Towson High's Class of 1953 looks back

Towson High School's Class of 1953 held its 60th reunion Sept. 27 and 28 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hunt Valley. We asked some members of the class to recount life in Towson in the 1950s, their favorite memories, and where life took them after graduation.

Barbara Anderson Orbock, 78, now lives just a block away from Towson High School, but she lived in Wiltondale when she was a freshman in 1949 when the school opened.

"I remember our principal, Horace Wheeler — we used to call him 'Pinkie' because he had such a red face — lived right next to the school," she said, "and nobody got away with anything.

"He called an assembly early on, and he was livid. He came on stage dragging two trash bags and made it clear it was our responsibility to keep the school grounds clean, and if we didn't, maybe he would send us up to Carver because they knew how to keep their school clean."

Carver School, the Towson high school for black students, had also opened that year.

Orbock was in the college prep course, but she played sports — field hockey, basketball and softball —so she mixed easily with the 312 or so kids that were there to get general, commercial, secretarial and vocational diplomas.

"No diploma was better than another, just different," she said.

There were only eight high schools in the county then. She remembers playing softball in a cow pasture in Sparks.

Towson drew students from the city line to Sparks, west to Milford Mill and Franklin and east to Kenwood. There were no school buses or MTA. Practices had to be over by 5 p.m. so kids could catch the same buses that adults took.

The kids that had to take a bus home were disadvantaged when it came to after-school activities. They couldn't belong to a sorority, like she did, or a fraternity. Those groups met at somebody's house after school, she said.

"We might have collected for needy children once in a while, but at the meetings we usually planned parties and discussed who we wanted to have in the sorority and who we didn't."

One of her favorite memories was the talent show, in which the sorority decided to perform the Can Can.

"We won and we got lots of applause," she said.

In the yearbook, Barbara Anderson wanted to become a gym teacher. But after graduating from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, she went into teaching.

"It has been very rewarding," she said. "I learned a lot more from those kids than they ever learned from me."

She has been married to Dave Orbock for 55 years and they have three children.

Cashmere was 'to be treasured'

Ruth Stinefelt Hale, 77, lives in Riderwood Hills now, but she lived in Cockeysville on a farm when she was a student at Towson High.

She was part of the artistic crowd. They decorated bulletin boards and did the back drops for school plays and the decorations for the dances.

"The best time were the formal dances when we decorated with 20 miles of crepe paper and got the chance to wear high heels and nylons and those big fluffy dresses," she said.

"Of course, we didn't have a lot of anything to hold them up, the bodices had lots of boning. "Sometimes, when you danced your body would move but the dress wouldn't."

She and her friends usually got their dresses at Hochschild Kohn at Belvedere. Hutzler's was expensive, she said.

In the 1950s, most kids didn't have a car, and if a boy did, he'd fill it up with kids.

"And if you were a girl it was wonderful if you had one cashmere sweater — it was to be treasured," Hale said.

"If you were going on a date you were expected to wear a girdle. My mother would slap me on the backside to make sure her hand bounced off."

Hale was a gum chewer even though it wasn't considered lady-like, and students weren't allowed to chew gum in school.

"You wouldn't throw a whole stick in your mouth — you wanted to make it last," she said. "Our parents were brought up during the Depression. They taught us to watch our money.

"I was always being hauled into student court, which was run by students. They'd give you detention or make you pick up all the cigarette butts in the smoking area outside the cafeteria. Yes, they had a smoking area back then.

"There were quite a lot of us that got caught." One wing of the school was still under construction, she said. "That's where we'd hide to smoke, and the construction workers wouldn't tell on us. I guess you had to rebel in some way."

In the 1953 yearbook Ruth Stinefelt described herself as a "future nurse."

After Towson High, she spent a year at then-Towson State College, worked as a secretary for a year and eventually enjoyed a successful career as a commercial artist for Bendix Communications on Joppa Road.

Divorced twice now, "single and loving it," she has a daughter, Linda Michael, who is a member of the school's Class of 1978.

'A late bloomer'

Lutherville resident Bill Bevans, 78, lived in Stoneleigh during his years at Towson High.

It could be said Bevans passed through the school instead of being part of it. His main pursuit was music.

He was always tied up, either playing piano for the annual school operettas and musicals or constantly taking courses after school at Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Together with four other Towson High students, he formed a successful dance band called The Harmonairs, which played at teen centers, dinners, CYO dances and wedding receptions.

"It wasn't unusual for us to have three jobs in a weekend," Bevans said.

He was 6-foot, 5-inches tall but "never athletic in any way, shape or form," he said. "I wish I had studied harder, but it didn't seem so important back then. I ended up in the top classes and I'd work my way down."

But He does, however, remember chemistry teacher John Deuber. "He would lecture us with this booming voice and we just enjoyed him," he said.

Deuber would go on to become a radio and television announcer under the name Jack Dawson.

Bevans said he really didn't get involved with the Class of '53 until its 25th reunion.

He's been leading the charge for every reunion since then. He calls himself a 's a very organized person. , he said. He couldn't resist the project, even though it takes eight months of emails and phone calls all over the country.

"I know my classmates so much better now that I've been doing this," he said. "I guess I was a late bloomer."

In the 1953 yearbook, William Bevans said his "ambition was to be in a big-time band." After Towson High, he graduated with a degree in organ from Peabody Conservatory.

He went into teaching in Baltimore County, then school administration, eventually becoming a principal at Holabird Middle School. After retiring in 1992, he worked for several churches as an administrator or music director.

He performs now with a small singing group, A Little Knight Music, in various senior centers, clubs and retirement communities.

He's been married to the former Eileen Ott, of Baltimore, for 38 years. They have two daughters, Katherine, who graduated Towson High in 1995, and Ann, Towson's Class of 1993, and one grandson.

Barbara Orbock sent a letter to the 57 members of the class who signed up for the reunion:

"We were farm kids, blue collar and white collar kids, thrown together for four formative years in the newest state-of-the-art high school in the county …"

Life was simpler in 1953, she wrote. "Pot was an object to cook in, grass was synonymous with lawn, Coke was the world's best soda, and drugs were medicines dispensed by pharmacists ...

"We were blessed to grow up in such a time. No, we had no Internet, cell phones, the latest in sports paraphernalia, limos on prom nights or parents who hassled teacher to raise our grades.

"What we had was hope, civility, a sense of belonging and fun."

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