Myrtle McVay shows off her 80-year Brooksville High School graduation pin. PHOTO BY MAXWELL HAUPTMAN

Brooksville High alum still going strong at 97

BROOKSVILLE — In 1938, gas was 10 cents a gallon, a movie ticket cost a quarter and tuition at Harvard University topped out at $420 per year. Joe Louis KO’d Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium to retain his title as heavyweight champion of the world, and Germany annexed Austria and the Sudetenland.

Kids could buy a copy of Action Comics No. 1, featuring a new character named Superman. And, Myrtle McVay graduated from Brooksville High School.

“Oh, I was so excited when I graduated,” said McVay, who turns 98 this August. “My mother made a special dress for me to wear that day, and my brother came down from Blue Hill to dance with me.”

Last Sunday, at an annual reunion of Brooksville High School alumni, McVay was presented with an 80-year graduation pin. The event was held in the old gymnasium of the school, which operated from 1916 to 1960 in Buck’s Harbor.

“My father helped to build this gymnasium. I used to help him carry tools from his truck,” McVay said.

It was a small school, and there were only about a dozen kids in McVay’s class when she graduated. Most of them had gone to school in the same room with each other since first grade.

“We all got to know each other so well. And we had such fun together,” McVay said. “There was one time some of us had a skunk cornered under the school, and we were poking at it until the whole school smelled of it.

“They had to close the school, and we all thought we were very clever … until the teachers made us come back on Saturday to make up the day.”

Most days she would have to walk almost five miles from West Brooksville to get to school, which wasn’t so fun during a long Maine winter.

“There was a stove to heat the classroom, in the back,” McVay said. “I remember the kids would keep switching seats to get closer to the stove.”

It’s also where McVay would sometimes prepare her lunch.

“Our teacher, Ms. Perkins, told us to bring in some potatoes,” she recalled. “We baked them right there in the room. I told my children that was the start of the hot lunch program in school.”

McVay said her favorite subject was home economics, where she learned to cook and sew. Her least favorite?

“Algebra. I had to ask my father to help me out with that.”

After graduating high school, McVay married her husband John, now deceased, who worked as a diesel engine mechanic. They moved to the Bronx and raised five children — Robert, Joseph, Douglas, Vernley and Margaret.

When McVay was 40, she and her husband moved back to Ellsworth, where she worked at Britt’s Department Store and with the Ellsworth School Department. When alumni of Brooksville High School started meeting up in the mid-’70s, McVay showed up and has been attending these events ever since.

“See all this jewelry?” said McVay, pointing to the 60-year and 70-year graduation pins on her blouse.

At this year’s reunion, the Brooksville High School alumni gave out scholarships to two students who would be attending college in the fall. Eighty years is a long time, and their experiences will surely be a world away from that of Myrtle McVay.

“Oh, I’m too old to be giving advice,” said McVay. “I just hope they’re as excited as I was.”

Maxwell Hauptman

Maxwell Hauptman

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Maxwell Hauptman joined The Ellsworth American as a reporter in 2018. He can be reached at [email protected]
Maxwell Hauptman

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