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Life, Loss & the Liners:
Emmitsburg High’s Legacy

James Rada, Jr.

You could be forgiven for thinking that an Emmitsburg High School reunion is a family reunion. After all, many of the people attending are related, whether by blood, marriage or the strong bonds of friendships.

There’s even a kid’s table for the "babies" in the group. That’s what Wanda Meadows Valentine calls the Class of 1968, which was her graduating class and the last class that graduated from Catoctin High School. Of course, this means that the babies in this group are 60 and 61 years old.

No real children attend Emmitsburg High School any longer, though. The building is still there, but it’s the Emmitsburg Community Center on South Seton Avenue now and even that is different than most alumni remember.

Only a few hundred people share the memory of the building as a school. It binds them together in a way not seen with modern graduating classes.

Early History

Emmitsburg High School graduated its first student in 1898, according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle. Sarah Miller went on to become an elementary teacher in the school.

Class of 1929 - Charles Bollinger, Nina Jane Baumbardner, Rachael Smith, Mary Franklin, Helen Stonesifer, Helen Maxell, Harriet Waybright, Carrie Miller, Rose Warrebfeltz. (Sorry, the yearbook these photos came from did not list the individuals in their order in the photo, all we have are the photos and names.)

A member of the Class of 1900 recalled that the school day began with the ringing of the bell in the tower of the original school building. School began with a group meeting that included singing and devotional exercises before the group separated to their classes. Ruth Hoke taught the high school students. Classes included history, Latin, geometry, composition and rhetoric, geography and English.

The student recalled an incident in his history class when another student stood up to speak on the subject of "Washington at Valley Forge."

"This is his version—"Valley Forge was a small village and George Washington marched in there one bright winter morning and captured the village. The consequence was the school became uproarious with laughter and it took ten minutes to get everybody settled to work. I think, if I am not mistaken, that is the standard time to quiet a school full of laughter, especially when the teacher laughs himself," the graduate recalled in the Emmitsburg Chronicle article.

The early years of the high school had graduating classes that tended to have anywhere from four to seven students. In its first decade of graduating classes, there were 56 graduates. Of those 56, the Emmitsburg Chronicle reported at nine became teachers, seven graduated college, one entered the ministry, 13 attended college, two attended a university and five went into business.

Though the class sizes in Emmitsburg High School never grew particularly large, they did grow large enough to warrant a new building. The school that Emmitsburg High School’s living graduates remember opened in 1922. The high school classrooms were on the top floor, the elementary classrooms (and later gymnasium/auditorium) were on the first floor. The shop classes, middle school classes, boiler room and eventually the cafeteria were in the basement.

Living Memories

The graduating classes grew to be anywhere from two- to three-dozen graduates each year.

Class of 1930 - Mae Fisher, Anna Hoke, Polly Baumgardner, Frances Hoke,
Toman Bollinger, Roy Shoemaker, Harry Troxel, Mead Eyler, Wilson Farnklin,
Everett Martin, Helen Higbee, Barbara Hoffman, James Pryor, William Krom,
Mabel Naylor, George Cool, Elizabeth Kugler, Margaret Sharrer

Valentine said, "It was kind of neat knowing everybody in your class, but because we were a small school we didn’t offer what a lot of other schools could."

Tom Hoke, Class of 1940, attended Emmitsburg High School during the Great Depression. "We were poor and didn’t know it because everybody was in the same situation."

Ruth Damuth, one of Hoke’s classmates, said that students went home for lunch or carried their lunches to school because there was no cafeteria service at the school at that time. Hoke said his lunches tended to be boiled eggs and cheese or soup and a sandwich.

In later years, the school would get a cafeteria and lunch program. A lot of jokes get made about school lunches nowadays, but back then, the cafeterias made all of the menu items themselves from scratch. Though some students still went home for lunch or to a restaurant in Emmitsburg, Pete Tokar, Class of 1960, "For 25 cents, you could get a full home-cooked meal. You can’t beat that."

Emmitsburg High students weren’t above skipping classes for a good cause. Hoke remembers slipping out of classes one day in October to listen to the World Series. This would have been during a four-series streak of wins that the New York Giants had during each of Hoke’s high school years. It was also a time when baseball games were played during the day so if Hoke wanted to hear the play-by-play on the radio, he couldn’t do it in school.

"We snuck up on the roof of the school and jammed a chair under the door so no one could get up there to find us," Hoke said. "Then we listened to the game on a radio we took up there."

Tokar said he would sneak into the boiler room to smoke with the shop teacher, all the while watching out in case the principal showed up.

