Helen Davies Debus is, according to what Phoenixville Area School District officials can determine, the oldest living graduate of Phoenixville Area High School.
Wednesday night, she stood and waved to a warm welcome on the turf of Washington Field as she was introduced at the PAHS graduation ceremonies.
Mrs. Debus was born on October 26, 1912 and graduated high school in 1929.
In 2005, she took part in a Historical Commission of Schuylkill Township Oral History Project and described some of her high school experiences to Nancy Loane:
When I got up to Phoenixville, at the high school, no wonder I was scared. I was used to sitting in a seat and stay there until you went to recess or go to lunch or something like that. At every class up there, instead of the teacher’s moving, we moved. It was strange.
NL: Did you bring your lunches to school?
HD: Sometimes. Sometimes we went home. It would take maybe ten minutes to get home. Mother would have our lunch ready when we got home.
NL: Was the time in school about the same as now? School starts in September and ends in June? And the days were about the same in length?
HD: Yes, September to June. We used to have to be there I think 8 o’clock. And we left at 4.
NL: What did you study?
HD: We had English and Spelling and Arithmetic and Physiology and I forget what else – I think we had more than that.
NL: Did you have penmanship?
HD: We had penmanship every Friday in the beginning of the year, and then they got busy and they forgot about it. I am not a good penman.
NL: We something think about school and punishment – like kids sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on...did you have any of that?
HD: Oh, no. We had boys who enjoyed giving the teacher a bad time. One boy in particular, he was bigger than the teacher practically, he didn’t do anything she wanted. That disrupts the whole school. One day I saw her take up a geography book and put it down on his back. He laughed at her. One day one of the School Board members – two or three of them came – and the teacher told on him. She said she was sick and tired of him and she couldn’t control him. And he cried. We were so disgusted. Instead of standing there and taking it, he cried. He was never any bother again.
Mrs. Debus was interview again last year for the Schuylkill Oral History project. Transcripts of both interviews can be found on the Schuylkill Township Website and are also attached to this article as a pdf file.
Editor's Note: Each of the attached interviews offers a fascinating look at not only her life and family, but a history of the 1900s in and around our area. The 2012 interview offers Mrs. Debus' humorous explanation of how to pronounce her last name correctly and why her "next" husband will not have the same last name.