By Lynn R. Mitchell
The invitation to the Thomas Dale Class of 1944 reunion to celebrate 70 years since graduating read:
“Seventy years ago, June 7, 1944, we began a life as highly intelligent high school graduates. (At least our teachers did their best and each of us would have confessed “we knew it all.”) That day we said goodbye to our friends we had been with during the greater part of our days for the past eleven school years. We had done a lot of growing up during this time and had many memories. A few of those left on your original reunion committee decided we would get together on June 7, 2014 for lunch and catching up.”
So exactly 70 years later, this group of octogenarians met at a restaurant in Chester to reminisce. Reporter Melissa Wilfong joined them to record their thoughts for the Chester Village News (see Reminiscing with the Class of ’44). There were 57 who graduated on that day in 1944 and though only six could make the reunion, approximately a dozen of the graduates survive.
One of those students was my mom, Eula Osborne Lucy — she’s in the back row on the left in the photo above — who grew up in Chester and now lives in Midlothian, never leaving the Richmond area:
“Some of us have known each other as long as 80 years,” Eula (Osborne) Lucy said of the group. “Another member of the class, Mary Arline (Wray) McGuire, who organized the reunion for the group and shared, “Seventy years is pretty significant and couldn’t be overlooked.”
The group last met at their 60th reunion 10 years ago and toured what was then Chester Middle School, where they had first attended school. The school has since returned to its original roots as the Ninth Grade campus for Thomas Dale High School.
Seventy years ago on June 6, the day before this group graduated on June 7, Allied Forces attacked Omaha Beach as the war raged in Europe. But in the days before instant communication and social media, it sometimes took weeks for the world to receive news of the war.
In Chester, Virginia, no one knew yet of the huge invasion that was underway halfway around the world that would mark the beginning of the end of World War II. Students were young and joyous — and feeling fortunate — to be graduating from high school, the second class from that newly-built school.
Out of their class, ten joined the war effort. All went on to raise families. They’ve watched the world change and all had different ideas of what the considered the most important change. Mom said the telephone:
When asked what they thought were the major things they had seen revolutionize their lives over the time span they shared many diverse thoughts. “The telephone,” Lucy shared. Sarah (Hanchey) Boettger felt the “school bus system” had changed the whole school experience. Beverley (McLeod) VonCanon said she appreciates “washers and dryers.” Klebert said, “I think the space program led to modern technology as we know it.” McGuire feels that the greatest thing she’s seen has been transportation and communication. “Back then we didn’t even have phones, now people can board a plane and go anywhere they want and I feel that because of travel people are so much more informed.”
Thomas Dale was the only high school in Chesterfield County at that time. Most of the grads lived on farms and milked cows before heading to school. Some were hit more by the war than others … Mom recounted losing her brother Clarence (see Memorial Day … remembering an uncle killed in WW II Germany).
The reporter asked the group what advice they would give to the Class of 2014 just setting out into the world. I chuckled reading what my mom said because it was typical: “Nothing comes easy but with work all things are possible.” My two sisters and I had grown up with that advice … work hard, learn all you can about every job, never give up.
Some friendships last decades, as between my mom and her friend Mary Arline McGuire who became the first woman treasurer in Chesterfield County in 1979:
Lucy wrote in McGuire’s yearbook way back then, “I hope our long friendship will not end here.” And it didn’t.
I feel gratitude to Ms. Wilfong for covering the reunion of this group who lived through some of the roughest times of our country.
Photo by Melissa Wilfong