Louisa May Alcott Elementary

Former teacher Audrey Glassman with former Louisa May Alcott Elementary student Bob Cohen during the May 5 reunion. (Submitted photo by Tony Glaros / May 5, 2013)

They filed in the lobby of Martin's Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, some ramrod straight, others on canes and bent over walkers.

They came poised to crack open fragrant memories of their days at School No. 59, more intimately known as Louisa May Alcott Elementary on Keyworth Avenue in the Park Heights section of Northwest Baltimore.

The gathering on May 5 was No. 59's fifth all-school reunion since 1979 and, according to one exhausted planner, maybe the last.

While high school and college reunions may be the norm, Irv Hamet said this grammar school get-together is part and parcel of the culture in the close-knit neighborhood of his childhood.

"I think the reason the 59 reunion is so popular is due to the fact that very few of us left Baltimore," said Hamet, 71, an insurance executive. "Elementary school is a six-year process which has more togetherness than any other form of schooling, including college."

He said it was also traditional to join fraternities and sororities during high-school, which often resulted in lifelong friendships – and future spouses.

"We tend to form a friendship bond which only gets stronger if we don't see each other for awhile," Hamet said.

"Do we go under our maiden name or our married name?" pressed one woman, scanning the table filled with name tags. Her voice carried through nearby conversations rewinding tales of Korean War duck and cover drills, Natty Boh beer and the golden arm of Johnny Unitas.

Carolyn Gleiman Shochet was greeted with a round of warm, lingering hugs. Her parents, she said, ran a small neighborhood shop, Gleiman's Pharmacy, within the shadow of the school.

"We lived right over the store. We sold coddies (a medley of deep-fried cod fish and mashed potatoes) and chocolate sodas."

"And penny candy," chimed in Marvin Schein. Then he thought out loud: "I'm just wondering if anybody is here from my time."

"There's Mrs. Glassman!" someone shouted. And in strolled Audrey Glassman, at 92, the eldest participant at the reunion. Glassman, who earned iconic status based on her teaching methods and her longevity at the school, was enveloped by well-wishers.

Glassman, of Owings Mills, recalled that she had been a newly minted teacher, 20 years old and married only a few days, when she began at the school.

"It was World War II, and my husband was going overseas. Everything was happening very quickly," she said. That left her to fend for herself, she said, as she eased into a position that paid $1,200 annually.

Classroom rules carried more weight then, she emphasized. "If somebody chewed gum, didn't raise their hand or snuck in a comic book, it was a big deal."

Hanging on every word was Bob Cohen, one of the reunion's primary organizers and one of Glassman's former charges.

"She knows more about me than I do!" he joked. After he grew up, Cohen, too, chose a career in teaching.

As the more than 250 in attendance noshed on brunch buffet fare which featured omelets, Belgian waffle and blintzes, Schein dished more remembrances.

"It was a wonderful neighborhood," said the 83-year-old lawyer, who grew up across the street from the school. "It was a farm — with cattle," edged by thick woods.

"And in the days of Johnny Weissmuller, we used to swing on vines in the woods," he said.

Each former student received a pink bag containing items such as an umbrella, note pad and blue program. The program pages included information about the streets where students lived while they attended the school -- from Boarman Avenue to Loyola Southway.

It also mentioned the alum who traveled the shortest and longest distance — Marsha Finkelstein was just two blocks from the Valley Mansion, while Esther Helfgott lives more than 3,000 miles away in Seattle.

The school's physical condition also was the subject of conversation. Completed in 1910, the four-story building served as a school until 1972, when it closed and became an office for the school system.

In 1982, it became a storage facility. In 1990, it was remodeled and reopened as Alcott Place, a 44-unit apartment house for residents 62 and over. For the most part, the original maple floors remain; the blackboards from the classrooms were relocated in the hallways so residents could keep tabs on one another.

The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As the morning turned into afternoon, the hall overflowed with colorful personalities spinning stories.

Florence Winakur Aaron stood shoulder to shoulder with William Kolodner; the two have known each other for more than seven decades.

"She kept her hair, I didn't," Kolodner quipped.

As he stepped away for a moment, she leaned forward and whispered, "I had a real big crush on him. When we were in the fourth grade we went to Washington, D.C., to see the sites. We sat together on the bus. I prayed I would get into his sixth-grade class. I did."