Quality Teaching

Emmitsburg High School was never large enough to offer a great number of elective classes. The curriculum focused on the basics, classes like English, geometry, science and social studies.

Facility - 1929 - Homer Guyton, Principle - Mathematics, Chemistry; Mylo Downey – Agriculture;
Charles Stull – Music, Glee Club, Orchestra; Mae Rowe – Problems of Democracy, History, Latin & French; Mary Smith – 6th and 7th Grades, Anna Rowe – 4th & 5th Grades;
Margaret Simpson – 2nd & 3rd Grades; Sranna White – 1st grade.

"We had what was needed," said Stan Hartle, Class of 1955. "The teachers taught us how to learn and if you know how to learn, the world is open to you."

This is not to say that there weren’t any electives. French, Latin, agriculture, shop and typing were also offered.

The key, then as now, is to have teachers who care in the classrooms and the Emmitsburg High School teachers fit that bill. Mr. Homes was the strict English teacher who carried a paddle. Mrs. Hoke was the excellent math teacher. Mrs. Trebitt was "the best music teacher ever," according to Doris Wastler Delmonico, Class of 1962. Mr. Jones was the principal and his wife was an English teacher at the school.

Mr. Baker was Hortle’s agriculture teacher who helped the teenager decide on what direction his life would take. As his graduation approached, Hortle found out that he had won a full-ride agriculture scholarship at University of Maryland. However, through Mr. Baker’s agriculture lessons and Hortle’s own experience on the family farm, Hortle had decided that agriculture wasn’t for him. He turned down the scholarship and wound up joined the military where his found his life’s work in electronics.

"Mr. Baker helped me out a lot," Hortle said. "We weren’t just numbers to the teachers."

Valentine said that is the advantage of a small school. Not only were the students close, but the faculty was close with the students. She points to the fact that Mrs. Remavege, the home economics teacher, was a confidant to a lot of the girls in the school.

Joyce Bruchey, Class of 1962, was able to find her future career because the teachers knew the students so well.

"As a senior, the principal would take me out of the classroom and I would be a substitute teacher for primary grades," Bruchey said. "That would never happen today. Prior to that experience, I was going to be a dairy technician. By having a chance to be in a classroom, I changed my career choice and became a teacher and taught for 39 years."

For her first year of teaching, Bruchey taught the third grade at Emmitsburg Elementary. Some of her former teachers became her colleagues. Bruchey also wound up teaching her younger sister and cousin in that first year at Emmitsburg Elementary.

Early Graduation

Until 1950, Maryland students also only needed to attend school 11 years rather than the current 13 (including kindergarten). Mary Jean Rice, Class of 1940, graduated high school when she was 16. Her husband is a year older than her and he attended school in Pennsylvania, but both he and Rice graduated the same year.

What is even more unusual is that the grade that needed to be added in 1950 wasn’t the 12th grade but the 8th grade, according to Etta Mae Norris, Class of 1940.

Sports and Clubs

"We were very supportive of our sports teams since there wasn’t much else to do," Valentine said.

Emmitsburg had soccer, baseball, field hockey, cheerleading and volleyball teams. The Emmitsburg High teams were called the Liners after the Mason-Dixon Line that marks the Maryland-Pennsylvania border to the north of town.

One particular soccer game sticks in Dennis McGlaughlin, Class of 1962, memory and it’s not even a game that the school won. It was a home game against Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring; a school that had more than 10 times the number of students that Emmitsburg High School had.

"The opposing team arrived with more players than the Emmitsburg High School had male students, but little old Emmitsburg High School tied the mega school 4-4!" McGlaughlin recalled.

The school had a nursing club, homemakers club, modern dance club, science club and hunting and fishing club. The latter was overseen by the shop teacher. There were also student organizations to produce the yearbook, which was called The Broadcaster or The Liner, depending on when a student attended, and the school newspaper, The Emmitsburg Hi-Times. Students could also serve on the student council or play in the school orchestra.

Delmonico liked participating in the student plays, such as H.M.S. Pinafore and Much Ado About Nothing.

May Day

As the weather began to warm up and spring seemed just around the corner, Emmitsburg High as well as the other students in the school and members of the community would celebrate May Day. The events of the day included the May Pole dance. Students would hold onto one end of a streamer attached to the May Pole and then dance around the pole weaving the streamers together. The school band and glee club would provide the music for the dance.

The May Day Queen would also be crowned after showing off her hand-sewn dress made just for the occassion.

