A Firebird sits on family tree

Sisters Janice Studebaker and Judy Halsall, daughters of Paul White, represent the second of five generations of White's descendants to graduate from Fairmont. Although 2020 was the last year for a family member to graduate, the sisters can still enjoy a 2021 Fairmont grad party for a friend's granddaughter. CONTRIBUTED
Sisters Janice Studebaker and Judy Halsall, daughters of Paul White, represent the second of five generations of White's descendants to graduate from Fairmont. Although 2020 was the last year for a family member to graduate, the sisters can still enjoy a 2021 Fairmont grad party for a friend's granddaughter. CONTRIBUTED

A 5-generation tradition winds down.

Most area high schools have held their 2021 graduations, although in a variety of ways and most with limited audiences due to COVID-19.

Kettering families looked forward to Fairmont’s graduation this year, which was live-streamed for family and friends from the UD Stadium. But the descendants of Paul White, class of 1934, were saddened, since this was the first generation in the family since him without representation in the school or graduation class.

When White graduated as a top scholar from Fairmont High School in 1934, little did he know that, for the next four generations, a member of his family would be a Fairmont graduate.

Paul White, Fairmont Class of '34 (top row, second from left), with fellow classmates in the 1980s as they worked on plans for a class reunion. CONTRIBUTED
Paul White, Fairmont Class of '34 (top row, second from left), with fellow classmates in the 1980s as they worked on plans for a class reunion. CONTRIBUTED

“But this was the first year without one,” said his daughter, Judy White Halsall, who graduated from Fairmont in 1969.

“My mother’s brother, Ralph Marburger, was in the ’34 Fairmont Football Hall of Fame, and was a good friend of Dad’s. He fixed him up with his sister, Dorothy, and they got married. Mom started at Fairmont, but finished up later at night school, which wasn’t unusual for a woman back then.”

When the couple was married, “this area was country, part of Van Buren Township, and Kettering was a village. The school was where Fairmont’s football field is now, and has been split, with Van Buren Middle School on one side, the football field on the other.” In 1954, by the time Paul and Dorothy’s four children started to school, Kettering had become a city.

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“Our brothers are gone now, but the oldest, Lonnie, graduated from Fairmont in 1958, and John in 1962,” said Halsall. “By then, the building Dad went to had become a junior high, then the board of education, and a new campus was built. Kettering had seen a population boom, and we had two buildings, Kettering East and West. Dad’s mascot was a Dragon, and that stayed with the West campus; Fairmont East’s mascot was a Falcon. When they came back together in the current building on Shroyer Road and Lincoln Park, the mascot became the Firebird.”

Halsall’s sister Janice graduated in 1963. “I married Ted Studebaker,” she said, “and we had two children, both Fairmont graduates — Todd, in ’84 and Lisa in ’89.

“Lisa met and married another ’89 Fairmont grad, Jim Berlon, who’s still very active with the school and community.”

Lisa and Jim’s son Matthew graduated from Fairmont in 2017 and daughter Claire in 2019.

“Last year, great-grandnephew Ben Randall graduated,” said Judy,” but, due to COVID-19, his graduation was just a drive-through.” But this year, the class of 2021 included none of Paul White’s descendants.

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“It’s sad,” said Janice, “because we wanted to carry on the tradition. When our great-nephew was in the band, we went to every game just to hear the band play.”

“We’ve gone to all the family graduations, even as they moved to larger places, and will miss it, but will still attend some games and support the school,” said Judy. Of course, they can attend graduation parties and the games of friends’ grandchildren.

“A lot of changes have taken place since Dad graduated, but what hasn’t changed is the school spirit,” Judy said. “Dad went to all his class reunions and usually served on the planning committee.

“Generations kept going back to games for players, cheerleaders or band members. We’ll miss not having one of our family as a Fairmont student, but will probably still go to the games — it just won’t be the same.”

Although Janice wanted the school mascot to remain the Dragons, both she and her sister agree that “Once a Dragon, Falcon or Firebird, always a Dragon, Falcon or Firebird, we say.”

Contact this contributing writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.

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