by Sheila Gardner

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July 5, 2013
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Class of 1943: Memories and milestones

When the Douglas County High School class of 1943 got together last month for their 70th reunion, there was plenty to celebrate.

Seven of the 12 surviving members of the class attended the festive gathering at the Carson Valley Country Club, along with family members, “adopted” classmates and friends.

Attendees included Edith Stewart Blevins, who now lives in Yerington, and hadn’t seen her classmates for several years, and Worth Gilbert Borda, who had been in declining health.

That Friday afternoon, June 21, turned out to be the last time Worth’s classmates would see her.

She died in her sleep at her Gardnerville home, four days later on June 25.

Her passing underscored the importance of the close-knit classmates’ monthly luncheons.

Marcella Bennefeld Oxoby — “Red” or “Marcie” back in 1943 — organizes the get-togethers which began about 20 years ago.

Because the 70th was such an important milestone, she picked up Worth and her caregiver Marilyn Cuneg, and brought them to the Country Club.

Although frail, Worth was surrounded by friends who were delighted and surprised to see their old classmate.

“Are you behaving?” Knox Johnson teased Worth. “I am glad you came today.”

The acknowledgment that members of Class of 1943 are 88 and 89 years old prompted Edith to attend for the first time.

“I had to be here,” she said. “This might be the last time you see me.”

For more than 20 years, the classmate have gathered once a month to catch up on friendships that were forged in the grammar schools of Minden and Gardnerville, and the old Douglas County High School.

To hear Marcella tell it, the Class of ’43 was known for skipping school and other hijinks, tempered with the reality of a nation at war.

“One day, we decided to cut class and hitchhike out to the airport. The first car that stopped to pick us up was our principal, Mr. (H. Bruce) Shawe,” Marcella said.

Marcella, Worth and Adele Indiano Kidman got in trouble for a “can-can” performance which revealed a little too much leg.

“Remember the time you gave me a black eye?” Edith asked Marcella.

With 22 classmates — some of whom had known each other since birth — romance was inevitable.

Knox Johnson spoke lovingly of his wife, Liz, who died in 2000.

She was Elizabeth Elliott, who graduated a year ahead of Knox.

“She sat next to the pencil sharpener in study hall. I spent a lot of time in there,” he said.

He waited out her first marriage, and she became his bride in 1951.

“I couldn’t fall in love with anyone else,” he said. “I waited for her.”

The Class of 1943 included “The Hags,” a girls’ group that included Marcella, Worth, and Adele.

“We have lots of memories,” Adele said.

Their favorite teacher was Teddyanna Pease, the mother of Minden attorney George Keele.

A graduate of University of Nevada, Reno, Miss Pease wasn’t much older than her students.

“Remember the first dance?” Marcella asked. “We were scared to death. We all knew each other, so that wasn’t the problem. But none of us knew how to dance.”

There was the ill-fated scheme to bottle root beer to raise funds for prom expenses.

“We decided to make root beer and sell it during basketball games to make money,” she said.

“We put it in bottles and corked them, and stored it in the home economics room,” Marcella recalled.

“We were in study hall, and all of a sudden we hear, ‘pop, pop, pop!’ All the corks popped, and the root beer was everywhere. We had such a mess to clean up.”

Their carefree school days were overshadowed by World War II, which would claim classmate Kenneth Storke shortly after his 20th birthday.

The yearbook contains multiple references to life interrupted.

“Due to gas rationing, it was at times difficult to obtain transportation (to sporting events).”

From Principal H. Bruce Shawe:

“Before the summer is gone, many of you will be in training for battles. Those of us who remain must work as hard as you who go, for it is our labor that must keep you adequately fed and supplied. The glory of victory will be yours; the responsibilities we must share.”

Kenneth, who was killed May 22, 1945, was still a presence.

“We were the same age, and inducted in the Army together,” said John Henningsen. “We both shipped out, and Kenneth didn’t come home.”

Kenneth will forever be the serious boy in his senior picture photographed in a white shirt, suit jacket and striped tie; or the young infantryman who was awarded the Bronze Star medal and Purple Heart.

Marcella asked that he be remembered with the class.

“Ruth would like it,” she said, referring to Kenneth’s younger sister who was a freshman when he was a senior.

Worth’s memorial service is July 12 at St. Gall Catholic Church. She will be interred at Garden Cemetery next to her husband Pete, her classmate and high school sweetheart, who died in 1996.

When the lunch dishes had been cleared, Henningsen lifted a glass of sparkling cider and smiled at the 19 friends who filled the tables.

“Here’s to the class of 1943,” said Henningsen, who served as class president so long ago.

A few minutes later, Norbert Koblitz, owner of the Country Club, sent out another round to mark the group’s milestone. Henningsen also acknowledged Marcella’s efforts to keep the group going.

With Worth’s death, there are now 11 survivors.

“I just tell people we’re too ornery, and the Man Upstairs doesn’t want us yet,” Marcella said.

At the end of luncheon, Knox — denying he was ever class clown — picked up the tab.

“We always have a great time,” Marcella said. “We sit and talk until 1:30 p.m. Then it’s time to go home for a nap.”

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The Record Courier Updated Jul 5, 2013 10:53AM Published Jul 6, 2013 10:47PM Copyright 2013 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.