Life on East Foster

by Tom Reyburn

We moved into a brick house on East Foster Avenue in 1968.  A few weeks after we moved, my younger brother, Bret, was born.  My parents, Jerry & Helene Reyburn, bought the house from a formidable-looking (at least to my four-year-old self), retired school teacher named Miss Demming. Miss Demming’s front porch was an informal collection point for the Salvation Army, and, for years afterwards, we would find donations on our front porch.  

The area now known as “The Highlands” never went by that name when I lived there from 1968-1978; a neighbor, however, once told me it had been called “Carpenter’s Hill.”  Our house was within walking distance to campus, and Dad could walk to his 4H/Extension Service office in Borland Lab.  Sometimes he would bring home Hi-Way Pizza from the shop along Garner Street now occupied by Bar Bleu.  KFC was located where Baby’s is now, and Mom took us there as a treat when Dad was traveling.

The house had a brick fireplace which we used often – especially on Christmas morning when we weren’t allowed downstairs until Dad had the fire going in the fireplace.  There were French doors between the hall and the living room, and the upstairs linen closet had the novelty of a jack for a second phone.  The attic was unfinished, and two staircases led up to where I had a table for model trains, holiday decorations were stored, and the makings for Halloween costumes were to be found.  The basement was also unfinished, but Dad and Lou Geschwindner manhandled a pool table down there, and it became a room where neighborhood kids hung out.  A large oil-fired boiler dominated Dad’s work room and heated water for the cast iron radiators in the upstairs rooms.  Mom kept home-canned vegetables in the small room behind the basement laundry area. 

The large front porch was a place to play when it was raining or to sit out in during the summer evenings when we could hear music coming from the Arts Festival on Old Main lawn.  Sometimes we were allowed to “sleep out” on the front porch.

The Reyburn Boys Then

Our yard had a large maple tree for climbing in the back and a pear tree in the side yard.  Years afterwards, I remember driving by the house in the fall and seeing that the maple tree leaves were still turning the brilliant flaming orange I remembered when we lived there.  There was a large garden area back by the brick garage.  There was a rose arbor in the middle of the back yard.  Bachelor’s buttons, poppies, and other flowers grew in a bed along the perimeter.  A large lilac grew along the alley next to the brick one-car garage.

Large elm trees formed a tunnel over the 400 block of Foster Avenue, making a shady area to play and ride bikes on the sidewalk. The Geschwindners lived on the other side of us.  Around the time of the US bicentinnial, Lou Geschwindner acquired a giant 48-star ship’s flag.  A rope was strung from high up in one of the elm trees to a second story of his house to suspend the flag that almost touched the ground.  Like my family, the Geschwindners eventually moved to a larger house but stayed in State College as their family grew.

With the university, neighbors came and moved on.  There were only three of us from my kindergarten class who graduated from State High together – Roz Pierce on Fairmount was one of the other two.  Dr. Stuart Frost was our next-door neighbor, and I shoveled his sidewalk all winter for $5 while the Frosts went to live in Florida at Archibald Research Station.  On several occasions, I was invited into his study to look at his insect collection that lined the walls (what did his wife think?) and later became the nucleus of the Frost Entomological Museum’s collection.  A stately grandfather clock presided over the hallway outside his office, chiming the hours and state of the sun and moon.  Dr. Frost learned that I had an interest in performing magic tricks and gave me some of his collection of props telling me that he used to make the silk handkerchiefs appear and disappear during his lectures just to make sure his students were paying attention.

Across the street lived the Brinkman family.  They didn’t have a television, but on the night of 20 July 1969, they all came to our house. Greta and Anton wore their pajamas, to watch Neil Armstrong step on the moon.  The neighborhood kids bounced out of tree houses for weeks afterwards yelling, “One small step for man, one giant leap!”

The Brinkmans bought a farm outside of town.  Before they could get moved, they bought goats.  Somehow, borough authorities found out, and an Animal Control Officer was dispatched to investigate.  But there were never goats to be found.  The goats spent the next week being shuffled between various backyards across the street in a game of Three-Goat-Monty to the consternation of and unbeknownst to the town authorities, but to the great amusement of the neighbors.

