FONTANA — For three members of the Fontana Elementary School’s 1964 graduating class, 50 years doesn’t seem that long ago.
All three remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot.
Janet Alley said she had gone to the school office “for something I don’t remember” and when she came back to her classroom, everyone was sitting in silence.
“That’s when I found out,” she said. “I could tell the teachers were kind of struggling with how to tell us about him getting killed. It surprised me when I learned, later in life, that he was shot at 1 p.m. I always thought it was in the morning that we found out in school.”
Though their memories are crisp of JFK’s assassination, Alley, Tom Stelling and Robert Muth can’t remember where their class buried a time capsule in 1964.
“I thought we buried it with some new pine trees, toward the back of the school,” Muth said.
When his class buried the capsule, the school building was smaller.
“There were three pine trees, I remember,” he said.
The three had remembered the time capsule at a recent Big Foot High School reunion and decided to try to find it.
Oct. 6, the three met with metal detectors and shovels. They found one of the three pine trees that Muth remembered.
When building on to the school, Muth said it was probably necessary to bring down the pine trees that were near the capsule.
Their metal detectors started beeping.
“I’m not sure if it’s metal, though,” Alley said. “It might have been glass. We didn’t have a lot of plastic back then, so it wasn’t plastic. I can’t remember.”
Stelling and Muth were walking slowly through the woods that line the playground on the south side of the school, when first and second graders ran out for recess.
“What are you doing?” the students asked.
Stelling told them that he had gone to the same school a long time ago. To the students, 50 years ago might as well have been a million years.
“When we (Muth, Alley and himself) were here, in eighth grade, we buried a time capsule,” Stelling said. “We buried it back here somewhere. Now we’re trying to find it.”
Muth said when he brought up the time capsule at the Big Foot reunion, most of the Fontana students didn’t remember it.
“There were only four of us that remembered burying the time capsule,” he said. “One of our classmates said she remembered us putting it in a wall in the building. I didn’t remember that. I just remember the three new pine trees that we buried it near.”
While they were walking through the trees, more memories came out of the woods.
Alley remembered Curt Hubertz being Santa Claus every year, and then his son doing the same.
“It’s right over this hill, that used to be the way to his house,” Alley said.
Muth said one of his teachers, as part of a joke, sent him and classmates outside in October to look for bird eggs. “He was so aggravated with us over something,” Muth said.
And more about JFK.
“I sent Jackie Kennedy a letter, when JFK died,” Alley said. “I got this little card in response. I remember looking at it and seeing there was no stamp. Of course, Jackie Kennedy didn’t need a stamp.”
Alley said she also sent a letter to the Kennedy family when Bobby Kennedy was killed in 1968.
“I got another card from that, too,” she said. “It was so surprising to get something back. They get so many letters, and they sent something back to me.”
Alley said she still has the cards.
Capsule lost forever?
After some searching and more talking to curious students, the three alumni weren’t able to find the time capsule.
Alley suggested they get their classmates to look through old diaries to find a note of the capsule’s hiding place.
That’s not the only time capsule buried by Fontana students.
Behind the elementary school sits a time capsule from 1992 that was unearthed in 2012.
It’s a concrete, boat-shaped capsule, full of carvings done by the classmates who buried it.
Fontana music teacher Mark Wenzel was administrator when the capsule was unearthed.
“In the spring of 2012, I asked the head custodian, Dale Coss, to carefully open the top to see how the contents had survived the past 20 years,” Wenzel said. “What we found was a very wet, black plastic bag that had deteriorated. Everything was wet and full of mold.”
Wenzel said the items were spread out to dry and then examined by the art teacher, Sybil Klug, who had helped the students bury it in 1992.
“Mrs. Klug did come into inspect its contents when it dried out,” he said. “At that time, we felt that nothing could (or) should be saved.”