October 26, 2013

80 years later, Belgrade High School graduates clearly, fondly recall school days

Pearl Knowles Fisher and Ruth Endicott Freeman are the oldest living members of Belgrade High School's class of 1933.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The two white-haired women had no trouble identifying themselves in the photo of the pupils in the sub-primary-through-fourth-grade class in Belgrade.

click image to enlarge

The oldest two members of the Belgrade High School class of 1933, Pearl Knowles Fisher and Ruth Endicott Freeman, pose for a photo on Thursday at Fisher's Augusta apartment.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

This combined photo shows Pearl Knowles Freeman, left, and Ruth Endicott Freeman in 1933 ,when they graduated from Belgrade High School.

Staff illustration by Joe Phelan / contributed photos

Pearl Knowles Fisher pointed to her younger self in one of the desks near the front, her hair cut in a neat pageboy style. Ruth Endicott Freeman found herself farther back, not too far from her curly-haired brother Ralph.

Last week the two women leaned over the kitchen table in Fisher's Augusta apartment, naming almost everyone in the classroom, and saying who was related to whom.

"I'm glad I've written some of them down," Fisher said, but it wasn't necessary for her to refer to her notes.

The two women went through each year in the Belgrade Central School together from fourth grade on, graduating among a class of six girls and four boys from Belgrade High School in 1933.

Now 97, both women see each other every couple of months, and they both attended the latest reunion of Belgrade High School graduates.

"It's getting smaller and smaller because people are passing away," Fisher said. "Ruth and I are the oldest."

Fisher, class valedictorian, said her dress in the senior black-and-white photo was really a light peach organza. Both Freeman and she said less than two points separated the top four members of the class.

A photo of Rodney Wyman, principal at the time, is on the front page of one of Fisher's photo albums along with a picture of teacher Frances Thayer, a favorite of the high school students because she was close to their age, having just graduated from Colby College.

Freeman and her husband, Miles, live in Ogunquit, where she worked for 50 years as a family physician — then using the name Dr. Ruth Endicott.

After seeing Fisher last week, Freeman and her daughter, Lynne Sauer, were heading for a visit to the Endicott family farm at 1 Oakland Road, Belgrade, where Freeman grew up.

Fisher lived on Route 135, where her father was a farmer and worked for the railroad.

Leigh Norton, secretary-treasurer of the Belgrade High School Alumni Association, wrote about the 1933 graduates attending the reunion in a story that appeared on Belgrade's town website.

Fisher, a collector, still has the double red rose wrist corsage from that event. She also has her own report card from her subprimary year. She studied reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic and was promoted to first grade on June 2, 1922. Her mother, Edna Knowles, signed each of the quarters on the report card in a neat, clear hand.

"I was lucky I could find them and keep them," Fisher said. She has two of her mother's report cards as well.

Fisher's report cards show mostly A's and grades in the 90s as she moved through high school. "I didn't really care for chemistry and biology," she said. "I was interested in business, geometry and algebra."

Their old school burned in 1943. They remembered it as having two classrooms on the first floor for the elementary grades. The high school was on the second floor, taught by the principal and one assistant.

"They managed very well upstairs, didn't they?" Freeman remarked to Fisher.

Then Freeman broke into song, singing in a surprisingly good tone, "We're the class of '33; we leave you now, we say adieu. ..." crediting her late classmate Norman Booker for writing it.

One old photo shows Fisher and Freeman holding a "Spirit of Belgrade" sign as they and others show off handmade birdhouses. Fisher said her father made hers. Freeman said she didn't remember making one.

Fisher's mother, who died of cancer at age 41, was in the Belgrade High School Class of 1908, the first class to graduate from that school. High-schoolers from Belgrade began attending Messalonskee High School in Oakland in 1969.

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