June 7, 1944. June 7, 2014 — just close your eyes and imagine that time span, everything that you’ve seen just in the time you’ve lived. Imagine meeting students of the second class to graduate from the newly formed Thomas Dale High School, which had been named Chester High School before that time.
That class just recently got together. Their invitation read, “Seventy years ago, June 7, 1944, we began a life as highly intelligent high school graduates. (At least our teachers did their best and each of us would have confessed “we knew it all.”) That day we said goodbye to our friends we had been with during the greater part of our days for the past eleven school years. We had done a lot of growing up during this time and had many memories. A few of those left on your original reunion committee decided we would get together on June 7, 2014 for lunch and catching up.”
Thomas Dale’s Class of 1944 held a reunion on the 70th anniversary of their graduation. There were 57 members of the 1944 graduating class of Thomas Dale. Six members attended the reunion, but the estimate is that there are approximately 12 to 15 members of the original 57 graduates are still alive.
“Some of us have known each other as long as 80 years,” Eula (Osborne) Lucy said of the group. “Another member of the class, Mary Arline (Wray) McGuire, who organized the reunion for the group and shared, “Seventy years is pretty significant and couldn’t be overlooked.”
The group last met at their 60th reunion 10 years ago and toured what was then Chester Middle School, where they had first attended school. The school has since returned to its original roots as the Ninth Grade campus for Thomas Dale High School.
The seniors averaging an age over 85 years are spry and love to recall their time in the Chester school. At the time, Thomas Dale was the only high school in the entire Chesterfield County. Many of them had to travel to Chester via trolley car. One member, Larry (Lawrence) Klebert rode the trolley to school every day. “There would be about 75 of us on the trolley on school days and it went about 45 miles per hour so it was high speed,” he said. He came from up as far as Chippenham Parkway and he can still remember the stops on the trolley. “We had people from as far away as Stop 2 and all the way to the line of Petersburg.” Klebert said.
He also remembers the school that was pretty modern for the time. “But we didn’t have lockers then,” he recounts. “Because steel was so short and it was needed for the war effort and we couldn’t afford it.” So, there was a place for the lockers but no lockers were added until after the war.
The group had 10 male students, who would have graduated with them, join the war effort. On June 6, 1944, about 150,000 troops stormed the beaches of France in the epic D-Day invasion that proved pivotal to the Allied war effort. And, the next day those 57 students graduated as the second class of Thomas Dale High School in Chesterfield County. Across the field from where the current 9th Grade campus is, stood a two-story building with a 600-seat auditorium where they and their families gathered to celebrate the end of their school years.
“We graduated in a two-story building attached to the elementary school,” said McGuire. “It was torn down when they added Curtis Elementary.” Coincidentally, Curtis was named after a member of their senior class, Clarence Curtis, who is deceased now.
Almost all of the group lived on rural farms of the time and milked cows before they came to school. A few were city folks and rode the trolley from near Richmond, but they all agreed that the times were tough and as a result they are all stronger for it. They saw World War II, the Great Depression, and the D-Day experiences and lived through many changes.
When asked what they thought were the major things they had seen revolutionize their lives over the time span they shared many diverse thoughts. “The telephone,” Osborne shared. Sarah (Hanchey) Boettger felt the “school bus system” had changed the whole school experience. Beverley (McLeod) VonCanon said she appreciates “washers and dryers.” Klebert said, “I think the space program led to modern technology as we know it.” McGuire feels that the greatest thing she’s seen has been transportation and communication. “Back then we didn’t even have phones, now people can board a plane and go anywhere they want and I feel that because of travel people are so much more informed.”
One of the graduates — Ruth (Martin) Schrum said that she thought the “idea of the close-knit family and working the farms had been changed forever” and she would always remember her parents stove with biscuits warming as she came in from school.
They had gowns for graduation and they had proms. McGuire shared, “If we didn’t have something nice, we made it.” They are an optimistic group of graduates. They’ve seen the world completely change and medicine and technology become paramount fields. They remember simpler times and they appreciate all that they have lived through. Lucy recounted losing her brother during World War II and many told of milking the cows before or after school.
When asked to offer the Thomas Dale 2014 Graduates some advice they shared many thoughtful and sage words. “Don’t underestimate what you can do; it’s possible,” said McGuire. Klebert offered solid advice. “Don’t be afraid of change,” he said. “Go to work and do your best.”
Lucy said, “Nothing comes easy but with work all things are possible.” Schrum remembered the important people in her life. “Appreciate all your friends and thank God for them.” VonCanon echoed her thoughts, “It’s bittersweet but continue friendships through the years.” Boettger offered a lesson from growing up during the war and surviving it. She said, “Hang in there and learn everything you can and be ready to meet the future, meet changes.”
All the graduates married and had children and most worked. Klebert joined the service and became a mechanical engineer. McGuire became the first woman Chesterfield County treasurer in 1979, a job she served in for approximately 20 years before retirement. Lucy worked for Uncle Sam and Boettger and VonCanon both worked for the IRS for some of their work years. All are very proud of the time they lived through.
They all believe they have thrived and lived into their 80s because they remain active. Most still volunteer and are active in their communities. Schurm said, “Stayed busy and kept active.”
The president of their class couldn not attend, but summed it up nicely in correspondence he sent them. “Our high school has stayed with me because of the particular time of the Great Depression and World War II — it acclimated us to change and because of our bond is strong and we sincerely care for one another as a result of all that we lived through.” Said Russell Jordan.
They all agree that it was a fine time! Lucy wrote in McGuire’s yearbook way back then “I hope our long friendship will not end here.” And it didn’t!