Powers Institute alums reflect on education that transcended academics in Bernardston

  • Powers Institute alumni congregate in the former school building for the 47th triennial reunion on Saturday in Bernardston. Today, the building at 20 Church St. houses the Senior Center and a museum. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Powers Institute alumni congregate in the former school building for the 47th triennial reunion on Saturday in Bernardston. Today, the building at 20 Church St. houses the Senior Center and a museum. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • The triennial reunion of Powers Institute alumni was held at the former school building in Bernardston on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Powers Institute alumni congregate in the former school building for the 47th triennial reunion on Saturday in Bernardston. Today, the building at 20 Church St. houses the Senior Center and a museum. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2022 5:02:49 PM
Modified: 8/14/2022 4:59:23 PM

BERNARDSTON — Alumni of the former Powers Institute returned to their old stomping grounds on Saturday for what Alumni Association President Louella Atherton said might be a “last hurrah” for the aging community.

Historian Derek Strahan said the middle and high school, which opened in 1857, once educated “several hundred students per year” in the mid-19th century before enrollment shrunk to a more intimate number of pupils by the time of its closing in 1958. According to Atherton, 33 people who attended the school during the mid-1900s — all now in their 80s and 90s — came from as far away as Louisiana and Florida to reunite for the 47th triennial reunion from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the former school. Today, the building at 20 Church St. houses the Senior Center and a museum.

“The school means a lot to all, I’ll stress that,” Atherton said. “We had good teachers and really got a good education.”

Following registration and a brief welcome, attendees were treated to a banquet catered by Foster’s Supermarket that they enjoyed while seated at tables divided by graduating class. Mortarboards adorned each table as centerpieces while decorations dressed the dining room in orange and black, the school’s colors. Conversation flowed naturally, as if the occasion were no more than some dear friends catching up.

“You remember a lot going on in school,” said Class of 1946 graduate Russell Deane, who is believed to be the oldest surviving alum at 94 years old. “There were so few people that you knew everybody.”

“It was more of a community,” said Patriciann Grover, who attended on behalf of her late husband, Walter Grover, who graduated in 1947. “Everyone did everything together.”

Deane said students at the Powers Institute made each other feel important, opting to be “generous people” despite most coming from low-income, working-class families.

“I think most of them come out sharing, helping and volunteering to do stuff,” he said of students who would graduate from the school.

“I just know the ones that I know and they’ve all been really upstanding people,” commented Barbara Adams, who graduated from the Powers Institute in 1948. “Hard-working people.”

Such a strong work ethic was instilled in Powers Institute students by staff who firmly pushed students to challenge themselves.

“We got a darn good education by being forced to,” Atherton said. “We recited. We memorized. Nobody does that anymore.”

“The principal was here for a long time … he would do things that you couldn’t do today,” Deane added.

This strictness was not limited to typical academic subjects, either.

“I didn’t appreciate it then, but all teachers, they didn’t just teach,” said Atherton, who remembered how one teacher prompted her to begin her 45-year career working in theater.

Male staff, Deane said, would have students try out for sports and “almost force you to do whatever one you liked the best.”

“The ladies that would teach you here, they would say, ‘You’ve gotta volunteer for your community!’” he added.

Deane, who went on to become a Selectboard member, School Committee member and Kiwanis Club president, said the Powers Institute’s philosophy of promoting hard work has not been lost on those who learned there.

“I’ve done it all my life,” he said.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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