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Residents who grew up in New Holland village savor memories at reunion

POSTED: September 7, 2013 11:54 p.m.

Edwin Gilmer, left, talks Saturday with Willard Webb at the New Holland reunion.

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Reunions are a time for fellowship with people you haven’t seen in a long time and to reminisce about past events.

Former attendees of the original New Holland school and those who used to live in the New Holland village gathered Saturday at American Legion Paul E. Bolding Post 7 to do just that.

As people came through the doors and stepped into the dance hall where the crowd gathered, you saw handshakes, hugs, laughter and picture-taking.

“We’re losing so many of the older people now,” said Betty Sanders Burnett, organizer of Saturday’s reunion. “If we don’t get with them and show reverence to them now and listen to what they have to tell us, they’re going to be gone soon and we’re going to lose all that knowledge.”

Burnett said five generations of her family grew up in the same house in New Holland. She would give “anything” to be able to swing on a porch with her dad and listen to his stories.

The reunion started with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, which is how students there used to start the school day, Burnett said. As she remembered the school, Burnett remembered the Olympic-sized swimming pool, basketball courts, pool room and bowling alley it used to have.

“It was just paradise,” she said. “It was better than Disney World. We were free to play. We could swim in the pool. We had an auditorium that played movies.

“It was wonderful. You never had to worry about your kids. They were free to get out and roam. ... It’s just such a wonderful, free place to grow up. It’s as close to Eden as you’ll ever get.”

But Burnett said if students got into trouble at school, punishment doubled when they got home because teachers and parents all knew each other on a first-name basis.

Gerene Adams Cole started in the first grade at New Holland Elementary in 1956. She still lives in the Gainesville area, but her memories of New Holland and growing up there remain with her.

She said her favorite memories were playing basketball for New Holland and the Halloween carnivals.

“We had so much going on,” she said. “Of course, it’s a lot different today than it was back then. It was such fun.

“The kids stayed out late. They didn’t have to worry about being hurt. Nowadays, you can’t do that.”

Cole said the village as a whole made it a community-town. Her grandfather worked at the village barbershop. She said she remembered seeing a grocery store bus that came through the village once a week, which was how some people bought their groceries.

However, with the growth and development occurring in New Holland, Cole said it’s not hard for her to see it as a good thing for today’s time.

“It’s (the development of New Holland Marketplace) good for now. Back then, something like that would have been an atrocity,” she said. “Now, I think it will be good for that area because they need so much in that area now.

“They don’t have the stores. They don’t the barbershops. They don’t have the fire departments. They don’t have anything that we had when we were growing up. So naturally development is going to take care of all that.”

For Vic Wilson, author of the book “MilliKids: It Took a Mill to Raise a Village,” said he had a lot of fun growing up in the village during the 1950s and ’60s. He said his book’s stories come not just from him, but from others that grew up in the village with him.

He said his most vivid memory involved a neighbor who suffered from polio, but “her smile never left her face.”

Even though change is happening in New Holland, Wilson said he has his memories and friendships that will never fade.

“These people (at the reunion) aren’t just friends. This is family,” he said. “New Holland is not where we are from; it is who we are.”

Kenny Burnett said the biggest thing he remembers about New Holland is the gym.

“The gym was the anchor for New Holland,” he said. “That’s where everybody had most of their childhood memories at because we played ball at the gym. We did everything around the gym.

“Always something to do. Always a ball game going on, so it was just a really good childhood.”

Even amongst the growth and changes in the area, Burnett said his memories are still there when he drives by.


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