A cool, fresh breeze -- a back-to-school breeze -- riffled the leaves of the shade trees on the playground at Fort Washington Forest Elementary School. Cecelia Hoey Tillman, 31, balanced her 6-month-old son, Jack, on one hip and remembered the fall of 1960:
She was 6 years old, and she and 265 other children were the first to enroll at the newly constructed Fort Washington school in the southwestern corner of Prince George's County. Theirs was an innocent time.
Students began the morning by singing "Good Morning to You." First graders walked the hallways hand in hand. A Boy Scout solemnly raised the American flag each morning.
"I can't imagine little kids going here still," Tillman, now a pharmacist, said with a laugh, looking at the angular brick schoolhouse. "It seems like once we left, it was deserted. Made into a shrine."
Tillman and about 150 other alumni of the school gathered Saturday afternoon to celebrate its 25th anniversary, an event sponsored by the Fort Washington Forest Community Association. They hugged teachers and classmates, introduced their infants and toddlers, picked out their own young faces from class photographs, and reminisced about a long-ago period that seems to have taken place just yesterday.
Some old habits apparently don't die, however. Even now, to the grownup former students, retired janitor George Young is, simply, Mr. Young; Mike Kovach, now principal at Waldon Woods School, is remembered as Mr. Kovach, sixth grade teacher and object of a dozen schoolgirl crushes; and teachers long retired are respectfully addressed as "ma'am."
"Mr. Young, he was the janitor from Day One," said Tillman, gesturing toward a large, seemingly ageless man in a felt hat and white tie. "He has always been that size and he has always been that age."
Fort Washington Forest was built to serve the postwar-generation born in a baby boom to the largely middle-class families of Fort Washington Forest. The subdivision was touted as the first subdivision in the southern portion of the county. The school was integrated then and still is, said Robert Winters, a community association member who organized the reunion.
The 22,800-square-foot school was constructed at a cost of $347,364, mere change by today's multimillion-dollar standards.
"All the years I taught, that was the best time," said Bob Allen, a 27-year teaching veteran who was a physical education teacher at Fort Washington Forest from 1962 to 1969. "Everybody was closer -- the family, the parental involvement, the feeling of citizenship. There's just not that much enthusiasm now."
"I had the best kids," said Ada Scott, who taught Fort Washington third graders for 19 years.
"That's because you got the good ones and I got the bad ones," said Virginia Dolan, another former teacher.
"One time, one of my boys went in the bathroom and came out with the doorknob in his mouth. I said, 'What in this world?' And he said, 'I had my hands in my pockets, Miss Dolan.' Those were the days I said, 'What am I doing here?' "
A popular figure at the reunion was Kovach, who, from 1964 to 1967 was one of the few male teachers at the school.
"I had a crush on him," said Debbie Verity Gaucher, 30, now a bookkeeper in Fredericksburg, Va. "I tried to set him up with my big sister."
In the end, however, the whole school conspired to spark a romance between Kovach and Chris Considine, another unattached teacher.
"Betty Hutchinson and the other teachers couldn't stand to see this bachelor," said Kovach with a laugh.
"They made us do a bulletin board together," said Considine.
"For February, because of Valentine's Day," Kovach said with a mock grimace.
A few months later, the children from both Kovach's and Considine's classes attended the couple's wedding. A photograph was taken of the group outside the church.
"Somebody said, 'It's about time you got married if you've got all those kids,' " Kovach recalled.
Most of the stories remembered on Saturday were sweet stories, reflecting a time when mothers greeted children after school with milk and cookies, when the biggest action on the playground was the dodgeball game at recess, when riots and assassinations lay only in the future.
Betsy Winters, now 33 and an employe of a computer company, remembered a day that marked a turning point of sorts.
"I had fallen down at recess and sprained my ankle and so I lay down on a couch in the sick room," she said. "I'm one of those people who can sleep through anything. Mr. Young finally found me at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Everybody had forgotten about me. It was the day Kennedy was shot."