JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Those Other Classmates

While I was searching yearbooks for Nancy Oberly, it occurred to me that I had another set of classmates of whose fates I had no idea. That is, I went to kindergarten in 1954-55 in Wernersville, PA, and to first and second grades the following years in Womelsdorf, PA, both part of the Conrad Weiser alliance of western Berks County. So could I at least track those classmates’ progress through the rest of their school years?

Yes and no.

There’s no picture of the kindergarten class in the 1955 Weicon yearbook, and the only two classmates I recall from there are Beth Erwin (who was also in the first and second grade classes, and if I recall correctly, her mother had a baby clothing shop on High Street) and Allen Nagle (our family doctor’s son). But the 1956 Weicon does have a photo of our first grade class. I used to have that yearbook, but it’s long since been lost. Happily, the classmates site has an acceptable facsimile of it.

My first grade class. Notice James Eagelman, the tallest kid in the class, in the back row. James Garrett is in the second row next to our teacher, Mrs. Ray, and I’m a couple kids to the right with an expression on my face that seems to say “What am I doing here?” Notice Tommy Rhine at the far right in the first row. He was the shortest guy in the class, and thanks to kids like him, I grew up not realizing I was rather short myself.

Unhappily, that was the last year that the Weicon yearbook included photos of grades one through six, so that somewhat limited my tracking abilities.

I can recall about half the kids in that class, although only two of them, James Eagelman and James Garrett, really stand out in my memories, possibly because we shared the same first name. I might write up a couple little anecdotes about them sometime.

Anyway once I got to the 1962 yearbook, when those kids were in seventh grade, I discovered several things. First, I could still recognize most of the kids that I remembered, and nearly half the kids were no longer there, including James Eagelman. I wonder what happened to him. His father was a veterinarian; did the family just pick up and move? By the way, Eagelman hated the name “James” and insisted that once he got old enough, he was going to change it legally to “Jimmy”. I wonder if he ever followed through on that?

When I got to the Conrad Weiser Class of 1967 graduation pictures, I was instantly able to pick out Richard Behney, Barry Boyer, and Susan Schaeffer without checking their names. And whaddaya know? Susan Schaeffer went to Penn State? If I had known, I would have tried to contact her. Maybe we were in some of the same classes. Although if she went to study Home Economics, maybe not.

Then there are the kids that I no longer recognized, like Beth Erwin, Aldeena Firestone, James Garrett, Candace Hoover, Allen Nagle, and Suzanne Wells.

I recall running into Aldeena Firestone at a Richland Carnival a couple years after second grade, and we had a nice long talk. Also, when I was in maybe fifth grade, I saw Candy Hoover again at a roller rink. Other than that, I don’t think I ever saw any of those classmates again. Several years later in the early 70s, I worked briefly with Doug Hoover, Candy’s younger brother, at the yarn factory on 422.

There were some delightful surprises, such as discovering that Beth Erwin was selected the Class Clown and Barry Boyer was the Best Dancer. Who knew?

Should anyone from the Conrad Weiser Class of 1967 come across this blog post, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, and one more thing. Seeing that yearbook answered another question: “Whatever happened to David Stites?”

My First Baby Sitter

During my first three years on this planet we lived on Front Street in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. Next door (or maybe a few doors up) was a restaurant, and that’s where Nancy Oberly lived with her parents, who owned the restaurant. I know this because every time we’d talk about those days, my mother would mention that Nancy Oberly used to babysit for me.

The combined first, second, and third grade photo from the Womelsdorf 1943 yearbook. Nancy Oberly is listed as being in third grade, but her position in the photo isn’t.

We moved to the farm about the time I turned three (my arm was still in a sling from my unfortunate encounter with the washing machine wringer), and as far as I can recall we never visited that restaurant again. I suspect that it went out of business because there was a shoe repair shop across the street and we did visit that from time to time, and I don’t recall there being a restaurant across the street from it by that time.

In any case, I have what I think is a very vague memory of that restaurant, but it may very well be my imagination or a different one altogether.

But as I said, every time that period was mentioned, my mother always used to interject that Nancy Oberly used to babysit for me.

