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Autumn Leaves Middle Recollections on Tape 5.3.2006

By Al Campbell

MAYVILLE – Living history came to life April 26 as video cameras rolled and recollections of Middle Township were etched in tape.
 Before the cameras were long-time township residents, born prior to 1939, the year “Gone With The Wind” hit the silver screen.
 Behind the lenses were six members of Middle Township High School’s TV broadcasting class under direction of teacher Kate Scibal. They included Melissa Grace, Jeanette Broughton, Shannon Burns, Emily Giordano, Bill Bossert and Zach Todd.
 The event was a kick-off reception for “Autumn Leaves,” a project of Middle Township Council on the Arts in cooperation with the high school. It was held at Atkinson’s Tavern here.
 Vintage images of Court House and surrounding areas continuously appeared on the wall near the buffet table.
 At long tables sat some of the municipality’s elders. Some were classmates from the now-gone high school on South Main Street.
 Jerry Costande, Navy veteran and retired County Gazette linotype operator who also retired from county employment, recounted some of his memories about the group’s beloved alma mater.
 A member of the Class of 1938, Costande told the crowd he was one of 32 graduates.
 “I think I could count the living members on one hand,” he said.
 He told of a high school far different from the one the students presently attend. Many of his recollections brought laughter or gasps from the teens.
 There was segregation, he said. Boys and girls had separate entrances.
 That evoked a response from 2006 Senior Julia Simon.
 She recalled seeing the “Boys” and “Girls” over the north and south doors of the school, but did not know what they meant.
 Costande told of a school with 14 rooms and as many teachers.
 One coach, Wilbur Clark, was responsible for football, baseball, basketball and track, as well as teaching English, said Costande.
 The gym in the basement had a ceiling so low, “making a three-pointer would be impossible, because the ball would hit the ceiling,” said Costande.
 After a leak warped the gym’s wooden floor, when varsity basketball games were held, the team utilized the Methodist Social Hall, he said.
 Although there was a female physical education teacher, no girls’ varsity sports existed, he said.
 The school’s athletic field, now a lighted soccer field on Schoolhouse Lane and South Boyd Street, was shared with the Beamon family, which farmed the southwest corner, he said.
 “Cape May Court House was very small, but everyone in Middle Township came to our high school. There were sending students from Dennis Township, Avalon and Stone Harbor,” he said.
 “Court House was small. It ended at Stone Harbor Road,” he said.
 The remainder was “all forest,” he added.
 The county seat’s southern boundary was “an imaginary line below where Loyalton is,” he said.
 “In spite of the fact we had 14 teachers and 14 classrooms, any person who went to school got a quality education, if they wanted it,” he said.
 He recalled the “dedicated teachers” who would put in extra time with students who needed, and wanted, help.
 Those who did not want education were free to leave at age 16, Costande said.
 “The high school students can see things were quite different from now,” he said.
 “I have no regrets I went there,” he said.
 Former Mayor Robert Huff remembered the football team being made to run “to the fairgrounds, where the electric company is,” for training.
 Samuel S. DeVico, another former mayor, spent time before the camera, quizzed by Bossert and Todd.
 Among others who told their brief remembrances for the project were Dorothy Rixey, Annie Watson, Vera Smith, Etta Washington, Leah Henderson, Ruth Beatty, and former township clerk George Simpkins.
 The students are anxious to talk with, and record on camera, any township elder who wants to become part of the project.
 Getting as many as possible to participate is the first part of the project, according to Scibal. Then will come the editing process and compiling all the parts into a final version.
 Out of that will appear a segment of Middle Township’s history secured for coming generations.
Contact Campbell at (609) 886-8600 Ext 28 or: al.c@cmcherald.com

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