Last class at old Laurel High marks 50th reunion

Laurel Leader
It was 50 years ago that the last class graduated from the old Laurel High on Montgomery Street

Fifty years ago, 158 graduating seniors received their diplomas in the auditorium as the last class graduating from the old Laurel High School, which is now the Phelps Senior Center, on Montgomery Street.

Laurel High School's Class of 1965 will celebrate its golden reunion this weekend, beginning with an informal meet-and-greet Friday evening at Oliver's on Main Street, a dinner dance Saturday at St. Philip's Episcopal Church and wrapping up with a picnic at the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department on Sunday.

At the halfway mark of a decade that would toss social norms and culture to new winds, Laurel was still a small town on the verge of massive growth. Folks did most of their shopping on Main Street and Fort Meade and NSA were inviting a population boom. Laurel High School would be moved to a larger building on Cherry Lane, where it remains, the following year.

According to alumnus Jim Cross, kids were smoking cigarettes in the school bathrooms in those days (marijuana would come a little later), and maybe sneaking into the woods to drink a beer.

Girls wore skirts: Michelle Tansill Holmes, whose mother was a seamstress, remembers being sent home by Vice Principal Carl Bell for wearing culottes to school.

"My mother was mortified," Holmes said. "She made them for me."

Racial tensions were rising and only a handful of minority students were part of the Class of 1965.

And according to Betsy Welsh, of Old Town, who is active today in social justice issues with St. Philip's Church, no one would dare think of "coming out."

"There was no diversity," she said. "I don't think we knew the word."

Cross, Holmes and Welsh are members of the reunion planning committee who grew up in Laurel and have lived here since graduation. The three- agree that the best part of organizing the 50-year reunion has been spending time with classmates they wouldn't have seen otherwise.

"Part of the fun has been the committee meetings; that has been worth the price of admission," Cross said.

Linda Faulconer, who married Charles Barkman, the son of a Laurel police chief and city supervisor, moved to West Laurel after high school.

In high school, she rode the bus in from near Fort Meade and didn't get to know many people, but remembers "everyone from Laurel" going to Mighty Moe's in Hyattsville for hamburgers. She said she has enjoyed making up for lost time.

"It's wonderful to hear stories about the things I didn't get to do," she said.

Fingering a black and white photo of the tiny and stern Miss Myerly teaching how to use a slide rule, Welsh said she's seen dramatic changes.

In the early sixties, students at Laurel High attended subjects divided into academic, commercial or general studies. Aside from their alphabetized homeroom assignments, they didn't intermingle much. And they never worked on group projects.

Welsh said some of her classmates would call her at night for help.

She had no idea at the time that she would become a math teacher. Digital technology, she said, has changed the focus of education.

"You don't teach a body of knowledge, you teach how to access that knowledge," Welsh said.

Cross remembers fondly science, chemistry and physics teacher Doc Weagly. Once, when snowballs somehow crashed through an open window in the boys bathroom, he said Doc Weagly walked by oblivious to the mischief.

Welsh said Weagly seemed biased toward females; Weagly was the only teacher who segregated class seating by gender and "wouldn't call on girls."

She said she would sit near the middle of class at the end of the girls section where she could pass her questions to a male classmate to ask.

And there were no sports activities for girls.

But there was the young and worldly speech teacher, Miss Weatherby, who Cross invited to the senior prom.

He said Weatherby just laughed at his invitation and then showed up at the prom tipsy with a date wearing a foreign-service sash.

"She was a portal into a more sophisticated world outside our hometown of Laurel," Cross said.

A solemn moment in history is etched into the memories of most people who lived through the sixties.

When the principal announced the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, over the school loudspeaker, Cross heard it sitting in French class. Barkman was in history class and Welsh had just left chemistry.

Holmes said she would never forget the way Lynn's voice sounded before he opened the feed to the radio.

The organizing committee chose this weekend for the reunion because June 14 is the anniversary of their graduation date.

One of the friends Welsh said she is looking forward to seeing is Mitzi Tornese Flyte, whose father was a barber on Main Street, who is traveling in from Pennsylvania.

A bit of a history geek, Flyte's favorite teacher at the old Laurel High School was Patrick Riley.

"He made history come alive," Flyte said.

She said English teacher Virginia Stanton (who was Barkman's favorite teacher) wanted her to become a writer; but although she wanted to be a journalist, college was not in her future.

She left Laurel for Easton, Pa., a few years after graduating to attend a nursing program at Easton Hospital School of Nursing.

Today, the retired vice president of nursing lives the writing life as Mitzi Tornese Flyte.

Her publishing credits include short stories, poetry, essays and children's short story - not to mention writing an erotic romance, a paranormal werewolf romance entitled "The Guardian's Prophec," and a horror story in "Tales from the Mist: An Anthology of Horror and Paranormal Stories."

Flyte said she is looking forward to showing her husband, a retired history and English teacher, her hometown.

But mostly, Flyte said, she wants to see her former classmates

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