The building they went to school in is gone and more than half of their 50 members have passed away, but the spirit of togetherness is still strong in the Caesar Rodney High School Class of 1943.
Eleven of the known surviving 21 members of CR ’43 gathered Friday afternoon at Hall’s Family Restaurant in Wyoming to share stories and catch up on each others’ lives, keeping alive a camaraderie that has lasted more than 70 years.
Memories were strong and reinforced by copies of old photos and yearbooks from those years, many of which were owned by Walt Comegys, 88, who organized the reunion.
Born in Milford – there were no hospitals in Dover in the early 1920s – Comegys lived in a home that still stands on Layton Avenue in Wyoming.
The old Caesar Rodney school building site is now occupied by the Fred Fifer Middle School, and housed all 12 grades when he began his education in the early 1930s. Up until that time many students were taught in single room schoolhouses scattered throughout the county, Comegys said.
Interviewed as his classmates chatted around him, Comegys admitted he earned a bit of a bad boy reputation in high school, with a penchant for setting off smoke bombs to rattle new teachers.
“Maybe I was a trouble maker,” he said, “but some of the ones here −” he indicated classmate Les McFann in particular – “they were in on it, too.”
McFann broke in on the conversation, nudging Comegys in the shoulder.
“Remember how we used to go play cards, up behind the stage?” he asked with a conspiratorial tone, indicating he’d still take the chance to skip classes if offered.
Comegys laughed, admitting they’d also sneak off campus to play cards in the old cemetery that bordered the school.
McFann, 87, also recalled a time when he was narrating the senior class production of “Our Town,” describing dawn breaking over fictional Grover’s Corners. Comegys, who was managing the stage illumination, didn’t have the necessary lighting equipment, so what was supposed to be a slow sunrise came in a sudden flash, causing the audience to break out in laughter.
“It was just – boom!” McFann recalled. “It was hilarious.”
But there also was a serious side to life in the Camden and Wyoming area. Many in the class still lived on farms and had chores to take care of in addition to their school work.
Bill Boyd, at age 89, the most senior of the class members, was a volunteer fireman and often left school with classmate Alfred Thomas when the town fire alarm went off. He’d go to and from the campus riding a scooter he built in school.
Page 2 of 3 - The specter of war, however, had hovered over the class ever since their freshman year, when German troops invaded Poland in September 1939. Many knew the United States could become involved militarily, a supposition that became certainty in December 1941.
“We knew we were going after Pearl Harbor,” McFann said.
Because they still were in school, boys in the class received draft deferments until their graduation.
All of those who were enlisted or inducted survived the war, with the exception of Otis Craig, who was 19 years old when his B-24 bomber was shot down over Germany in November 1944.
Margaret Moore Oldham remembers Craig as a “very nice boy” who worked on the farm with her father. She still has a photograph Craig sent a fellow classmate, along with a note asking her to take care of it until he returned.
“Of course, he never came back,” Oldham said. “She mailed that picture to me, and I still have it.”
Craig, who is buried at the American cemetery in Lieges, Belgium, is memorialized with a marker next to his parents’ grave in the Camden Odd Fellows Cemetery.
The May 1943 senior class trip to wartime New York City saw 48 seniors taking a train from Wyoming to the Big Apple, riding dingy subways and attending a performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace” on Broadway. Dinner was at the world-renown Toffinetti’s and a tour of the RCA Building was highlighted by a new invention called television.
Caesar Rodney has had a long running and generally friendly rivalry with Dover High School, but that rivalry turned serious, Oldham recalled, when members of the two football teams got into a fight. That year’s game between the two was canceled as a result, she said.
Many at the reunion had warm memories of living in the Camden area during the late 1930s and early 1940s, despite the Depression and the hardships of World War II.
Boyd worked in a soda shop near the school, where he earned 25 cents an hour, and recalls being able to buy eight gallons of gasoline for $1. Camden, he said, was “a nice, quiet town,” with very little traffic on its main streets.
Betty Newnom Fath, 87, rode from her Farmington home to school on a bus driven by Bill Dawson, son of Oscar Dawson, owner of the Dawson Bus Service, which still services the Caesar Rodney School District. Fath, who later became a secretary, was so good at typing she actually completed a classmate’s final exam so the other girl wouldn’t fail the class.
Page 3 of 3 - Many in the Class of 1943 went on to successful careers and family lives.
Harold Bennett, who died less than two weeks before the reunion, was twice named the top State Farm insurance agent in the country; Ruth Clites Clark’s son and grandson attended West Point; William Davis earned two Bronze Star medals and two Purple Heart medals before retiring from a career with the telephone company; Phyllis Coverdale Miller served as postmaster in Hope, Alaska, for 26 years; and Alfred Thomas is a deacon at Christ Memorial Baptist Church.
Perhaps because they had such a small class and because they had such similar backgrounds, the CR Class of 1943 has remained in touch with each other, a remarkable feat spanning the seven decades since their graduation. But perhaps that’s to be expected from a group that is part of what has been called America’s Greatest Generation.
“The Class of 1943, we were very close, maybe closer than a lot of schools back then,” McFann said. “We just had a real feeling of pride here at CR.”