WASHINGTON ——Donald F. Munson grew up around politics, but it wasn't until he became a congressional page in the early 1950s that he decided to make a career of it.
The Washington County Republican, who served 36 years in the Maryland General Assembly, met Gerald R. Ford when Ford was a rookie congressman and walked the same halls as John F. Kennedy, then the junior senator from Massachusetts.
House of Representatives on March 1, 1954, when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on lawmakers from the gallery, injuring five.
For a 16-year-old boy from Hagerstown, witnessing history up close was life-changing.
"There was no question that when I got out of there I was hooked," said Munson, 73. "I wanted to be in public life."
The opportunity for today's high school students to follow Munson's path has drawn to a close. House Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced this month that they are shutting down the 184-year-old House page program.
In a joint statement, the leaders said the $5 million annual cost was too much to continue paying in an era when smart phones and email have rendered the pages' traditional paper-running role unnecessary.
The program ends Aug. 31. A similar program will continue in the Senate.
The House program, formally established in 1827, first enlisted poor and orphaned boys from Washington to run errands for members of Congress.
Today, pages — both male and female — live in a residence hall on Capitol Hill that was built in 2001, attend classes at the Library of Congress and earn $1,804 a month.
Wearing trademark navy jackets, they have been a fixture throughout the Capitol and its adjacent office buildings.
Pages were "once stretched to the limit delivering large numbers of documents ... [but] are today rarely called upon for such services, since most documents are now transmitted electronically," the House leaders said in their statement.
At an annual cost of $69,000 to $80,000 per page, they said, the program had become more costly than "most expensive boarding schools."
In addition to the rising price tag, the page program has been slammed over the years by scandals.
Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, resigned in 2006 after reports that he sent sexually suggestive emails and instant messages to pages over the course of a decade. Rep. Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat, was censured by the House in 1983 after he acknowledged having an affair with a 17-year-old male page. Studds was re-elected six times after the censure.
Munson, whose parents were active in politics, spent his page days from 1953 to 1955 answering phones in the Republican cloakroom.
He and other pages read Mickey Spillane novels in their spare time. They also discovered a way onto the roof of the Capitol and would sneak up to "run around and enjoy the sights of Washington."
Munson was standing just under the visitors' gallery in 1954 when the four Puerto Rican nationalists began firing down on the floor.
Five lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. George H. Fallon of Baltimore, were injured in the attack.