My parents built the original house there, a three bedroom Cape Cod, after WW 2. Dad searched four states for materials because of the building boom after the war. I remember going to Hog Island Lumber Company near where the Philadelphia Airport is now to buy enough matching windows. The road was dirt, dusty in summer and muddy other times. Sometimes the State Highway Dept. would spray used motor oil on the roads in front of houses to lay the dust. Once or twice we had to park on Ogletown Road near the Slack home and walk home because of the mud. I think my little brother and I were the only kids in school who wore boots until May because we had to walk that muddy road to meet the bus at the Slacks. There were six or seven students picked up there: The Waples, Edwards, Slack, Young, DePrisco and Bonner families all sent children in various numbers. The first boy who ever paid me any attention rode that bus and always saved me a seat up front. He never asked me out, but I always knew I had a choice seat on the bus. He grew up to be a Newark policeman.
The Newark Special School District’s only buildings were on Academy Street. A total of 8 Stiltz Bus Company busses brought in students, all ages in one trip, from the surrounding countryside. Everyone else walked or rode bikes. Some even roller skated to school, and for at least one winter we could ice skate there for a couple of weeks the streets were so icy. There were dozens of bikes in front of the school and not one of them was locked to anything. Some of the busses were driven by WW 2 veterans who had been drafted before they finished high school and had come back to complete their high school work in order attend college on the GI Bill.
Should we mourn or rejoice that Newark is no longer the small, close town of 4,000 or so residents it was in the mid-twentieth century? Will today’s youth have similar fond memories of growing up in Newark, as do their grandparents? Life seemed simple to we grandparents of today’s young people as we grew up in Newark.
Consider specifically the slightly fewer than 100 members of the Newark High School Class of 1950. Our fathers were farmers, salesmen, factory workers, business owners or professionals and most of our mothers were there when we got home from school. We all knew each other, dated, were in and out of each other’s homes, worked in the same few places, had fun together. It was safe for girls to walk to a friend’s house at night or a group of girls to take the bus to Wilmington to shop on Friday night. Saturday nights were reserved for dances at the New Century Club or movies at the State Theater. After-dance or –movie treats were consumed at the Deluxe or Goodie Shop. The boys hung around Pop Roberts’s store and in summer swam above second dam or camped on White Clay Creek. Other than school sports, baseball and football were pick-up games, not organized by adults.
If someone got into a little mischief, policemen “Hilly”, “Smitty” or Chief John Cunningham need only to speak to the miscreant’s parents and have the problem resolved. Sometimes a simple threat to “tell your mom” was enough to discourage further wrongdoing. Nobody underage sneaked into the Deer Park, as every adult in town knew how old you were.
The few cars owned by the boys were usually, in the words of one, the sort which “took a quart of gas and a gallon of oil to go to Wilmington”. Those boys who attended Newark Methodist Church were fortunate to have U.D. coach Bill Murray, of Wing-T football fame, as their Sunday School teacher. Mrs. Murray was the Girl Scout leader and the troop met at the town library in the Academy Building, now owned by the university. Behind the stone wall around the building was a large sign with names of Newark residents who served in the WW 2 military. Our generation’s war was the Korean Conflict. The boys, and even one of our girls, went and we thanked God when they all returned.
After graduation in 1950, some of us went widely into the world and accomplished notable things, others stayed close to our roots to spread our time and talents to the benefit of others. Our members became teachers, nurses, engineers, scholars, mechanics, factory workers, secretaries, bankers, salesmen, career military, business owners and homemakers. A few became involved in nuclear research and the infant computer industry. A lot of us married, and stayed married to, people with whom we had grown up. We truly lived the epitome of classic small town life.
At the time of our 50th class reunion in June 2000 there were 86 living members of the class and 54 were in attendance. We had people come home from 9 other states to attend. As someone said after the reunion, “we’re a pretty young group for as old as we are”. That ageless, love-of-life feeling we share probably comes from the solid, stable foundation built by growing up in a small town in the best of times.
Yes, we were born during the Great Depression, but we were indeed fortunate to have reached adulthood and raised our families in the second half of the 20th century. Today the camaraderie and love we nurtured for each other is still apparent as the group holds monthly luncheons with 25-30 local people in attendance, including spouses who have formed a close bond with the group. We still laugh at the stories, rejoice in children and grandchildren’s successes, hurt for those with problems and shed tear when we lose members or their spouses or, especially, their children. Society has lost a lot when it can’t provide the stable foundation of two generations ago to launch its youth.