Westminster High School, in 1908, at the corner of E. Green and Center Streets. Opened in 1898, it served as a high school until Nov. 30, 1936, when it became East End Elementary School. Belle Fringer taught first grade there from 1949 into the 1970s.
Westminster High School, in 1908, at the corner of E. Green and Center Streets. Opened in 1898, it served as a high school until Nov. 30, 1936, when it became East End Elementary School. Belle Fringer taught first grade there from 1949 into the 1970s. (Courtesy Kevin Dayhoff)

At the Westminster Cemetery Memorial Day ceremonies in May 2006, one of Carroll County’s native sons, Lt. Colonel John (Jack) W. Fringer, Jr. U. S. Army (Retired) returned home to give the annual Memorial Day address.

Often in Carroll County, when we come together to pay homage to a leader who has selflessly contributed to our community, we also recognize their family, understanding that it is just not possible to succeed without the support of one’s family. These accomplishments do not happen by happenstance; they are often the result of a tradition of family values going back many generations.

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Born March 14, 1938, Fringer grew up in Westminster. He attended St. John Catholic School, when it was still on Main Street, where the Carroll County Library now stands. He particularly remembers being a first grader at St. John Elementary School.

The son of an Army officer, he graduated from Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College in 1960. At that time he was commissioned a second lieutenant and served in the U.S. Army until 1981.

At the 2006 Memorial Day ceremonies, Fringer chose not to call attention to himself, even though that would have been fitting and appropriate. For you see, the gentleman we know as LTC. Jack Fringer is the son of the late Mrs. Belle Fringer and Capt. John Wesley Fringer.

Belle Fringer was my first grade teacher. She was my hero — a larger-than-life individual who made a profound difference in my life. Yet, in the past, I have only written about her twice. Portions of this tribute have been published before, at the beginning of the school year in 2006 and 2013.

Of course, she is part of a large club. Growing up in Carroll County, I was fortunate to have one great teacher after another.

When I attended first grade in 1959-1960, Fringer taught at what was then East End Elementary School, at the corner of East Green and Center Street in Westminster — in the building that was once the first high school in Carroll County.

For many, the beginning of another school year opens a floodgate of “first” childhood memories. First among equals in our storeroom of “firsts” is our first grade teacher.

What do you remember about your first grade teacher? What was the name of your first grade teacher? If you could talk with your first grade teacher today, what would you say?

It was not until later in life that I learned that not only was Fringer an amazing teacher, but she was also a true American hero, who quietly endured great sacrifices for our country.

Fringer was born in Carroll County on Dec. 18, 1910. She began teaching in 1929 in a one-room schoolhouse in Dennings.

She married John Wesley Fringer in 1931. Before World War II John Fringer worked at the Times Printing Company with his dad, Guy Fringer. Some readers will recall Guy Fringer shared the role of William Winchester with Atlee Wampler, when the Westminster Players participated in Dorothy Elderdice’s production of “The Story of God’s Well,” as part of Westminster’s bicentennial exercises in October 1964.

Guy Fringer was activated with Company H, 29th Division of the Maryland National Guard in February 1941. He first served in the “US Army War Show” and put on military weapon firepower demonstrations throughout the United States. He was later assigned to a glider infantry unit at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

At first, the Fringer family traveled across the country with the Army, but then, as the war dragged on, Belle Fringer returned home with her family and worked tirelessly for our community. When the Carroll County Regional Airport was dedicated on June 5, 1943, she participated in the ceremonies.

In 1945, Fringer went back to teaching first grade at Charles Carroll. She moved to East End Elementary School in 1949.

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Belle Fringer retired in the mid-1970s, but continued to serve our community in service clubs, the Republican Party and the American Legion. Before her death on Feb. 3, 1998, she had accumulated over 2,000 volunteer hours at Carroll Hospital.

Before she passed away, my wife and I were very fortunate to have a long lunch with her.

Fringer is buried in the Westminster Cemetery. However, her husband is buried in a military cemetery far from home.

Capt. John Fringer was commanding Company F, 304 Infantry, 76th infantry Division when he was killed in World War II, on March 5, 1945, just eight weeks before the end of the war.

To the best of my knowledge, Fringer only got to visit her husband’s grave once, in 1964. She visited the American Cemetery in Luxembourg with her son, Lt. Colonel Jack W. Fringer, Jr., U.S. Army, now retired.

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