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Very last Ashby High grad has diploma put on display

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ASHBY — A former Townsend resident, and the last official recipient of a diploma from the now-defunct Ashby High School, has the honor of seeing his diploma go on display at the Ashby Historical Society.

John Wilder graduated in 1971, part of the last class ever to pass through the Ashby school. He was also last person to receive his diploma, due to his last name beginning with the letter W.

Wilder truly did receive the last-ever diploma from Ashby High.

“Sometimes it’s good to be at the end of the alphabet,” he said.

The diploma was given to the Historical Society by Wilder at the annual Ashby Alumni Dinner, a joint reunion for all of the classes, held at the Maya Hall late last week.

John Mickola, secretary of the alumni association, said some 93 people attended the dinner.

“That includes some spouses of graduates, but we always have a good turnout,” he said.

Mickola said Ashby joined the North Middlesex Regional School District the following school year.

“The town voted to join the regional district with Townsend and Pepperell after 1971 and it’s been that way ever since,” he noted.

“The first class to graduate from Ashby High was in 1899, and the last in 1971. That’s quite a history,” Mickola said.

He noted that the graduating class of 1956, marking their 50th year beyond high school, had 11 graduates and six attended the event.

“There were six that were able to get together for the celebration. We have one big evening for everyone, not one per class. That’s how Ashby is,” Mickola said.

He said graduates from as far away as Seattle, Texas and Canada made the trip.

“We always try to have it on the Saturday around Father’s Day; that way people can plan on it. We’ve been having the reunion since 1936, so we’ve been celebrating for 70 years,” Mickola said.

Mickola said the Ashby High “wall of fame” has been well received.

“We recognize someone who has done things to benefit the town, Mickola said. “One year we dedicated part of the wall to Waino Pernaa, who graduated from the high school. He served as an Ashby selectman in the 1940s, was on the building committee for the new school in the 1950s, and was also principal of the high school. If he were still alive, he would now be 100 years old.”

Mickola said when Pernaa retired in the 1960s, he planted Christmas trees on his property. Every year, his family donates one of the trees to the USS Constitution in Charlestown.

Wilder said he has fond memories of attending Ashby High, and seven of the eight children in his family went through the same school.

“It was the kind of high school that everyone knew everyone, no matter what grade you were in. It was small and friendly, and having my diploma on display is quite special,” Wilder said.

The oldest living graduate of Ashby High is Cynthia Wilder Foster, who resides in Brockton.

Wilder said they are related, and that Cynthia is either 99 or 100 years old now.

Wilder said he is pleased to see his diploma being put on display.

“It is quite the honor to be the final person to get a diploma, and I was very happy to give it to them to display,” Wilder said.

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