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Christiansburg H.S. alumna creates memorial

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Larry and Clara Sowers, members of the Class of 1969 and the Class of 1973 respectively, read memorials created by fellow CHS alumna Debbie Martin. Clara Sowers started the idea of a memory table at the first CAR reunion prior to Debbie Martin taking over the responsibility. (Photo by Shelby Vasko)

CHRISTIANSBURG — Debbie Martin is known for her dedication to the Christiansburg Alumni Return reunion, an annual event held Saturday that attracted Christiansburg High School alumni of all ages.

Throughout the year, the Class of 1975 graduate combs obituaries for fellow CHS alumni and creates memorial scrapbooks.

She has compiled over 469 classmates and 74 faculty members who have died, spanning from 1912 to 2023 (she included a 9-year-old from Christiansburg who passed away).

‘This is a year long process. I have to check obituaries everyday to see if they attended a Christiansburg school. Thankfully, my friends know I do this and they update me,” said Martin, who works for the City of Winchester Department of Social Services. “When I find a new one, I research it online and add it to the file. It’s constantly updated.”

Split into decades, Martin organizes the classes into scrapbooks filled with memories and an accompanying display. She said the work is tedious. Once an obituary is posted, Martin takes the current year and subtracts the person’s age. She then adds 18 years to start the process of looking for their class year.

“It takes a lot of time to find the right year. I don’t want to mess it up,” Martin said.

If any alumni are omitted, she encourages loved ones to add their name and a memento.

“This family brought in a poem to remember them by. And this family just added the name right onto the display. I try hard not to forget anybody, but sometimes it’s hard,” Martin said.

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Debbie Martin shows off her donated cheerleading uniform from her days at CHS. (Photo by Shelby Vasko)

Regardless of the occasional missed obituary, Martin has received great praise over the work she has done.

“I’ve received awesome feedback,” Martin said. “Everybody thanks me for remembering their loved ones. I have sat and watched the emotions in the faces and I know I have done something good. I’ve seen tears, smiles and even laughter from a funny story shared on the board. I have received many, many thank yous, hugs and so much appreciation from families because their loved one is recognized.”

Martin said that this isn’t a project she felt obligated to undertake, but something she wanted to do to help the forgotten.

“I feel honored to do it – they were a part of us. Our friends and family. Lots of times people are forgotten over the years and I don’t want them to ever be forgotten,” Martin said.

 

Six years and counting

More than 200 alumni showed up for the Christiansburg Alumni Return, the 6th annual event that keeps CHS alumni of all ages connected.

Pam King, a 2014 CAR committee member, helped promote the silent auction.

“We had over $5,000 worth of donations in the silent auction. Every bit of the funds raised will be given out as scholarships. Every item was sold and we hit our goal of over $1,500,” King said.

In addition to creating a space for old friends to relive their youth and generating scholarships to give to Christiansburg students, CAR chooses educators and distinguished alumni to honor at each event.

The 2014 honored educators are Erma Jones, Jan Marks and Gary McCoy, as well as a distinguished alumna, Mary Ann Hinshelwood.

“Everybody loved Mrs. Marks,” said Debbie Martin, class of ’75.

Overall, the CAR’s goal of reuniting friends was a success.

“Did you ever hang out with your friend’s older sister? Or have somebody a couple years younger than you tag along? Well, then you weren’t just friends with your year’s class,” said Fran Hart, creator of CAR. “CAR has everybody from all classes coming together so friends of every class can see each other.”

 

– Shelby Vasko, communitynews@ourvalley.org

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