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Prominent speaker inspired Tamaqua graduates in 1912

Published June 02. 2012 09:01AM

With Baccalaureate on a Sunday night, followed by class night Monday and then graduation on Tuesday, the 13-member Tamaqua graduating class was in a whirlwind of of activities for three days in 1912.

In giving the class history on Class Day, Frances Beard pointed out that when the class entered high school four years earlier, there were 67 members of the class. That eventually dwindled down to the six boys and seven girls that made up the 1912 graduation class.

A number of others distinguished themselves in the Class Day program, including Gertrude E. Bauer, who gave the class prophecy, Magy Keilman, who sang "A May Morning," Irene Fulmer, who recited "Moonlight Sonata," and Paul J. F. Derr, who gave the class oration "Finis Nondum" (The End is Not Yet).

According to the Tamaqua Courier, Norman S. Wolfe gave one of the evening's best addresses.

"Standing cool and collected in the center of the platform he handled himself with the poise of a born orator," the reporter said. "As he closed he handed to the junior (class) president, J. R. Sweeney, the cap and gown. The junior responded by stating that the members of the class of 1913 would endeavor to do their best. As he closed, his classmates gave the following class call:

"Bing-teen, Bang teen


Tamaqua High School

Nineteen. Thirteen."

At the graduation exercises the next evening, four of the graduating honor students gave addresses. Agnes Catherine Christ delivered the salutatory, Paul Julius Gebert gave an oration on 'Greater Tamaqua', Arthur Norman Wolfe spoke on 'Our Heritage', and Harry Aaron Billig gave the valedictory address.

"Their addresses were carefully prepared and well delivered," a writer for the Tamaqua Courier reported in the June 26, 1912 edition, which included a photograph of the graduates.

Principal G. E. Oswald then introduced the commencement speaker for the evening, Dr. Madison Peters of New York, who the Courier said "gave a plain, practical, straight from the shoulder talk on what success is, how to attain it, and how to keep at the top, once the summit is reached."

For a small school to land such a prominent speaker for its graduation ceremony was quite a coup.

Later that year, The Pittsburgh Press called Peters "one of the most famous ministers and sociologists in America" and one who "ranks among the more popular writers of serious books, being the author of more than 40 volumes."

Prior to pastoring the Bloomingdale Reformed Church in New York City, Peters had ministered in churches in Lehigh County and Reading. In 1917, before America's entry into World War 1, he returned to Reading to deliver a patriotic lecture entitled "America for All; All for America."

A writer at the time credited Peters for "opening up new lines of thought for Americans who love their country and want to serve it."

Just as today's advertisers use persons of note to endorse their products, the Tuxedo Tobacco Company somehow got Peters to promote its smoking products, even though he himself didn't use tobacco!

One advertisement for Tuxedo, however, carried this Peters' endorsement:

"Naturally, I have studied this problem earnestly and my conclusion is that I can perform a public service by recommending to men the use of Tuxedo Tobacco," he stated. "A pipeful of Tuxedo provides rest and recreation at small expense and to the normal, healthy man there can be no harm of any kind.

"A 10-cent tin of Tuxedo contains about 40 pipefuls of tobacco. More comfort, more peace to the nerves, more recreation can be found in this quantity of Tuxedo than in a dozen high balls, cocktails or beers. The Tuxedo pleasure leaves the smoker in good condition; the use of alcohol sooner or later injures the user."

The ad writer then gave readers some background on Peters - placing him high in the Who's Who list of famous Americans of the day - while defining his position on tobacco products.

"A statement from a man of Dr. Peter's high intelligence and unquestioned position in the sociological world is of great importance," the ad writer said. "The doctor does not himself use tobacco; his views on the subject are impersonal and unprejudiced. To his mind, the problem is sociological, just as is the problem of the high cost of living, on which Dr. Peters is an authority."

Regarding his 1912 address to Tamaqua's senior class, meanwhile, the Courier reporter said Peters "cleverly played on words and witticism, but he never allowed his humor to mask the seriousness of his message. One bit of parting advice he gave graduates was to take advantage of special training or a "college course for everyone that can obtain it."

"The speaker advised the class and his audience as well, to specialize to determine what course in life each one is fitted for and stick at it for all he is worth; to be polite; and to work, work and keep on working," the Courier writer said.

A century later, those pearls of wisdom spoken by Tamaqua's commencement speaker still apply to our current graduates in 2012.

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