In some cases, it has been decades since some of the people have seen each other. Three of the attendees went to the school in the 1920s. One of those students came from the Cleveland area to see her old stomping grounds – her daughter traveled from Virginia to bring her to the reunion. The class of 1950 had a total of five graduates, all women, and three of them were able to attend the festivities. One of the graduates from 1950 came from Colorado with her granddaughter for the occasion.
The little one-room schoolhouse was buzzing with chatter on a warm Sunday afternoon as the former students sat in the little wooden desks and looked at old pictures. Occasionally, a person would come through the door and instantly recognize someone they hadn’t seen for years. Smiles and hugs always quickly followed.
Several of the classmates walked around the schoolhouse exploring their old school, looking at things like the old books and potbelly stove while enjoying the homemade cookies provided by the National Trail Questers. They would tell stories about walking to school, what the old National Road which runs in front of the schoolhouse used to be like, as well as projects and assignments they had to do for their teachers. They shared stories about the pranks which they played on their classmates and even their teachers.
Dr. Rich Greenlee, Ohio University Eastern Campus dean, led the group in old folk songs like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” as he played his banjo. The schoolhouse sits on the property of Ohio University Eastern Campus which is an addition to the area since the days many of the students attended the schoolhouse that closed in 1952. Marian Feisley, president of the National Trail Questers, gave a brief history of the restoration of the Great Western School, which the Questers restored in 1976 and continue to be instrumental in the preservation of the building.
Ann Rattine, the local volunteer who put the reunion together, credits Ralph Baumberger, a former Great Western School student, with the idea of the reunion. His wife had seen an article in the paper about the school and contacted then president of the National Trail Questers, Lois Fosnot, inquiring about the opportunity for her husband to visit the school in the near future. The information made it to Rattine who contacted the Baumbergers and scheduled a time to meet them at the schoolhouse. In August 2008, Rattine, Baumberger, and his son met at the schoolhouse to reminisce.
Baumberger shared some of his memories with Rattine that day. “As I drove home from that visit, I thought about his smile and appreciation of being able to visit the school after so many years and decided that the people who attended the school needed to be recognized because they have many stories to share and they and their memories are an important part of our educational history,” Rattine said.
“Once they are gone, their stories will never be told unless their descendants have recorded them either orally or in written form. And do they have stories to share!”
Rattine talked to the dean about the idea of a reunion. Once he gave his blessing to the idea, she was off on her search for former students. In the end she had pulled a list together of over 200 names from the old class-lists in a scrapbook in the schoolhouse and by talking to former students. She started calling ones she knew, asking them about others, searching for the married names of the women, looking in phonebooks, and searching the internet.
So far she has found 86 still living. Of that group, she has “spoken to probably 90% of the classmates either in person or on the phone and they have told me that I have stirred memories which they had not thought about in many years. Their comments were, ‘You know, that was a long time ago’,” Rattine said.
“It was fun doing the “FBI” work to locate them.
“I spent many hours on the phone trying to locate class members and there were such comments as ‘How in the world did you find me?’ when I did locate the person.”
Her goal was to find one person a day. Many times she succeeded, but other days she didn’t have any luck.
Rattine is still on the search. She wants to find the remaining classmates and have another reunion next year.
If anyone knows a former student of the Great Western or attended the school themselves, and have not been in contact with Rattine, please contact her at 740-695-1137.
She would love to hear memories and stories of the school as well as add people to the mailing list for the next reunion.
PICTURED ARE former students of the Great Western School. Front row, from left, are Carroll Mahon, Blanche Mahon Knipe, Sara Clark Burkey, Henry Fox, Jeannette DeGroft Giles, Jack Travis. Second row, from left, are Clyde Carpenter, Ray Miller, George Wright, Jr., Winston Grady. Back row, from left, are Betty McFarland Hickenbottom, Betty Carpenter Simpson, Donna Weekley, Connie Gallagher Reed, Helen Gallagher Niemiec, Robert Thatcher, Pat Gary Bruhn, Eugene Thatcher, Doris Wright Jackson, Rosalie Rinkes Nicholes.