- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

HARRISONBURG, Va. | More than 30 years ago, three Mennonite girls stashed a little glass jelly jar above the ceiling of a classroom closet at Mount Clinton Elementary School.

They stuffed it to the brim with everything important to them. As the decades passed and the girls grew up, the jelly jar was mostly forgotten.

Until now.

In early December, someone at the school - now the home of Calvary Christian Academy - found the little treasure while installing insulation.

Inside the jar, along with dozens of trinkets, coins and toys, was a two-page note claiming responsibility for the stash. The note was written and signed by three sixth-grade girls: Angela Kreider, Donna Shank and Susan Harman.

Within an instant, a reunion was planned. Donna and Susan, it was discovered, still lived in the area.

So the two - now mothers in their mid-40s - traveled back to the old building to reclaim their hidden bounty. The third friend, Angela, now with a doctorate at the University of Virginia, was found and told a little later that week. The secret of the jelly jar, the girls told their friend, was out of the closet.

It all began in the early 1970s, just outside of Harrisonburg.

Back then, there was no Valley Mall or Harrisonburg Crossing. The Friendly City was about half its current size, and outside the limits, farmland stretched as far as the eye could see. For Angela, Donna and Susan, life in rural America was everything they could dream of.

Susan was the daughter of a dairy farmer. She lived on Mountain Breeze Farm with her parents and two older siblings. She never wanted to get into trouble. Donna, who is also Susan’s first cousin, lived on a dairy farm about two miles away.

The girls’ church friend, Angela, was the only non-farmer of their clan. Angela lived closer to town and had a pool. Her dad owned Kreider’s Machine Shop.

“Angela was the adventurer,” Susan said. “She had a wild imagination.”

The three girls did everything together. They held slumber parties, swam, hiked, fished and rode dirt bikes. They dug tunnels in the hay, slept in the barn and took rides around the pastures in Donna’s parents’ Jeep.

And, like good church girls, they did everything wearing dresses.

By the fourth grade, the girls landed in the same school.

“We were the three Mennonite girls,” Susan said. “We stuck together.”

After two years together at Mount Clinton, the 12-year-old pals ended up in Mr. Brown’s class for sixth grade. The year was 1976 and America was celebrating its 200th birthday. Although Mr. Brown gave a lesson about time capsules, he and the class never actually assembled and hid one.

“We decided to do it ourselves,” Donna said.

That May, the girls found a small jar about the size and shape of an apple. Inside, they stashed their “treasure.”

It included: 11 snail and sea shells, 21 pennies, a 1976 quarter, Donna’s rabbit tail, a wishbone, two perfume bottles, a fake ivory tooth, four jewelry chains, five broaches, five marbles, two jacks, a “peace” pendant, a key, colored gravel from a fish tank, an empty locket that said “to Pauline from Kenneth,” two miniature clothes pins, a miniature cork and an animal tooth.

“We saved everything,” Donna said.

One afternoon, the girls sneaked back inside their classroom during recess. Susan, who was scared of being caught, kept watch while Angela climbed a ladder they had found in the classroom closet.

With the goods hidden in the closet, the girls returned to recess, giddy with their secret.

The years rolled on, and the jelly jar remained.

Susan, 44, became Susan Smith, a mom who still lives on the same farm she grew up on. Donna, now Donna Armstrong, is also 44 and lives in Bridgewater. Angela, 45, lives in Scottsville and is an editor at the Papers of James Madison project at U.Va.

But the story of the jelly jar doesn’t end there.

With their treasure back in their possession, the women said they recently came to a decision. They will hide away another time capsule (in a place to be determined). They plan to collect their newest treasures, cut out this article and return the jelly jar to its sleep.

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