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Column: Woman's yearbooks evoke memories of classmates

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Marguerite Rust gave me a new insight into living a long life — her high school yearbooks. There were four of them in the thick package she dropped off at the newspaper several weeks ago.

She had told Sara Mathis, who works in our classified advertising department, that she was in the process of downsizing her belongings and had read a recent column of mine about a group of Columbus North High School students who were compiling a history of Columbus High School (it became North in 1972) relying primarily on information from past yearbooks. She thought I might be able to pass on her copies of the Log to help fill some gaps.

Sara described her as a “very nice, lively woman.” She also mentioned that Marguerite was 102 years old. Passing the 100-year milestone by a couple of years is remarkable. Being physically able to drop off high school yearbooks at a newspaper office at that age is even more impressive.

But centenarians are no longer as rare as they once were. As we have evolved into longer life spans, more three-digit birthdays have been observed. The accomplishment was once cause for front-page stories in this newspaper. These days it often goes without notice.

That’s how I first reacted to Sara’s note about Marguerite and her package, but when I looked at the books I came to see Marguerite’s long life in a different perspective. They covered the four years she attended Columbus High School, 1926 to 1929.

The 1929 Log triggered a thought in my mind. Were one to be held, this would be the 85th reunion of her graduating class. That’s highly unlikely. It’s a pretty good bet that Marguerite would be the only attendee.

She doesn’t know that for sure. She hasn’t been able to keep in touch with her former classmates.

“The last one I attended was the 65th,” she said last week. “I’m not sure they had any after that.”

Sixty-five-year class reunions fall into the unusual category. I remember experiencing a feeling of utter disbelief when I attended a 75th Columbus High School class reunion in 2007. It says a lot that that particular get-together of the Class of 1932 was held at Four Seasons Retirement Center, where most of the surviving class members lived.

Distant as 85- to 88-year-old high school yearbooks might seem to a Columbus resident today, their pages hold memories of people still fresh in the minds of those who have lived here a good while.

Henry Everroad was the 1929 class vice president. He would live his entire life in Columbus.

Jeanne Lewellen was the class secretary. Fifteen years later she was killed while test flying a military plane for the Air Corps. She is the only woman from Bartholomew County to have been killed while in service.

Ray Eddy was the star of the Bull Dogs basketball team. Later he would coach Purdue University’s basketball team and serve as its athletics director.

Paul “Dutch” Fehring was one of Eddy’s teammates on the basketball team but was a year behind, graduating in 1930. The Flying Dutchman also went on to Purdue and played in three sports. After graduation he became a coach at the West Lafayette school but made his real mark at Stanford, where he was regarded as one of the best baseball coaches in the country.

George Doup was another of Marguerite’s classmates. He became an important community leader in Columbus and served for several years as president of the Indiana Farm Bureau.

Some of Marguerite’s fondest memories are of Choral “Coke” Coons, with whom she shared a victory in a state editorial writing competition. Coke, another lifelong Columbus resident, would go on to a successful career at Arvin Industries and wrote the company’s official history.

Marguerite herself was very active in school. The resume under her senior class picture listed memberships in the dramatic club, the honor society and the Commercial Club. She was also on the school’s newspaper staff (The Triangle) her junior and senior year.

Her memories of high school days are still fresh, even after 85 years. She was Marguerite Burns then, and her family lived on a farm outside town.

“In those days there were no school buses to pick us up or take us home,” she said last week. “Fortunately, my parents let me use the family car, and I would pick up classmates on the way to school.”

Eventually after graduation she married James D. Rust, son of one of the owners of Rust-Unger Monuments. The couple moved to Michigan, where he served on the faculty at Michigan State University. They returned to Columbus in the 1980s, in part to help her mother, who lived to be 103.

Today Marguerite lives in a retirement complex in Columbus. Her husband died in 1988.

The yearbooks are just part of a downsizing project. She is hoping to find new owners for a collection of books she has had since childhood, including several works by famed Hoosier writer Gene Stratton Porter. “I don’t have any living relatives, so there’s no one to leave them to,” she said.

While she’s ridding herself of some material things, she’s looking forward to the future.

“I’ll be 103 in December,” she said. “Same age as my mother.”

That’s just one milestone she’s approaching. In June it will be 85 years since her class graduated from high school.

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