German exchange student returns for Pottsville High School 50th reunion

Aug. 11—POTTSVILLE — Though they may not have known it when they graduated from Pottsville High School 50 years ago, three women would choose similar paths in life — they all became teachers.

Deborah Shuman Reed spent 28 years as a history teacher and librarian at Pine Grove High School. Patricia Lord-Heffner taught second, third and fourth grades during a 35-year career in Pottsville schools. And Angelika Schmidt-Leib taught for 28 years in Grund Schule Wissmar, a primary school in Germany.

They're all going to the 50th reunion of the Class of 1973 on Saturday at the Pottsville Zone.

On Thursday, though, they enjoyed an impromptu get-together at the Schuylkill County Historical Society.

Schmidt-Leib, 67, who spent her senior year at Pottsville High as an American Friends Service exchange student, has come from her home near Frankfurt-Main in central Germany to attend the reunion. She's staying with Reed in Orwigsburg.

Together, they visited the historical society, where Lord-Heffner is a volunteer.

Five decades faded as the women, once more, were girls on the cusp of life.

Reed arranged for Schmidt-Leib to talk by phone to Miriam Wagner, who taught math at Pottsville.

Wagner taught her calculus, Schmidt-Leib recalled.

Most of all, though, she familiarized Schmidt-Leib with scientific terms. Her English was pretty good, Schmidt-Leib said, but she needed a little help in pronouncing scientific terms.

Lord-Heffner recalled how the girls wore white gowns to commencement, and boys wore red — apparently for the first time.

Though she graduated from Pottsville, Schmidt-Leib had to complete another year to graduate in Germany, where students attend school for 13 years.

She would go on to Justus Liebig University, where she earned a degree in primary school education.

Schmidt-Leib was 16 years old when she arrived in Pottsville in the fall of 1972, a guest of Claudia Davis' family on West Norwegian Street.

At the time, she lived in the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany. East and West Germany, divided after World War II, were reunited Oct. 3, 1990 — 11 months after the Berlin Wall was torn down.

She arrived in the U.S. last Friday, her first visit to Schuylkill County in 30 years. She's been here twice before, and, with her family, has visited the western part of the country in the 1990s.

A girl's gymnastics coach, Schmidt-Leib brought her team to a competition in North Carolina in 1986. Her teams have competed at the state level in Germany.

Schmidt-Leib and Reed, who were in the same homeroom, have visited Sweet Arrow Lake, the gift shop at D.G. Yuengling & Son Brewery and Pennsylvania Dutch country around Kutztown.

Pottsville Area High School looks pretty much the same as it did 50 years ago, Schmidt-Leib said, but there are noticeably fewer people on Centre Street.

Asked how she was affected by the time she spent as an exchange student at Pottsville High, Schmidt-Leib noted she has hosted exchange students from Chicago and Australia at her home in Germany, where she lives on a farm.

"I hope," she said, "being an exchange student has made me more open-minded than if I had stayed at home in Germany."

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