Taking a trip back in time

By on October 18, 2017

EHS Class of ‘43 holds reunion; all living members stayed in Ephrata

By Justin Stoltzfus

Last week, six members of the Ephrata High School class of 1943 met at Bright’s Restaurant on State Street for lunch and talked about what life was like 74 years ago when they were graduating seniors.

Those who made the reunion are among 24 of the original class of 97 students who are still living &tstr; and all of them still in Ephrata. In fact, none of them ever left, although the three men in the group all served in the U.S. military. In fact, the majority of the high school seniors graduating that year were shipped out as World War II accelerated &tstr; but not one was lost in the war. That’s according to Harold Bingaman, who was class president that year, and still organizes the annual reunions.

As a waitress took their orders Wednesday, the attending alumni remembered how some of them came to Ephrata their senior year from Akron.

Pauline Staab remembered going from a class of seven in Akron to one of nearly 100 at Ephrata. Other students came to the high school, which was where Highland Elementary School is now, from Clay and Ephrata townships. Two of her high school class, Elsie Yeager said, went into military service before graduation, leaving school early.

The war years were turbulent times, in more ways than one. The class of 1943 did not have graduation gowns because of rationing and prioritization at the time, just one of many signs of the stress of the free world facing down the threat of global fascism. Sugar, gasoline and other items were rationed.

It was no picnic for the students, either. Some remembered walking miles to school in all sorts of weather.

“There was no transportation,” Bingaman said. “You walked.”

“When it rained, you got wet.” Charlie Messner added.

It was also a world of strict rules for young people. Messner remembered a shopkeeper chastising him for leaving his bicycle on the curb during a trip to market, and threatening to bar him from the store. Messner later retaliated, he said, by locking the man out of a local restaurant.

But it wasn’t all grim during those years, either. Messner also remembered the Shoeneck Mountaineers, a band with banjos and guitars playing country/western music.

“It was a hillbilly outfit,” Messner said.

Bingaman remembered taking the trolley to see Ephrata play Lancaster Catholic in basketball.

Bynrece “Binnie” Shreiner remembered enjoying parts of her walk across town, saying she would walk home from school for lunch, then back for the afternoon lessons.

“There were beautiful trees there,” Shreiner said of the area near the old Mountain Spring Hotel at the corner of East Main Street and Spring Garden Street, some distance from the old high school. The hotel, built in 1848, was a landmark for over a century, serving as a hospital during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Most of the hotel was demolished in 2004 and replaced with a Hampton Inn and an Applebees restaurant.

However, the 1943 graduates remember a “spiritualist” who used to come to the hotel every year and founded a summer camp at the hotel in 1932. The exploits of the “Camp Silver Belle” group, which included séances, are documented on Wikipedia and likely fueled illicit interest in the site in the years after it was later abandoned.

When asked about advice for today’s graduating seniors, one of the alumni spoke up.

“Stay out of trouble,” Messner said.

The small reunion was a rare moment in which to re-live some of the history of a town and a county rich with memories. The town, and the schools, and the surrounding landscape have changed so much over the years &tstr; and those who have watched it all happen have many stories to tell.

The rest of us should listen.


Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

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