Just a few weeks before Class of 2020 enters the halls of Westminster High School as seniors, the Class of 1939 celebrated its 80th year as graduates.
Aleatha Arbaugh Carlson, Clara Valianti Schaeffer, and Helen Louise Tracy Totura, each 97 years young, gathered at Olive Garden in Westminster to celebrate with their relatives and WHS representatives Monday.
“You guys have left such a legacy for us to follow,” WHS Assistant Principal Katie Nefflen said.
The trio was among the students who experienced the transition from the original Westminster High School on Center Street to the new building on Longwell Avenue, built in 1936, which is now East Middle School. Totura said the students had to carry books from the old building to the new one around Thanksgiving time. Part of the funding for the new school was made possible by the National Industrial Recovery Act, which came about due to the Great Depression, alumnus Don Warner and social studies teacher Steve Bowersox said.
Totura devoted her extracurricular time to playing basketball on the girls team, where she spent three years. She was a forward and a member of a championship team. The new high school didn’t have a gym, she said, so the team had to practice elsewhere.
“We beat the other high schools in Carroll County,” Totura said. “At that time we played in the armory.”
Totura valued her commercial class, in which she learned shorthand and typing. She went on to study business at Mary Washington College in Virginia. Totura grew up on a farm outside of Westminster, where she still lives.
“I sleep in the room in which I was born,” Totura said.
Carlson and Schaeffer have been friends since they were 10 years old. Schaeffer still lives in Westminster, while Carlson resides in Mount Airy.
“We used to walk back and forth from home to home,” Schaeffer said. “Sometimes she played the piano when I tap danced.”
Schaeffer first attended St. John Catholic School then transferred to WHS because she wanted to be with her friends, including Carlson.
Schaeffer was a cheerleader, a hall monitor, performed in the operetta, and sang in chorus, but she may have been best known for dancing.
“I was called the jitterbug queen of the Class of 1939,” she said.
Carlson said she focused on studies mostly.
The two recalled the times when they’d sew matching outfits and go out together. One year, the matching brown and yellow skirts they wore to a local parade landed them a front page photo in the newspaper, according to Schaeffer.
The way the nonagenarians tell it, no one they knew ever got in trouble in high school because everyone had strict parents. Schaeffer attended a teen center in Westminster, where no mischief was allowed, though she got to jitterbug plenty.
It’s been a long time since these women received their high school diplomas, but the importance of education seems to have stayed with them.
“I knew that if I didn’t get an education I wouldn’t do anything I wanted to do,” Carlson said.
She hopes today’s WHS students understand the importance of schooling.
“I think they should take heart in doing something because this is going to be your life,” Carlson said.
Schaeffer suggested students “do all they can do because it comes in handy," while Totura advises them to “study and be active and enjoy every minute.”
Nefflen, the current assistant principal, marveled at the path the women paved as young girls for future students. According to Nefflen, the Class of 2020 will be the 120th graduating class from WHS.
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“It went fast,” Schaeffer said, but the memories “live on forever.”