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St. John's school names Westminster attorney its distinguished graduate Award honors graduates of Catholic elementaries


While most students were lamenting the loss of a snow day due to an inaccurate weather report, St. John's Elementary Principal Patricia Brink said her students were glad to be in school Friday.

Instead of playing in the snow, these students took part in an assembly honoring Charles O. Fisher Sr., who received the 1996 NCEA Distinguished Graduate Award.

The National Catholic Educational Association Department of Elementary Schools created the award to recognize the achievements of Catholic elementary school graduates.

Each member school is allowed to nominate one person, who must be approved by the association to receive the award.

In a ceremony attended by students, teachers and parents, Ms. Brink listed Mr. Fisher's numerous contributions to the Carroll County community and St. John's parish before he addressed his audience.

Mr. Fisher, president of the Westminster law firm of Walsh and Fisher, was a co-founder of Carroll County General Hospital and is a lay director of St. John's Church.

He also has been president of the Westminster Kiwanis Club, is a trustee of the Union Mills Homestead, director of New Windsor State Bank and has been active in state and local politics.

He described in detail the small schoolhouse located where the main library branch now stands on Main Street in Westminster.

Mr. Fisher graduated from St. John's Elementary School in 1930, and his graduating class at the now-defunct high school in 1934 had just eight members.

He then attended Loyola College and University of Maryland Law School, graduating in 1938 and 1947, respectively.

The schoolhouse had so few rooms that several classes were held in each one.

Mr. Fisher, who also taught business law at Western Maryland College in the 1950s, explained how his teacher would instruct one class for an hour, then give those students a writing lesson while she taught the other class.

"If you were smart," he said, "you could do your work and learn what the other class was doing at the same time, like studying with the television on."

He said that when he was a student, children attended grammar school only through seventh grade before switching to high school.

"When we graduated from grammar school, we just went upstairs to high school," Mr. Fisher said.

He told his audience he failed first grade, saying he was a "late bloomer," but later "caught up with myself" when he skipped fourth grade.

A resident of Westminster since the age of 4, Mr. Fisher said his father moved here to sell Ford Model T cars and ended up giving the new owners driving lessons, too.

His description of assembling the cars "like an Erector set" in the Western Maryland Railroad freight yard as they came off the train prompted one student to ask whether they ever fell apart.

Mr. Fisher said since the cars were simple, they could be assembled and disassembled easily. "It was said anyone with a screwdriver and pair of pliers could do almost all the repairs," he said.

Although St. John's has changed a great deal since Mr. Fisher's days as a student, one thing that has not changed, he said, is the quality of education.

He said he remembers his time at St. John's as a "very significant part" of his education, and that he received a "magnificent education" in addition to "good habits, morals and principles," which he has employed throughout his life.

Ms. Brink thanked him for "taking these values and living them" in his daily life and for "being a model for all of us."

The Rev. Arthur Valenzano of St. John's Church referred to Mr. Fisher as a "first-class Christian gentleman" who is a "real credit to our school and community."

"He has used his talent in a way that has strengthened the parish and the Carroll community," said Father Valenzano.

Seventh-graders Jessica McGehrin and Samantha Sandusky called Mr. Fisher an "inspiration." Janet McKinnon, also in seventh grade, and third-grader Nick Jacobson both said they were proud to attend St. John's after hearing Mr. Fisher speak.

"He is nice and helpful to everybody," said Nick.

Margaret Fisher said she thinks her husband's award is "just splendid" and the school is "dear to his heart."

She said all eight of their children attended St. John's, as did several of their grandchildren.

Mr. Fisher said he was pleased to receive the award. "I believe that what you are in grade school is what you'll be for the rest of your life," said Mr. Fisher.

This is the second year St. John's has given this award.

Last year's recipient, Mary Eckard of Westminster, was honored for her volunteer service to the school, church and community, said Colleen Hattrup, the school's development director.

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