The Rush Class of 1957, honored in the 2007 program, included (seated, from left) Sandra Taylor, Margie Deuel, Bob Curley, Geraldine Carney, Donna Stone, (standing) Carl Kopatz and Franklin Rockefeller. They were the last graduates of the Rush School (shown above as it appeared in about 1954).
By Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
The Rush School in rural western Susquehanna County graduated its final class in 1957. Long before that, however, a tradition was started to bring all of the students who attended the Rush School together for dinner and fellowship. The 99th such dinner will be held on Saturday, June 2, and the Fairdale United Methodist Church. Organizers hope to increase attendance over previous years before perhaps bringing the event to an end after next year’s 100th Rush Alumni Banquet.
“They are getting older,” reunion committee treasurer Brian Hollister said of the alumni. “I don’t know how much longer it’s going to continue.” Hollister graduated from Elk Lake High School in 1975 and enjoys a “member” status granted to all Elk Lake graduates by the legitimate Rush alumni.
“We work hard to keep this thing going,” 1957 alumnus Bob Curley related, though he wonders too if the 100th year might be the last for the time-honored tradition. “We have such a good time making memories. The few who are left who are older than us really enjoy getting together.”
“I take a great interest in history and older people,” Hollister remarked. “They have valuable information, and I love to talk to them.” Hollister has archived the programs, ledgers and minutes from previous banquets and donated a volume and another book he composed about the Rush School to the Susquehanna County Historical Society.
The largest graduating classes – in 1938 and 1942 – contained 28 students each. Comparatively, the Class of 1957 at Rush was smaller than those who had preceded them, despite starting their freshmen year with 23 students. The same tough economy that forced the consolidation of many schools in the region as the 1950s drew to a close might have also taken a toll on the seniors.
“We had some misfortunes,” Curley recalled. “Some went into the service. Some had to quit to get jobs. And some died.” Remarkably, however, all seven graduates from 1957 are still alive, and six of them still live relatively close to each other. They include Curley, Geraldine Carney Spencer, Margie Deuel Hicks, Carl Kopatz, Franklin Rockefeller, Donna Stone Hitchcock, and Sandra Taylor LaRue.
“We talk to each other a lot and meet for coffee,” said Curley, adding, “We could race to see who gets to Flynn’s Castle first. We’re all about three minutes away.” The exception, he noted, is Hicks, who has lived in Texas for a number of years. Theirs was not the smallest class, however. Kathryn Flynn was the sole graduate of the Class of 1929.
Banquet records indicate that a handful of graduates from the 1930s have attended in recent years, and a few dozen alumni and their spouses from the 1940s are routinely there. They bring old photos with them and news of previous attendees who are ill or have passed away. There is always a moment of silence for those who are gone, balanced by joyful moments as guests sing old songs like “School Days,” “My Wild Irish Rose” and “Down By the Old Mill Stream.”
While the Rush School dissolved into the new Elk Lake School District in 1958, it was itself part of a consolidation effort in 1906. “Back in the day, there were one room school houses all around the countryside,” Hollister related. The Rush School replaced the Grangerville School, which was started in 1818 and was once situated on what would become the property of future and final Rush principal Robert Capron.
Curley attended the Flynn School, one of the longest lasting country grade schools in the area, through third grade. He assumes that it closed at about the same time as the Middletown School, considerably boosting the school population at Rush. The school’s multipurpose room was actually a separate building situated adjacent to the property on which the Grangerville School once stood. Students would play basketball and put on plays there.
Though the Rush School was small in comparison to those in bigger towns like Montrose, Towanda and Tunkhannock, Curley maintains, “We had all the usual activities that everyone else had; baseball, softball, basketball, band and chorus.” Students didn’t specialize in extracurricular activities then. They were likely to be involved in both the performing arts and athletics simultaneously – that is, of course, if their chores didn’t get in the way.
“Most of the kids lived on farms back then,” Curley explained. His five older brothers used to be able to take time off in the spring and fall to work the fields. “They’d even take other kids home to help. That would be unheard of today.” Curley’s little sister, Mary Louise, graduated from Elk Lake High School, which began in 1957 and grew as students from Auburn Center and Meshoppen high schools joined them.
All former students of the Rush School and Elk Lake High School are welcome to attend the Rush Alumni Banquet on June 3. Social time begins at 10:30 with a chicken and biscuits dinner served by Fairdale UMC members at 12:30. The cost is twelve dollars per person, and interested readers may contact Hollister at 570-278-9017 to make reservations.
Members of the Rush Class of 1954, as remembered in the 2004 Alumni Banquet program, included Vera Babcock, Shirley Carter, Mary Crea, Ruth Gage, Carlton Herman, Mary Ann Hitchcock, William Jenner, Joseph Kavolick, Marie Kopatz, Frederick Mead, Beatrice Strohl, Marjorie Swackhammer, Rosina Watson, and Linda VanWinkle. (Students not listed in order of appearance)