Tokar liked the day because it gave him a legitimate reason to get out of school for awhile. It was his job to collect the flowers used in the May Day celebration.

"I’d grab one or two guys and we would go up on the mountain to collect the flowers and enjoy being out of school," Tokar said.

The school also held a lot of regular dances so kids would have social activities to enjoy. If the kids wanted to see a movie, they drove to Gettysburg. Valentine said it was no problem since one of them drove a station wagon that could hold eight people.

Not everyone could enjoy the camaraderie among students outside of the school; at least not to the extent of some of the others.

Since Hartle helped out on the family dairy farm, his free time was determined by the millking schedule of the 40 to 50 cows on the farm and how long it took to get to and from town. Each morning, he was up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows before getting ready for school and walking a half mile to the bus stop where he then had a half an hour ride into Emmitsburg. After school, he couldn’t stay around long, either. He needed to leave for home by 4 p.m. to get back in time for the evening milking, have dinner and do his homework.

"I’d be out with friends and they would want to do something, but I would look at the time and know that I’d have to head home," Hartle said. "I had very little free time."


Residents had known it was coming since the mid-1940’s, though they hoped that it could be avoided, but the writing was on the wall. Despite the fact that the 157 high school students was the largest enrollment in the high school, the Frederick County Board of Education was making the case that Emmitsburg already had a high school, which was St. Joseph’s. Superintendent Eugene Pruitt said that consolidation with Thurmont High was "inevitable" although not in the near future.

Both schools were old and in need of repairs. The Frederick County Board of Education decided to build a new school…but just one. By giving up their small schools in town, each community was told their students would attend a modern high school located between the two towns.

Valentine, who was a member of Emmitsburg High’s last graduating class, said that she thought it was a bad idea. "We were rivals with Thurmont. Putting us together was never a good combination," Valentine said.

Committees from both communities were appointed in 1961 to sit down and decide on possible locations for the new school, but nothing happened. "Since the two committees appointed some time back to select a site for a consolidated school have not come up with a solution as to where the new school would be located, it is becoming apparent that the School Board just might take the ‘bull’ by the horns and pick a site itself," reported the Emmitsburg Chronicle in July 1963.

Faced with having a site forced upon them, the committee met and unanimously recommended the purchase of 40 acres on Payne’s Hill for the school. It was a site nearly halfway between the two communities.

"This site had previously been approved by both the County Commissioners and the School Board, and its selection, one of the most scenic in the northern section of the county, and one easily accessible off U. S. Route 15, is felt by the committees to be the most feasible and agreeable to the citizens and taxpayers of this area," the Emmitsburg Chronicle reported.

Negotiations faltered when another buyer offered more money for the Jamison parcel. The board of education expanded the number of properties it would consider to five. Even at this late date, the board still considered simply expanding both existing schools as an option.

A second choice, the Staub property on the edge of Thurmont, had also been rejected by the county commissioners.

At one point it was suggested to build a new high school on the southern edge of Thurmont that both Thurmont and Emmitsburg students would attend and then build a second high school in Emmitsburg when enrollment justified a new school.

Then on Nov. 27, 1963, Emmitsburg residents awoke to discover that they were going to lose their high school. The night before, the board of education reversed direction and authorized the purchase of the Staub site for $30,000.

"However, the Board of Commissioners apparently threw caution to the winds and when the Board of Education, either by default or deliberate intention, offered no alternate site, the Commissioners went ahead and okayed the sight and appropriated the money," reported the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

In announcing their decision, the commissioners inadvertently admitted they may have overstepped their authority. The board of education is required by law to select the site and the commissioners could only approve or deny it. In this case, the commissioners had selected the site. Though it was not a formal alternate site, they considered it one because it had been considered and rejected earlier.

Emmitsburg citizens fought the decision by protesting at meetings. Efforts were organized to stop the high school from being "stolen" from Emmitsburg.

It all came to naught. The last graduating class from Emmitsburg, a group of 37 seniors, graduated at 8 p.m. on June 10, 1968. No mention was made in the newspaper that it was the end of an era.

"They closed our school in the middle of the next school year and moved the students to Catoctin High," Valentine said.

In 1969, Catoctin High School graduated its first class of 140 seniors.

The alumni of Emmitsburg High continued to celebrate their lost school, though. They attended dinners together, went on cruises together and remembered Emmitsburg High together. Even 43 years after the last graduating class, nearly 200 people will still turn out for the annual class reunion for all alumni.

Read Mary Catherine Shields': Memories of the old Emmitsburg High School

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