"How many times do you get to go to a 50th reunion?" asked John Price happily as he stood in the auditorium of Chevy Chase's Somerset Elementary School, the school from which he graduated 20 years ago. Price, who works for ITT, had scanned the faces in the crowd and successfully pulled one from out of the past.
"One person," he said with satisfaction. "I recognized her instantly. She hasn't changed a bit. We were the only two kids in the sixth grade who didn't know their multiplication tables. We had to sit out in the hall and show flashcards to each other until we were blue in the face."
To celebrate Somerset Elementary School's 50th anniversary, former students, principals and teachers returned along with current students, parents and teachers - an estimated crowd of 800 - for a buffet dinner of chili, salads and desserts prepared by more than 100 families, according to PTA President Barbara Marblestone.
Pandemonium reigned on two floors of the school. People ran, talked, shouted and filled out name-tags on the first floor and bottlenecked on the staircase. Downstairs, they ate at picnic-like tables in the auditorium and waited for Montgomery County Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo to cut a cake with a cardboarded red school house resting on top.
"In this day of declining enrollemnt, it's nice to see preschoolers," said Bernardo to the group. "Your school is at capacity. That's an unusual event, so keep having happy children."
The sea of children swarming around Bernardo and racing around the auditorium were proof enough of that statement.
Those who came baack spoke glowingly of the school. Throughout the evening, they greeted retired Somerset principal Kathryne Bricker, who ran the school from [WORD ILLEGIBLE] when it opened, until 1965. She sat through the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] informal receiving line that came and went by her table, her food untouched, her bright blue eyes undimmed, her smile a mixture of amusement and weariness. Children kissed her, adults shook her hand. Some brought pictures of their babies.
"I'm sure I spent as much time in your office as I did in anyone' else's office," said a balding young man in a three-piece brown suit, club tie and white button-down shirt as he bent down to clasp Bricker's hand.
"I was rather rambunctious," explained Bruce Ammerman, from the class of '58 and now a Washington neurosurgeon in practice with his father.
After greeting his former principal, Ammerman looked around the auditorium. "I remember this room very well," he said with a nod. "There used to be a movie screen from the ceiling to the floor over there. I remember pulling it down and breaking it. My teacher almost killed me."
Ammerman's brother Seth, from the class of '66s, with long shoulder-length black hair, shook Bricker's hand next. "It was great," recalled Seth Ammerman, now a second year medical student at George Washington University who wants to go into family practice in a rural area. "The teachers were there for many years. My fifth-grade math teacher was really good and innovative. I got a very good math background."
"They rally are responsible for my child's success," said Joyce Wholstetter about the Somerset teachers who taught her 24-year-old daughter Penny, now an educator in Boston. "From the first day of kindergarten, my chld wanted to go into education - she never deviated from the education field." Penny, who has a masters' degree in education [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Harvard University, was not at the anniversary celebration. But her mother keeps in touch with her daughters' former teachers. "I give them credit for all (Penny's) honors."
"I always loved Somerset," said Renee Beard Cunkell, a Potomac resident. Cunkell was one of the first students to attend Somerset after her mother, Irene Beard, spent two years taking a door-to-door census of the children in Chevy Chase to convince the school board that they needed another elementary school in the area. "She didn't want me to go to Bethesda Elementary," explained Cunkell. Those were the children of blue-collar people who, well, weren't too inclined toward education . . ." she said.
Somerset school parents said they pride themselves on their international and racially mixed student population. As one of the eight schools in the desegregation cluster that the Montgomery County school board has formed inthe Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and Takoma Park areas, Somerset has received a number of black and Hispanic fifth and sixth graders each year from the Rock Creek Forest elementary school. Those additional students are what keep the enrollmet at 445 students and diminish changes that the school may become a candidate for closing, according to George Fisher, the director of planning for the school board.
"If they stay in the cluster, they will be fine," said Fisher.