offices. But a town vote this fall could result in demolition of the old MHS structure (now the municipal building and town gym), an event that might tug at the heartstrings of some of the ’53ers who studied there under the tutelage of teachers with names like Sholes and Cunningham. Most of these teachers have gone on to their great reward, but their faces are immortalized in black and white — along with the young faces of the students — in the Quatrain yearbooks that members of the class of ’53 got to pore over as part of last weekend’s festivities.
Some of the graduates, like Kent Wright and Mary (Waite) Long have settled in Addison County (Wright in Bridport and Long in Hancock). But Charlie Gee and Brogan came back from Florida and Michigan, respectively. Some of the graduates have led colorful and eventful lives that have taken them around the world, but all of them share the common bond of having formed their educational foundation at MHS.
Hadley recalled there were no school buses at the time, so students had to find their own way to school, either by hitchhiking, biking, walking or getting a ride from parents if they were really fortunate.
“One of the gals in school lost a leg coming in on a milk truck,” Hadley said, noting an incident in which a milk tank inside the vehicle landed on one of the girl’s limbs. A tight-knit group, classmates organized fundraisers to assist the girl and her family.
“We lived in a wonderful time,” Hadley said. “No one had any money to speak of and there were no cliques. We were kids whose values were etched in stone. Our parents didn’t have to speak to us (for discipline); they would just look at us and we knew what they meant.”
Hadley can close her eyes and still remember the way the MHS building smelled when she attended classes there. She would be disappointed to see the school torn down, but added, “Life goes on and things change; we have to go with the flow.”
Hadley would like to see the town preserve a small piece of the school to acknowledge its place in town history. She’d also like to see the town and Middlebury College use a portion of the site for additional parking, noting a frequent shortage of spaces during business days.
It was during the late 1950s that Jean married Egbert Hadley, whose family has enjoyed a long and important relationship with Middlebury College (home to Hadley Hall). They left in 1959, moving to Connecticut, where Jean Hadley currently resides. She has taken an avid interest in music (she plays the washboard and piano) and social work. She’s traveled the world and was in Egypt in 1967 when the Six-Day War broke out.
She returns to Middlebury as often as she can.
“My whole family is buried here,” Hadley said. “I pay homage (to them) a couple times per year.”
Brogan got her educational start at a one-room schoolhouse in Weybridge, located near Monument Farms. She attended Middlebury schools beginning in 5th grade.
“It was a wonderful growing up period,” she said.
She found friends, fulfillment and a great education at MHS.
“Ralph Eaton was the principal,” she recalled. “He was a genuine gentleman.”
Even though it’s been six decades since she attended classes at MHS, several of her teachers made an impression that she still recalls. They included Mrs. Faith Sholes, who taught science and biology.
“She probably prepared me best for college,” said Brogan, who would attend Michigan State University, where she met her husband, Andy Brogan. She has spent much time doing group work with the Young Women’s Christian Association and assisting with the family’s financial planning business in Michigan.
Brogan fondly recalls her life growing up on the farm and attending MHS, where she played basketball and softball and took on various student leadership assignments.
“Everyone was friends with everyone else,” she said. “And faculty members were very concerned about offering the best educational experience possible.”
Brogan would not shed any tears should the town decide to raze the old MHS building.
“Time marches on, and (the building) isn’t attractive the way it is now,” she said. “It would be picturesque as a park, I think.”
Like Hadley, Brogan gets back to the Middlebury area when she can.
“I miss my family,” she said, adding. “You forget the hard work that helped pull you through.”
Charlie Gee had no problem getting to MHS, as his family lived on nearby Shannon Street. He was one of the first children to attend classes at the then newly built St. Mary’s School, then made the transition to MHS for the 9th grade.
And Gee was fortunate to have been related to education royalty in Middlebury; his aunt’s sister was Mary Hogan, a legendary figure for whom the town’s current elementary school is named.
“Mary (Hogan) was a teacher in Cornwall at the time,” Gee recalled of the early 1940s. “Mary Hogan used to take me to classes in Cornwall when I was a very little kid.”
Like Hadley and Brogan, Gee recalled a “very close-knit class” at MHS, where Gee also participated on the ski team and the Quatrain yearbook staff. He singled out Mrs. Sholes and Mrs. Cunningham as standout teachers.
Gee’s memories of the MHS building are a little fuzzy at this point, but he remembers accessing the (no longer present) upper floor of the structure via one set of stairs and descending via a separate set of stairs.
“It would be tough to see it torn down, there are so many memories going through my head,” Gee said of the building.
Gee has led a very interesting life since graduating in 1953. He taught skiing in Stowe and Aspen, Colo.; joined the crew of a large, trans-Pacific sailing yacht; and co-owned and captained a sailing yacht charter business in the Caribbean and along the New England coast for a dozen years — an odyssey he will soon recount in a self-published book. He helped run a bar and restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village, rubbing shoulders with a variety of interesting people. He is now settled in Fort Pierce, Fla., where he manages a mobile home park.
He occasionally returns to the Middlebury area and is in town for the 60th reunion.
“I hope it’s not my last,” he said.
RETURN TO MIDDLEBURY
Mary Waite Long has also spent most of her adult life away from Middlebury, but values her Middlebury roots. She and her husband spent 30 years in Saudi Arabia, working with the company Aramco to develop that Middle Eastern nation’s oil resources. She is also a registered nurse.
Long recalled an MHS in which students received above-par schooling, particularly in English and math. She said her class was very inclusive.
“We had fun at parties together,” she said. “We didn’t require a lot of entertainment. We played ‘kick the can,’ ‘green light, red light,’ and a lot of other games they don’t seem to play these days. (Today’s students) seem to need their electronics.”
Television was beginning to make inroads during the early 1950s, and Long’s family was one of the first to get a set. Classmates often came over to watch.
“They were good years; I’m sorry they’re gone,” she said.
Long and her husband, whom she met at a camp at Lake Dunmore, returned to the U.S. in 1986, settling in Hancock.
Long would not be crushed to see the old MHS building taken down, though she had regarded it as an important landmark denoting the border between the town and Middlebury College campus. It was only a month ago that she stepped foot in the structure for the first time since graduating in 1953.
“I would have to say the building is pretty much gone,” she said. “It’s not too much like the high school I remember.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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