Last Friday, the students at Chevy Chase Elementary School took a spin in a time machine. At an all-school assembly, they heard stories about what it was like to study there before they were born. Way before they born: The anecdotes came from members of the school’s class of 1958.
The event was part of a weekend reunion that drew 26 graduates of the public school, which the ’58 kids called Rosemary, after its location on the street of that name. The impetus for the gathering was a man who technically is not a member of the class. Jim McConaughy attended the school through fifth grade, but then transferred to St. Albans School.
“When you get to be this age, you start thinking about things,” McConaughy said by phone from Massachusetts, where he now lives, a few days before the event.
That thinking became more intense last year, after McConaughy’s 50th St. Albans reunion. He managed to get an invitation to the reunion of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, which many of his elementary classmates had attended.
“It was just absolutely fantastic to see these old friends that I hadn’t seen in 57 years,” he said.
One former schoolmate showed him a photo that McConaughy thought was the fifth grade, but was actually the third grade. “I thought, ‘I really can’t remember a whole lot of stuff. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was some way of figuring all of this out?’ So I got it in my mind to make kind of a yearbook.”
The result was the 92-page “Rosemary Remembered,” published before the reunion. It contains names of 169 former students from four 1958 sixth-grade classes (plus McConaughy), with profiles of 72 graduates.
“Jim was really the spearhead. You have to have one of those,” said Christine Hart, a reunion organizer who still lives near the primary school she attended. She remembers Chevy Chase in the 1950s as “like a family. Everyone took care of everyone else’s kids.”
The generally happy recollections of the school drew 26 graduates, plus 14 spouses, to the “Rosemary Remembered” weekend, said Diane Parfitt, another reunion organizers.
“Your memories of junior high and high school are often tainted by lots of other things,” Parfitt said. “When we had our 50th high school reunion, we had a couple of people who said, ‘I just don’t want to go back. I don’t have good memories of high school.’ But when we called them up about an elementary school reunion, they went, ‘I really have a good feeling about that. I would love to do that.’ ”
Parfitt, who lives in North Carolina, said her parents moved from Alexandria to Montgomery County when she was about to start second grade, mostly for the schools.
“I would say many of the people here have that same story,” she said. “Sometimes, the parents had to struggle to be able to afford to live in Montgomery County, but wanted to keep their kids in that school.”
She and her Rosemary schoolmates, Parfitt noted, “are the first of the baby boomers. Most of us are 1946 babies. And I’m a January, so I’m really the first. My daddy came home from the war and nine months later I was born.”
The reunion included a picnic, a dinner and a bus tour of the neighborhood where the Rosemary kids lived when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.
“We’re all going to go around as an unruly mob of 70-year-olds, thinking that we’re 10,” McConaughy said before the jaunt. “We’re going to go by each other’s houses and tell our stories.”
For McConaughy, the area still looked like home after a recent scouting trip. “Bethesda has completely changed. But Chevy Chase . . . there are a few knock-downs, but so many of those houses are still there. The streets have the same look to them.”
The reunion highlight, however, was probably the trip to the school. The grads were interviewed for a TV show produced by current sixth-graders, and they presented their alma mater with a painting of four kids from the class of ’58 that is reproduced on the cover of “Rosemary Remembered.” In return, some teachers sang a song for the alumni, and McConaughy got a special document.
“One of the cutest things was, Jim didn’t finish at Chevy Chase Elementary School, so they gave him a honorary degree,” Parfitt said. “And he was blown away. He loved it.”
A few hours after the assembly, McConaughy appeared elated.
“What made this so special was that the school was just thrilled to see us,” he said. “We found ourselves participating in this love fest.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.