Back in 2007, Tom Foley ('08) and Editor-in-Chief of the Jet Jotter, prepared a "Looking Back" series to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first graduating class of Longmeadow High School, the class of 1957. In preparing this leather-bound collection for the "Jet Jotter" project, Tom contacted alumni to share their memories of that first year, 1955. Below are commentaries from LHS alumni, John Garrels ('57) and Jane Helmchen('57).
REMEMBERING: LOOKING BACK HALF A CENTURY AT LONGMEADOW HIGH SCHOOL
We had no cell phones, no e-mail, no internet, and no faxes. No-one had flown to the moon; Vietnam and Iraq were still in the future; the cold war was in full swing; no-one could possibly foresee the Kennedy assassination and the tragedy of 9-11; and New Orleans was the hot and charming jazz capital of the world.
At Longmeadow High School the girls wore crinoline petticoats, full skirts, white bobby sox, and saddle shoes, and the boys had to wear ties to school between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Only the most progressive families had television sets, black and white, of course. Contrary to some current impressions however, we did have telephones, and we used them constantly. Some of us even had our own private lines so that our parents could get in a word edgewise with their own friends and not only with ours. We did our daily Latin translations over the phone: that divided the work in half. We memorized history dates over the phone too. We also learned to type on mechanical typewriters.
We rode our bicycles all over town and to school, even in winter. The asphalt ramps next to the curbs haven't changed in 50 years. How else would we have gotten home in the late afternoon: we were generally one-car families, and there were no buses going past the school, because there were very few houses in that entire area either. As a matter of fact, the street didn't even have a name at that time! It's hard to believe, and it is, to say the least, rather sobering to realize that we are now looking back 50 years at our high school experience.
In September 1955, Longmeadow High School opened it's doors for the first time to 10th and 11th graders only. Our parents had spent years canvassing from door to door in town to convince a majority at the town meeting to vote in favor of a high school. Those of us entering 11th grade had spent our 10th grade year in Springfield, most of us at Classical High School, and were not privileged to be the first graduating class of LHS.
Many of us were skeptical at first about the quality of education we would receive at this new school; because most of us wanted to continue on to college, this was a decidedly pertinent question. At our first assembly on the first day of school, Mr. Macfarlane, the principal, left no doubt that he and the faculty were determined to create an outstanding school in all respects from that day onward.
In those days "excel" was a verb and not a computer program! We all quickly realized that we were going to have to work very hard to contribute to that excellence. Those of us fortunate enough to be placed in the college preparatory fast track had to work even harder. What a shock it was when our first English compositions came back from Mr. Lopes and I had received the best mark in the class - an overwhelming C-. He also shared with us his love of American and world literature. Miss Macintyre spoke only French with us: Mrs Leab insisted that, if we couldn't translate a Latin phrase, we couldn't really comprehend it. This pattern was repeated in math and science, even in gym, shop, and home economics for those taking those courses. Only American history was an exception to this excellence in teaching, but we still learned a lot, because we read the chapters in advance and paid sufficient attention to the lectures to keep a list of all the errors the teacher was making! Miss Baird, our librarian, had the somewhat dubious honor of acting as a sounding board and bringing us back down to earth.
At the same time we 11th graders had the fun and responsibility of starting up all the school traditions, and this in itself was a very exciting project. The active student government was established right away; all kinds of sports were offered; the Masacksic yearbook was in place for our graduation; musical groups were formed; there was a successful dramatic club; photography, chess, stamps and other hobbies were available; and of course the Jet Jotter started appearing on a regular basis only a few weeks after school started. Being the Co-Editor-in-Chief for two years was surely one reason why I still enjoy writing. Since our class had only about 60 members, everyone was active in a number of extracurricular activities.
All in all it was an unforgettable and extremely challenging time of our lives, and most of us are still immensely grateful to our teachers for demanding only our very best. This entire experience also allowed the members of my class to become a close-knit family; after all, we certainly got to know each other well! It is definitely no coincidence that some of us have remained very close friends for half a century, regardless of the paths our lives have taken.
And my life has definitely not taken the "usual" path. I have spent two-thirds of my life on the other side of the Atlantic, much of it in the fascinating city of Berlin. After graduating with a BA in English from Wellesley College, I spent two years as an exchange teacher in Berlin right after the Berlin Wall was built, a dramatic and most thought-provoking time. I worked for two years for the AFS youth exchange program in New York City and then married "my" Berliner and moved to Germany. I taught English as a foreign language to German secondary school students for a number of years, and, along the way, earned my MA in German from Middlebury College. I have worked for years as a free-lance translator and interpreter. My husband, with a doctorate in business administration, spent his professional life in the management of various consumer foods companies. Our two children, now in their early 30's, are - not surprisingly - just as internationally oriented; our son spent an exchange year in Venezuela, studied in Berlin, Paris, Jerusalem, and earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago; he is a professor of economics in the latter city. Our daughter spent an exchange year in Japan, studied in New York, England, and earned her Master's degree at the London School of Economics; she is a political scientist, currently working in development aid in Bolivia.
Is it any wonder that I always return to Longmeadow and take a look at the High School whenever I am in the United States? And is it any surprise that I consider myself extremely fortunate to be abel to call myself a friend of my all-time favorite teacher, that man who, 50 years ago, shocked me right off my high horse with a C- on that first English composition?
Good luck to all of you at LHS for the second half-century!!
Jane (Freedman) Helmchen, Berlin, Germany September, 2005
Longmeadow High School, Class of '57
FIFTY YEARS ON, CAMELOT
...the word that we hardy pioneers at the spanking new LHS still deploy for our groundbreaking years at LHS is "Camelot"...and, even for those of us fortunate enough to have continued on to leading colleges and universities, we of the class of '57 still treasure the educational quality of our two years there. We were a somewhat distilled group, scattering after junior high school to four different schools in Springfield or to boarding schools. When we regrouped on the eastern bank of Grassy Gutter Road our numbers had been reduced by something like one third, to a population of approximately 80. Much of the credit for the immediate success of the school must go to the late Hugh MacFarlane, the first principal, and to the superbly dedicated faculty which he managed to assemble. Their enthusiasm, as well as ours, was unbounded and contagious. There was never, ever, a "them and us" mentality - rather, a joint enterprise, and they gave us enormous support as we dealt not only with academics, but with a whole series of "firsts" for a new institution : a student council, school colors, what should we call our athletic teams, a glee club, a drama society, a school paper, and, not too soon to begin thinking about a yearbook.
The first amusing controversy arose over MacFarlane's fiat that neckties were to be worn by all boys. The Springfield papers had a heyday with that, suggesting everything from a certain "elitism" to a reform school mentality, but tranquility soon reigned, and the start-up issues for a new institution were virtually invisible.
Because our modest numbers, classes, particularly for advanced levels, were sometimes as small as a dozen, a wonderful gift both for us and our teachers. Indeed, the very smallness of the enterprise has continued to have its effect, and a number of us still convene regularly, from corners of the globe. Inevitably, the converstation moves from retirement plans, second homes and grandchildren to those two Camelot years at LHS...spouses and friends may find wearing but for us the magic remains.
John Garrels, LHS, Class of '57