My last four Take Me Back articles were about the Waitsfield High School graduating class of 1952. I found their yearbook at Joslin Library, and it was exciting to me because we Mehurons had family in it -- a teacher and one of the seniors. Studying the book made me remember that I had seen another old yearbook buried somewhere in our family pictures and papers. It took a while to find. But there it was, “The Annual,” published by the Waitsfield High School Class of 1922/23. The students included in the volume would have been part of the generation that could have been parents of some of the Class of 1952. For example, senior Anne Mehuron was in the 1952 “Mad River Echoes” and her father, Elmer Mehuron, and aunt, Ruth Mehuron, were in the 1923’s “The Annual.”
Earlene Bettis must be related to Mary Margaret Bettis of 1923 somehow too. 1952 classmate, Delbert Palmer’s, mother was named Kathryn, so I’m not sure how he is related to 1923’s Hazel Ellen Palmer (It is worth noting that as a senior she was already a reporter for the Waterbury Record). There is also a member of the Joslin family in both classes. I noticed a boy named Elvin Sidney Graves because there are so many members of the Graves family still in The Valley. I wrote a quick note to Randy Graves of Warren, and he replied, “Ask Tom! Elvin Sidney Graves was best known as ‘Shinney’ Graves. This is my great uncle (my grandfather's brother) who had the adjoining farm above to the Common proper. His farm ran all the way up to the Rivers’ farm (now Virginia Houston). He was a complete character.” My husband Tom Mehuron said the exact same thing, that Shinney was a complete character.
This photograph is on the first page of the yearbook, which says: This page is in honor of those who have attended Waitsfield Schools but have not graduated. I expected to find a picture of the old high school building that is on Route 100 in the shot but it’s not there.
It made me wonder about the students’ intention. The opportunity to graduate from high school back then was not guaranteed. In fact, it’s a testament to the seniors that they knew how lucky they were to have made it all the way through 12th grade. While some called the absent children truants, quite simply, those kids were part of the workforce that fed their families. Many elder locals have told me they had jobs around their homesteads from the time they were 7 years old. And a sizeable minority could not be spared to attend classes and they dropped out.
From the section about their class history written by Edith Tucker:
“… Students gathered from the surrounding towns of Middlesex, Moretown, Fayston and Warren to commence in the fall of 1918 as freshmen. Thirty-three names were registered. Come the end of the year, our number had decreased to 19, but our spirit was not lost.
“…The next fall, when we returned as sophomores, only 17 answered, “Present.” But of this number we greeted two new students, Winifred Joslin, who had stayed out on account of sickness, and Donald Moriarty, who had stayed out to work. We were pleased to find that Mister Billings, our principal, was to be with us for another year.
“…During our senior year, we had been 16 in number. Our poetess, Ellen Folsom, who went to take a business course at Montpelier, was much missed. For three years we had studied calmly and steadily, and when the fourth year came, we were ready to enter into more outside activities. We gave the freshmen a reception early in the year and in return we were later entertained at a party given us by them.
“…We find that we shall be the first class to graduate which has occupied the new school building for the entire six-year course. And who has been with Miss Dana [who was an English teacher and became principal of Waitsfield High School] during the entire time which she has been here. She has taken vital interest in us and has proven to us that we may overcome obstacles in spite of everything.
“We all have a kindly feeling for Waitsfield High School and as we go to our lives’ tasks, we will always remember the green and white as well as our crimson and white.”
The class of 1922 (1923) were a pretty large group compared to the class of 1952, that had nine kids enrolled. And it is mentioned in the book, they were extraordinarily serious about their classwork and extracurricular activities. It was not uncommon for youngsters from towns outside of Waitsfield to board with other families when school was in session.
The students that made it to graduation chose a copy of the painting “Pilgrims Going to Church” for their parting gift to the school. Why? Young Helen Reed wrote, “We have spent many happy hours here together, and as our time to part is drawing near, we wish to express our gratitude to our classmates and teachers for all that has been done for us.
“Through the four long years we have spent in Waitsfield High School, we have always tried to do something or give something that will benefit others as well as ourselves.
“We have succeeded so far to our greatest possible measure, and as a parting gift we present to Waitsfield High this picture, “The Pilgrims Going to Church” by Boughton.
“May it ever inspire you to be steadfast and true.”
Steadfast and true. Steadfast meaning committed and dedicated. True, as in genuine, sincere, and authentic. These are two descriptors that seem to have fallen out of favor in recent times, making Helen’s statement even more interesting. And her report, “. . . we have always tried to do something or give something that will benefit others as well as ourselves.”
I have heard elders of our community describe a time when the population of the Mad River Valley was so few, they simply had to rely on each other for help. Help in the fields, help building, when a family member was sick and, yes, when a child needed a safe place to stay so they could attend Waitsfield junior and senior high school. These were clearly important values of the early 1920s in The Valley towns.
In a recent interview with the four eldest Hartshorn siblings, who were all kind enough to sit down with me, they talked about this heightened degree of a sense of community. It sounded as if The Valley was like an extended family who didn’t need to be asked to lend a hand. It was, in fact, part of a lifestyle. And when I asked each of them to tell me something they wish they could change for the current generation — they wished for an effort to bring that degree of caring and concern back into our fold. That we might teach our kids to value and provide aid to our neighbors.
I know some are already doing this, but it’s a good reminder. Isn’t it?
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