By Crystal Lorimor
Decades have passed since some of the 25 former students who gathered at the Great Western School on a warm Sunday afternoon this summer had seen each other, but the little one-room schoolhouse was buzzing with chatter as they sat at the wooden desks again and exchanged memories.
The former students -- three of whom attended classes in the 1920s -- gathered for a reunion, along with their family and friends, at the old brick schoolhouse on the Ohio University Eastern campus west of St. Clairsville. The schoolhouse closed in 1952 but was restored in 1976 by the efforts of the National Trail Questers, a group dedicated to the renovation of historical artifacts and buildings.
Ann Rattine is a member of the group. Although working individually and not as a Quester, Rattine initiated the reunion after arranging a visit for former student Ralph Baumberger in August 2008.
"As I drove home from that visit, I thought about his smile and appreciation of being able to visit the school after so many years," Rattine said. "And I decided that the people who attended the school needed to be recognized because they have many stories to share and they and their memories are an important part of our educational history."
Rattine talked to Eastern campus Dean Rich Greenlee about the idea of a reunion, he gave his blessing and she was off in search of former students. She began with a list of more than 200 names compiled from a scrapbook in the schoolhouse and conversations with former students.
"It was fun doing the 'FBI' work to locate them," Rattine said. "I spent many hours on the phone trying to locate class members and there were such comments as 'How in the world did you find me?' when I did locate the person."
So far she has located 86 living alumni. She estimates she has spoken to 90 percent of those classmates either in person or on the phone.
"They have told me that I have stirred memories which they had not thought about in many years," Rattine added.
The recent reunion was an occasion to share many of those memories. Strains of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" set the mood as Greenlee picked up his banjo to welcome the visitors to campus lead the group in old folk songs.
Stories were abundant. What it was like walking to school. What the old National Road, which runs in front of the schoolhouse, used to be like. Pranks they played on classmates and teachers. Projects and assignments they completed.
Classmates from as far away as Colorado explored the school, including the old books and the potbelly stove. Three of the five graduates in the class of 1950 were among the group that revisited their old stomping grounds this year.
But Rattine is still on the search. She wants to find the remaining classmates and have another reunion next year. Former students of the Great Western or any who knows a former student are encouraged to contact Rattine at 740-695-1137. She's adding people to the mailing list for the next reunion and also enjoys collecting memories and stories of the school.
"Once they are gone, their stories will never be told, unless their descendents have recorded them either orally or in written form," Rattine said. "And do they have stories to share!"