Since Elmira District Secondary School opened its doors in 1939, the school, the town, and the region at large have expanded. Elmer Sauder, an 86-year-old St. Jacobs resident, was one of the 70-or-so students enrolled as part of the 1939-1940 student body. As he walks down the school’s much-refurbished halls, does EDSS still feel like home?
“Well, that EDSS song, I can’t get that out of my head at all…” He glances sideways. “I don’t know if they still have that school rallying cry… ‘Elmira! Elmira! On to victory…!’” Sauder continues with this William Lyon Mackenzie King-era chant, filled with references to long-ago wars, much too quickly to accurately transcribe.
Sauder has dropped by his alma mater to discuss his formative years in anticipation of the school’s 75th anniversary, to take place one year from now. Once a Lancer, always a Lancer, but it’s been nearly 75 years since Sauder came through these hallowed halls as a ninth-grader, and with that time has come some difference. With Paul Kalbfleisch, a member of the reunion organizing committee, he reflects on how the school has evolved.
“Well, things have certainly changed,” he says. “There’s high technology. We didn’t have any computers or anything like that. We still had the commercial department where they had the typewriters. I don’t think they were even the electric typewriters …”“They had a garden, wherever the tech wing is, that was a school garden,” says Kalbfleisch. “It was a rural-oriented school and agricultural sciences were important, so a lot of the kids had to plant things, and they were marked on that. They also had home projects – [teacher] Ernie Kendall would go out and evaluate the kids’ farms…”
“Very rural-oriented,” says Sauder. “There was something called the Potato Club. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember being in the Potato Club.” He laughs.
There was a gym where the library is, and another gym has been added. The “Teentown Dances” – a key event on the 1940s Elmira social calendar – are a distant memory, and Ernie Kendall, the teacher who oversaw them, passed away in 2010 at age 102. Elmira has evolved from farms and fields to a fully-fledged town.
“It was very rural. A bus came in from St. Jacobs, a bus came in from Conestogo, and a bus came in from Linwood,” Sauder recalls.
But still, some things never change. “This high school has a good name, and it’s unique,” says Sauder. “It brings the rural people in, mixing with the city.”
He continues, “And they have a good sports program. I watch the papers, how these kids are doing – different types of sports, they’re doing great. It’s just got bigger and better.”
In 1944, Sauder was one of only 13 students to graduate – a majority of his class had already gone out to work. Having skipped ahead a year, he didn’t turn 18 until 1945, by which time the Second World War was drawing to a close. He stayed in St. Jacobs, worked 39 years at the Burns Meat plant, met his Saskatchewan-born wife on a business trip west, and started a family. His five children (four biological, one adopted) became EDSS grads (two of them as student council presidents), and nowadays, Sauder’s family has expanded to include 11 grandchildren.
“My wife tells me the birthdays – I lost track of the birthdays,” he says, smiling. “Some of ‘em, anyway.”
The 75th reunion will bring alum from eight decades of EDSS history back to Elmira. When registration opens in July, Sauder plans to sign up. “We had a lot of fun here, going to high school,” he remembers. “Real camaraderie.”
Registration for the EDSS 75th reunion opens on July 1 at www.edss75.com. The website also features excerpts from school yearbooks stretching back to 1940. The event will take place June 6-8, 2014 – mark your calendars.