I only recall ever meeting Nancy one time. That was in the mid-70s when she came into the hardware store in Richland that my parents had recently bought. My parents seemed to recognize her right away, so I presume they had maintained some contact with her, but she was just a middle-aged woman to me.

So who was Nancy Oberly? Information on her is hard to find.

Satellite photo of Womelsdorf and the approximate house where we lived from 1949 to 1952

Nancy Lee Oberly was born in 1934 to William and Margaret Oberly, and census records show her living with her parents in Womelsdorf in 1940. She had two older sisters, Shirley and Marian, both deceased. Marian married a William Snyder and they had four children.

Then I got the idea to look for old yearbooks. At first I thought it looked promising, as in the Womelsdorf school yearbooks of 1941-43 when Nancy was in first through third grades, she is listed as being in the combined first, second, and third grade photos.

But after that there is no trace of her. Now some yearbooks are missing from the site that I was using, so possibly she did attend classes in Womelsdorf for somewhat longer, but she definitely doesn’t show up during what should have been her high school years, and she didn’t graduate from the school. What happened? Did she drop out to work in her parents’ restaurant? Did they send her to another school? I have no idea.

And that’s about all I can find. So Nancy would have been about 15 years old when I was born and 18 when we moved to the farm, prime babysitting years. I don’t know if she ever married or had children, nor do I even know if she’s still living or where she might be if she is. She’d be about 85 now, and I’d love to find her if she’s still with us. I’ll bet she might have a story or two to tell.


My Conducting Debut

I attended school in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, for first and second grades as we were still living on my grandfather’s farm just outside the borough in those days. My recollection is hazy, but I seem to recall that the school held two major events each year, one in the fall and one in the spring (May Day, I think), where all the classes participated.

I only have a relatively clear memory of one of them, which occurred during second grade, probably in the fall so this would have been in 1956. Our music teacher, Mrs. McLean, prepped everyone in our class with percussion instruments of one sort or another and rehearsed us to play them at designated points in sync with a musical selection that she had on a 78 rpm record (remember 78s?). Once she had us sufficiently rehearsed so that we knew our parts, she decided it was time to select a conductor.

Womelsdorf School

Several of us auditioned for the part, including me. I’m not sure why, but I recall it was extremely important to me that I should be selected. Maybe it was because my uncle Curtis was a music teacher and somehow I felt music ran in our family, I don’t know, but I really wanted to be the conductor.

There were maybe two or three other kids who tried out, and when I saw how they lamely tried to beat the time with the baton, I was sure I was a shoo-in. Because I knew I could do something they weren’t doing. My turn came, I did my thing, and I sat down, confident that the conducting position was mine.

Mrs. McLean turned to the class and asked them what they thought. There was some discussion, and then Mrs. McLean asked the pointed question that I had been hoping for, “What did James do that the others didn’t?”

The answer came quickly: “He pointed the baton at whoever had to play their instrument next.”

Yes!

While all the other applicants were just trying to beat out the time to the rhythm of the music, I was also cuing the musicians.

Needless to say, I got the job.

Well, the big night arrived, and we were all assembled on the stage in the auditorium with me standing in front of them with the baton in my hand my back to the audience waiting for the music to start. Off stage to my right was our teacher, Miss Wagner, standing at the record player about to drop the needle on the 78.

Then the music started and—

Oh no! Miss Wagner had put on the wrong side of the 78 so the wrong music was playing!

We all erupted in laughter. Miss Wagner was waving frantically at us from the wings, and we were making motions to her to turn over the record, which just led to more laughter. The audience must have been bemused. (The next day in class, Miss Wagner explained that she realized that she had put on the wrong side of the record, but she was trying to get us to settle down before switching it.)

Then I saw Mrs. McLean moving quickly behind the curtains at the back of the stage. She reached the record player, righted the record, and finally the correct music was playing.

From that point everything went smoothly, and there were no more snafus.

Later on in the car on the drive home, I mentioned to my mother how funny it was when Miss Wagner put on the wrong side of the record.

“You all acted like a pack of animals up there,” she said. “And you were the worst of all!”

Not exactly the response I was looking for.