- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Joe Abell of Kensington said that when he was in high school, he wanted to get out of St. Mary’s County. Now, he wants to move back.
Abell was a member of the first graduating class of Leonardtown High School in 1957, and he along with many other members of his class were able to be back in the county as part of their 55th high school reunion, held June 30 at Lenny’s Restaurant in California.
“Ever since [Patuxent River Naval Air Station] opened up, the county has just boomed with new ideas and new people,” Abell said.
Abell’s friend and member of the class, Kenny Wathen, currently of Leonardtown, said because of the small size of their class 30 everyone got along very well.
“There was a lot of belonging between us,” Wathen said. “When you’re young, everything is better.”
Jerry Brown of Valley Lee said the culture of the county has changed due in part to the rise in population.
“When I was a kid growing up, they used to say if you sat at a stop sign for five minutes no one would pull up behind you. And if someone did, you were either related to them or friends with them,” he said.
Much like Brown, Marian Pilkerton Mills of Hollywood said St. Mary’s now seems greatly changed.
“We used to only have a few roads and even less traffic lights,” she said. “Now, there are plenty more roads and lights and it just seems more like a city.”
Mills also said attending high school was different than it is today because Leonardtown High School back then was grades one through 12.
The class met at what is currently Leonardtown Elementary School, said Ron Thompson of Hollywood said in an email. “It was originally grades (1) through (10) in September of 1954 and advanced one year at a time until we had all 12 grades in the fall of 1956 resulting in our class ... being the first to receive diplomas in June of 1957.” The current Leonardtown High School building opened in 1978.
“We had great teachers,” Abell said. “And since they were so good, you always respected them.”
However, when students would misbehave, Wathen said teachers had some untraditional punishment methods.
“One time, I had to stand against a wall for quite a while just because I had a piece of chewing gum in my mouth,” he said.
Since those days, Wathen said he’s seen the county change in more ways than just the number of people living in it.
“It’s become a much better place for jobs,” he said. “It used to be that we would just all enlist in the Navy because we couldn’t find a job anywhere else.”
Thompson said all the changes since he has graduated have not been good, however.
“The county is better in a lot of ways and not so much in some,” he said. “If I was a kid graduating high school today, I don’t know if I could afford to live here. The cost of living is just so expensive now.”
Despite the good and bad changes, Wathen said he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“When I was born, I was St. Mary’s County-born,” he said. “When my parents raised me, I was St. Mary’s County-raised, and when I die, I’ll be St. Mary’s County-dead.”