The young men whose names are engraved on the plaques graduated from Cony High School and then they went off to war. They never came home except in the memories of their friends and families and in the names inscribed in brass and bronze. For years they hung at Cony, offering a reminder of all the school and the community had sacrificed.

The plaques were eventually lost to history and were relegated to a storage room.

Bring back the plaques, Kelsey Rohman believes, and maybe you can bring back the men.

“I don’t like the fact that they’re in this room, in a closet, collecting dust,” Rohman said. “I want to do it out of respect and honor for those people.”

Rohman, a senior at Cony, has spent the better part of this school year looking for someone who can help restore the three large plaques — two honoring World War I veterans, the third the veterans of World War II — but so far has run into brick walls. The people Rohman has talked to are willing to recreate the plaques, but none are willing to take on the restoration project.

“I’d really like to keep the ones we have,” Rohman said.

Cony social studies teacher Shawn Totman had no intention of sparking Rohman’s passion one day earlier in the year when he mentioned the plaques were stored in a room at the Capitol Area Technical Center, which is attached to the high school.

Totman, who has taught at the school for 17 years, most of which were spent in the old high school building on Cony Circle, remembered the plaques hanging in the flatiron building. They were taken down and put in storage in 2006 when the new school building opened on Pierce Drive.

“We were just talking about this in class,” Totman said. “I didn’t expect this to go anywhere, then she came to me and said, ‘Oh, I found it.’ I’m amazed she understood why it’s so important that they’re here.”

Rohman, too, recalled the first time she heard about the plaques.

“I thought, these men gave their lives and they’re not really being honored right now,” she said. “I was appalled to hear that. I thought it would be neat to bring them back and put them in the halls where they can be respected and honored as they should be.”

Rohman, who is on the student council, approached her fellow councilors with the idea of fixing and displaying the plaques. Her classmates and faculty advisor Dennis Dacus were excited about the idea.

“Some people didn’t even know we had plaques,” Rohman said. “We aren’t from the old Cony.”

Her next stop was the office of Principal Kim Silsby, who mapped out a plan for Rohman that included working with head custodian Keith Stockmar to see if the plaques could be hung and to find a suitable location.

Silsby also asked Rohman to research the cost of restoring the plaques, which have some damaged letters and stains. She has made several calls, but so far Rohman hasn’t found anyone willing to give her even a quote. Others have said the World War II plaque cannot be refurbished.

“What I’m trying to do, with the help of the student council and Ms. Silsby, is clean these plaques up,” Rohman said. “I really like the idea that they’re the originals.”

PLAQUES REMEMBERED

Cony graduate Gary Burns of Augusta recalls the plaques hanging at the old Cony building. A Vietnam War veteran who is retired as national service officer of Disabled American Veterans, he said the plaques were moved around from time to time but were always displayed.

Burns’ mother, Mary Burns, graduated from Cony in 1932. “Those were people that she knew,” Burns said.

There are fewer World War II veterans alive every day, which makes efforts to preserve their memory all the more important, Burns said.

“They’re almost gone,” he said. “That’s just a piece of history we don’t want to lose.”

Silsby said there is a renewed commitment to hang up other items stored in the room, including old photos and other plaques representing different people, eras and organizations that have passed through Cony. There is an ongoing process to hang or display the items in different parts of the building.

“Part of it is just figuring out what we’re going to do with some of this stuff,” Silsby said. “It’s just been a work in progress over time.”

Rohman surveyed the teachers to see where they would like the plaques to go.

“A lot of them said the hallways where they can be seen,” she said.

CARING FOR COMMUNITY

Totman said Rohman understands the importance of that history, not only to Cony, but to the city as a whole. Displaying the plaques can only heighten the sense of history and tradition at the school, Totman said. The plaques represent an important piece of that history that has been missing.

“I think it says a lot about her,” Totman said of Rohman. “Most young kids wouldn’t even consider taking on a project like this. Her level of interest says a lot about the high quality of young lady she is. She understands history is important, even in a new high school.”

Rohman said she learned that appreciation from her family.

Her grandfather, Theodore Rohman, spent 25 years in the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean seas during World War II. He died in 2011.

“Even if my grandfather didn’t die in World War II, I can still give back to the Cony community,” Rohman said. “I’m a part of it and they were a part of it.”

Rohman hopes to complete the project before graduating in June and heading off to the University of Maine at Farmington.

She thinks about the fact that she will graduate and leave for school at about the same age as the two generations of men who, some 100 and 70 years ago, graduated and went off to fight.

She said the push behind the restoration, besides giving back to the community, “I thought it really honored these people.”

Totman said Rohman has earned a healthy dose of the faculty’s respect throughout her four years at the high school. Her bid to restore the plaques is just the final exclamation point.

“We’re really proud of her,” Totman said. “It’s refreshing to see someone like this that cares so much for the school community.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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