By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
It’s been 40 years since the class of 1982 graduated from Centralia College and though the college is now closed, the graduates’ memories are alive and well and were shared at a reunion held April 2.
“I look back and those were only two years of our lives but it was a unique time for farming. I came from Bruce County and then I was in Exeter where they had eight-row corn planters!! Now, 40 years later, so much has changed again!” exclaims Andy Magwood, who got the whole reunion idea started two years ago.
“It has not been an easy road,” admits Magwood, describing the planning involved in organizing a reunion. The pandemic made it difficult for the committee to meet and finding graduates was a whole task in itself.
“There were 112 students total for our year and we managed to get e-mails for 99 of them. We’ve made contact with all of them but four,” says Janice Van Osch, who studied food services management back in 1982. She’s the secretary and registrar for the Centralia Reunion Committee along with her husband, Morris Van Osch, who studied Agriculture Business Management. The two met at Centralia and are still married and farming together in Grey County.
Centralia College opened in 1967 under the direction of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and educated students interested in food and farming until 1994 when it was closed due to government cutbacks.
It was a great time for many students, including Ron Bumstead, Centralia Reunion Committee chair and 1982 graduate from the Agriculture Business Management course. “I grew up on a dairy farm near Owen Sound and it was a little far north and maybe sheltered from life’s realities. When I went to Centralia, I met a lot of new people and it really taught me how to get along with people … how to fit in.”
Bumstead had grown up playing sports but in Centralia, he met kids who’d grown up doing 4-H and from them he learned how to class cattle. The courses themselves gave him an opportunity to learn more about running a farm. “Not everybody went to college in those days. For those of us that did, I think we were looking for something better … we were trying to improve ourselves.” He remembers having maybe too much free time when classes were done at three or four in the afternoon compared to life on a dairy farm. “That led to some hijinks, I guess, but the good part was sitting around talking to the other kids. I think I learned as much from them as I did from the courses just by listening to what they did on their farms and what worked for them.”
Bumstead is excited to reconnect with classmates, some of whom he has not seen for 40 years. “It will be interesting to see how their life developed and what they accomplished.” Being on the committee already gave him a taste of how it will go. “It was really special to work with them and despite the obstacles, no one ever lost their enthusiasm.”
Magwood agrees. “I’m looking forward to rekindling all those memories and being able to talk about our ‘glory years’ for a bit.”
When he thinks back on his years at Centralia, he went there with the intention of bringing back new ideas to the family farm – Magwood Family Farms near Hanover, which he now farms with his brother since their parents retired. “Centralia had a unique program with something called the farm project. It was a big deal. You went to a project farm and learned everything about that farm. You took down all the information, studied that farm and then made recommendations about crops or livestock or finances or anything else.”
Centralia was a small school and very affordable, says Maureen Kelly-Barclay who is the social media manager for the committee. She studied Animal Health Technology back in 1982. “It was a small college. Kind of like high school for a lot of people,” she recalls. “It was heavily subsidized by the government in those days and cost me $1,500 a year. And that included the room, a meal plan and the course!” She says her kids laugh at how inexpensive it was compared to the cost of education today.
It was all women who took the course back then and trying to find them all, most with changed names after they married, was quite an endeavour. “I never could have done it without social media. I found 31 of the 32 grads and I had to be a little bit of a detective. Some I found via their parent’s obituary listings. I did a lot of looking up on 411 and made a lot of cold calls. I phoned veterinary clinics and hospitals and lots of places of employment, trying not to be too creepy.”
Along the way, Kelly-Barclay did a little survey and discovered that only four graduates stayed in the animal health field as veterinary assistants. Most of her classmates went back to school for something else, with the majority of those turning to nursing since jobs in human health paid a lot more than jobs in animal health.
“It’s too bad because the job was exciting and fast-paced but you had the responsibility and stress without the pay (of nurses or hospital workers),” she said.
Kelly-Barclay worked five years as a veterinary technician before taking nine years off to have children. Then she went back part time for seven years before becoming a speech and language pathology assistant which she worked at for 11 years before retiring.
She can’t wait to meet everyone and see what they look like! “Last time we were all together we rocked shoulder pads and mullets and now we have bifocals and orthotics,” she laughs. “But you know what? Mullets are coming back in and so are shoulder pads… we were trendsetters!”
There were lots of laughs at school, remembers Van Osch. While her best memory is meeting her husband Morris at school she treasures the “good friendships with good people” she made at school. Many girls did not leave the campus as the school had a good plan and there was a little kitchen to cook meals. She was good friends with a bunch of girls who called themselves the B3 Bathroom buddies.
She recalls a class trip to Toronto in November 1982, where the FSM class stayed at the Royal York Hotel, watched a ballet (which wasn’t their choice but they ended up loving) and then supper at Benihana of Tokyo, which was cooked right in front of them.
She also has good memories of past teachers and recalls being invited to their homes for Christmas parties. It was a close-knit community of students and teachers, says Van Osch. She also put her education to good use, working as a dietary aid in hospitals before becoming a supervisor of various hospitals and nursing homes in Grey County. She currently works at hospitals in Kincardine and Chesley as the environmental supervisor.
Bumstead credits Van Osch’s “doggedness” for being able to contact as many graduates as they did. ◊