Chauncey Lang lived on Fairmount and was involved in hiring Dad at Penn State.  Mr. Lang was the State College Mayor for a time.  He and Dad were members of a deer hunting camp for many years with other Ag and Extension agents.

Mr. Schlow, who founded the library, lived a block away. My folks and I rented a garden plot from him near his home.  One day, Mr. Schlow invited me and my parents into his home to see his personal library.  He showed me his intriguing copy of Gulliver’s Travels. Part 1: A Voyage to Lilliput was a micro-sized book while Part 2:  A Voyage to Brobdingnag was a giant atlas-sized book.

My dad coached biddy soccer in Fairmount Park.  There was a high fence along the alleyway to keep soccer balls from hitting the Seibels’ house and baseballs from going through their windows.  Dad was an NCAA soccer referee and worked diligently in the early 1970’s to establish Biddy Soccer in State College for both boys and girls in a time when soccer was a relatively obscure youth sport in the US.  When Dad died in 2016, I received a note from the parents of one of his early players telling me how he had inspired their daughter to play soccer through the collegiate level.

The Jawbone coffee shop was at the limit of where we kids were allowed to roam.  Occasionally, Dad would take me down to hear a performer.  I remember large crowds in the Jawbone’s parking lot and alleyway gathered to hear bands play folk music.

The Utechins lived across the street on the corner.  He loved books and was often seen walking down the sidewalk, reading a book, and pulling a cart with his groceries.  Although I never saw it, Mom was given a tour of his basement library, which was entirely filled with thousands books.  He always seemed to be the first person in line at the AAUW book sale.  

The apartments along Beaver Avenue had yet to be built, so on home football weekends we could hear the roar of the crowd and know that something significant had happened at Beaver Stadium.  When Interstate 80 opened, the Goodyear Blimp came to town.  The backyards were more open than the tree-lined street, and after dark we would sit out back and listen for the blimp to come within view to see it light up with stick-figure illustrations of field goal kicks, cars on the new highway, and scrolling words.  

The flooding rains of Hurricane Agnes (June/July1972) hit Pennsylvania while we lived on Foster Avenue.  For good or bad, I spent most of that rained-out period with the chicken pox.  I do remember Alpha Fire engines being called to pump out basements on our block, but our basement was dry for the most part.  Dad was at a state 4H camp near Indian Caverns and marooned by flooded creeks with several hundred kids from around the state.  In the end, Penn State got busses through, and many of the 4Her campers were housed in campus dorm rooms for the summer until the floodwaters subsided and they could get home.

The Reyburn Boys Now
The Reyburn Boys Now

My brother and I both walked to Fairmount elementary school.  This meant walking past the many fraternity houses along the way.  Homecoming floats were prepared in their yards in the fall; fraternity walks went un-shoveled of their winter snow over the holidays.  Towards the end of school there were water balloons were lobbed from balconies on unwary walkers.  At the end of classes, alleyways became a boon of lumber to be dragged home and turned into tree forts. Discarded student curiosities were scrounged as prizes.  

In 5th and 6th grade, my friend Wally Avis and I were crossing guards at the corner of Locust Lane and Fairmount Avenue.  Wearing our white belts and badges, we arrived early and stayed until the younger walkers were all across the street.

We lived in the house until 1978, when we moved to College Heights.  This past summer my brother, Bret, came to visit. We drove through our old neighborhood – now called “The Highlands.”  We had to stop in front of our old house to pose for his son to take our photo.

Tom Reyburn graduated from SCAHS and earned a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from PSU.  He served as a civilian and was posted in Hawaii, Australia, Japan, England, New Mexico, and Virginia managing federal facilities, personnel, and contracts.  The Tom and his wife, Kari (Holter), now reside in Boalsburg.  Bret Reyburn and his family live near Indianapolis, as does their mom, Helene.