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?
My first-grade teacher was Belle Fringer. She was a larger-than-life individual who made a profound difference in my life.
Of course, she is part of a large club. Growing up in Carroll County, I was fortunate to have one great teacher after another.
At the time 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.
(And yes, this was once upon a time right after electricity was discovered and the light bulb was introduced… I walked uphill both ways to and from school; often in snow that was piled way above my head.)
It was not until later in life that I learned that not only was Fringer an amazing teacher, but she was also an American hero who quietly endured great sacrifices for our country.
Fringer was born in Carroll County on December 18, 1910. She began teaching in 1929 in a one-room schoolhouse in Dennings.
She married John 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.
Mr. 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, NC.
At first the Fringer family traveled across the country with the Army, but then, as the war dragged on, Mrs. Fringer returned home with her family and worked tirelessly for our community. When the Carroll County Regional Airport was dedicated on June 5, 1943, Fringer 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.
Mrs. 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 February 3, 1998, she had accumulated more than 2,000 volunteer hours at Carroll Hospital Center. Before she died, my wife and I were very fortunate to have a long lunch with her - she was one of my heroes.
Fringer is buried in the Westminster Cemetery. However, her husband is buried in a military cemetery far from home.
Captain John Fringer was commanding Company F, 304 Infantry, 76th infantry Division when he was killed in World War II, on March 5th, 1945, just eight weeks before the end of the war in Europe.
To the best of my knowledge, Fringer got to visit her husband's grave only once, in 1964. She visited the American Cemetery in Luxemburg with her son, Lt. Colonel John W. Fringer, Jr. U. S. Army - now retired.
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.
For many generations, spanning many different eras, the Fringer family has unselfishly served our community and country and never drew attention to themselves. God bless this family and the many other examples of families just like the Fringer family that make our community and country great.
When he is not looking through old school papers and year books, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at