- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

The Hanover High School class of 1939 seeks no accolades. Yet make a note - its next reunion is fast approaching.

Hanover, a town of about 15,000 people renowned for standardbred horses and potato chips, dots the map of central Pennsylvania near the Maryland border. The class of ‘39, 186 strong at commencement, has, of course, a fraction of that number today. Even so, 25 to 40 class members have been attending their reunions in recent years - members of a generation who grew up during the Great Depression, warred against tyrannies and then fostered once unthinkable prosperity for generations to come.

“Greatest generation,” popular though the term has become, is not an appellation the 39ers would have coined for themselves. Self-regard and self-promotion are not their manner. As they come together, however, there is keen remembrance, as during the entertainment sometimes provided by one of their classmates.

That would be Mary Louise Krebs, 88. Among medleys Mrs. Krebs has sung at the reunions, she has inserted pieces from the 39ers’ school days and the world-shattering years that suddenly followed. Rendering “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” she has given it the rhythmic bounce of the Andrews Sisters. Her “P.S. I Love You,” a title known to the 39ers, not as it came from the Beatles but from Rudy Vallee, is all love-letter plaintiveness.

The reminiscence runs deep. The fiancee to whom Mrs. Krebs wrote, an Army officer, never came home from the Pacific. Altogether, 74 men from Hanover lost their lives in World War II, and not all the survivors returned whole. When last year’s reunion featured several 39ers in a spirited (if not entirely Rockettes-like) high-kick, among them was the long-ago class president, a winning smile on his face, a prosthesis on his hip. He has made do without that leg since the Battle of the Bulge.

Another of the medleys has recalled the postwar years: marriage and first apartments, getting jobs, having children. As Mrs. Krebs has remarked, the 39ers “wanted to get on with their lives.” For her part, she had gone through Baltimore’s Peabody Institute as a coloratura soprano. There followed an early career in New York, then a USO tour in Japan and the Philippines. In time, she returned to Hanover and raised a family, yet in local choirs and regional musicals, there still lived that young woman who had dared to let her talent take her where it would. She was hitting high C’s into her 80s.

Having attended a few of these reunions, I would venture a few other observations. The 39ers are a reverent group, as when they pause each year to acknowledge the passing of classmates. And yet they are, many of them, also given to cracking jokes, occasionally to the point where amid the hilarity you try not to think about the consequence should these near-90-somethings start tipping backward out of their chairs. My hunch is that this bent for humor has everything to do with what they have experienced, withstood and accomplished. They laugh harder than my generation ever will.

Oh, and about their thrift. Seventy years on, the 39ers still watch over a modest class treasury. The reunion agenda includes a treasurer’s report, to the penny, and a vote on whether to debit another gift to the old alma mater. The local Elks lodge that usually serves as the venue for these affairs provides a meat-and-potatoes lunch at good value, all the more so as several 39ers, still children of the Depression no matter how well they have fared since then, bus the tables themselves to earn the Elks discount.

That said, the 2009 reunion will be an exception. It will be held in what Hanoverians call the Sheppard Mansion, once the ornate home of a local industrialist, now a bed-and-breakfast, and the meal will come out of the class treasury. It’s a splurge. But as one 39er put it, a 70th reunion should be excuse enough. “What,” he asked, “are we waiting for?”

What indeed. They have had the enduring mettle to get on with the jobs put to them, whether heroic beyond imagining or workaday; the habit of saving a buck so they could give it back; the good nature to take a joke as well as tell one; the faith to keep on keeping on.

As may be evident, I know one of them pretty well, Mrs. Krebs being my mother. She will suffer a bout of embarrassment - brief, I dearly hope - upon seeing this tribute to her and her class. The lady took a bad fall some weeks ago, and this year there will not be a way-we-were medley, nor such of her musical persona as a wimpled abbess from “The Sound of Music” or teasing “Hard Hearted Hannah, The Vamp of Savannah,” a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth (this latter at age 85).

That’s OK. The reunion is Saturday, and she will be there. Her children will see to it she gets to that mansion.

Richard Koenig is a writer living in Newtown Square, Pa.

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