Growing up in Skowhegan during World War II was a time like no other.

Phyllis Chamberlain can attest to that.

“I can remember going on drives, looking for metal — for any piece of scrap metal,” she said. “It was for the war effort, to make ships, airplanes and other equipment.”

Chamberlain, 92, was sitting in her sunny Skowhegan kitchen Thursday with three fellow graduates from Skowhegan High School and Bloomfield Academy’s Class of 1947. They have been gathering monthly for more than 10 years to play cards, share lunch and reminisce. The group was larger at first, but has dwindled over time.

Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day and Chamberlain was cooking up a corned beef and cabbage dinner, with the aroma wafting through the country house as the group talked and laughed and spoke of old times.

Leona Sinclair, left, is assisted Thursday by Abby Provencher, center, and Babe Lowit during a monthly gathering for cards and lunch in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Abby Provencher, 91, also recalled people in Skowhegan foraging for scrap metal during the war, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.


“If we got anything, we’d bring it down to the Strand Theater and we’d see a movie, free,” she said. “My grandfather owned a lot behind the Catholic Cemetery and there was a big iron sink there. I can’t remember who helped me but we walked down to the theater with that big iron sink.”

In those days, people mixed up their own margarine, tossing a blob of color in to make it yellow, Babe Lowit recalled. Items were scarce and people used ration cards to buy things like gasoline, meat and sugar.

“You always knew a military service person who had extra coupons to get gas,” said Lowit, 91, now of Lewiston.

A retired math teacher at Brunswick High School, Billy Cockburn, 92, of Brunswick — and the only man in the group Thursday — was a baseball, basketball, football and track star in high school. He is the only male still alive from the Class of 1947, and believed to be one of only 13 class members left, according to Provencher, whose maiden name is Turcotte. Because he is the sole male, Cockburn gets special treatment when he leaves the monthly reunion.

“I get a doggy bag,” he said, to laughter from the women.

Having graduated from high school 75 years ago, he and the women wanted to show me some of their class memorabilia, which they placed on a table in Chamberlain’s sun room. There was a 1947 yearbook called the “Lever,” the program from their graduation on June 13 that year, a booklet commemorating their 50th class reunion and photographs.


Provencher, who lives in the same house in Skowhegan where she grew up, was a cheerleader in school. She brought her black and orange beanie cap and Skowhegan cheerleading letters.

“We wore a black sweater and the letters were sewn on the front of it,” she said.

The high school in 1947 was perched atop a long, slow hill overlooking the Kennebec River. The building is gone now, replaced by housing.

But Chamberlain, whose maiden name is Boynton, Provencher, Lowit and Cockburn remember the school days well. The girls wore saddle shoes, penny loafers and plaid “poodle” skirts, named as such because they had a poodle sewn onto the front. Everyone was a friend, students didn’t drink, take drugs or use curse words, and people listened to the radio or went to the movies for entertainment. They recalled only one classmate who owned a car.

“My parents were the first one to get a TV,” said Lowit, whose maiden name also is Turcotte though she and Provencher are not related. “Kids would look in our windows to watch it.”

Phyllis Chamberlain visits Thursday with her former classmates from the Skowhegan High School and Bloomfield Academy Class of 1947 during their monthly gathering for cards and lunch at Chamberlain’s home in Skowhegan. In the foreground is Billy Cockburn. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Social media was nonexistent. Chamberlain said people now serving in the military may stay in touch with family via social media, but during the war, communication was much different.


“If we heard from my brother once in a few months it was a miracle, and it was one of those censored letters that came by snail mail. Words were blacked out. We might not hear from him in two or three months and then we’d get three letters at a time.”

Some of their male classmates went off to serve in the war and returned to graduate, they said.

The day the war ended in 1945, under Harry Truman’s presidency, is forever etched in Provencher’s memory. She was ushering a show in the grandstand at the Skowhegan State Fair and it was announced over the loudspeaker.

“Fire trucks came up and blew their whistles,” she said. “It was just such a relief. There was a big, huge celebration during fair week.”

Provencher, Lowit, Cockburn, Chamberlain and her daughter, Leona Sinclair, who has been adopted by the monthly group, said they want to hold a 75th class reunion in June at Chamberlain’s home.

They encourage any classmates and their families who would like to join them to get in touch with Sinclair at Chamberlain said they hope to have a fun gathering.

“We’re in our 90s,” she said. “We don’t mind looking it, but we hate to act it.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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