School dis­cov­ers a uni­form, its own­ers

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Jacque­line Palochko

In an un­oc­cu­pied room be­hind the Trexler Mid­dle School au­di­to­rium, un­der dust and for­got­ten sweaters in a tucked-away box, teach­ers found a mil­i­tary uni­form they as­sumed was a cos­tume.

Then they no­ticed a se­rial num­ber and the date 1918 on an in­side tag, and found a breast pocket note: “Mr. Lobach.”

A bit of re­search fleshed out the his­tor­i­cal record. Al­len­town res­i­dent James Franklin Lobach wore the uni­form dur­ing World War I, the teach­ers dis­cov­ered.

“It was in a corner of the room

that no one had touched for maybe 30 years,” said Mike Gur­di­neer, a sev­enth-grade math teacher. “It was in near-per­fect con­di­tion.”

Gur­di­neer and his fel­low teach­ers yearned for more in­for­ma­tion. Gur­di­neer en­listed his mother, Teresa Gur­di­neer, a town his­to­rian in up­state New York.

The quest un­cov­ered that Lobach had lived on nearby Green­leaf Street in Al­len­town. He never served over­seas dur­ing the war, in­stead work­ing in the 155th De­pot Brigade, head­quar­tered in Camp Up­ton, N.Y. The brigade re­ceived and or­ga­nized re­cruits and did train­ing.

His obit­u­ary in The Morn­ing Call says he died in 1977, at age 86. The obit­u­ary notes that Lobach, who worked as car sales­man, “was an Army vet­eran of World War I.”

The teach­ers found the uni­form on an in-ser­vice day while clean­ing a room that will be used as a lounge for stu­dents re­warded for good be­hav­ior. The room had be­come a bit of a dump­ing ground over the years, they said. While clean­ing it, they also found sweaters and shirts from the 1970s.

The World War I uni­form was def­i­nitely the old­est item they un­cov­ered.

“It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever found in Trexler,” said Re­becca Hann, an eighth-grade teacher for the school’s English lan­guage learn­ers.

The teach­ers wanted to make sure the uni­form was re­turned to the right­ful fam­ily. Mean­while, they kept it in the room where they found it — and largely kept quiet about it.

But Matt Suder, an eighth­grade so­cial stud­ies teacher, was ex­cited to tell his stu­dents, who were shocked at the news.

“They’re amazed that it’s 100 years old and it’s been hid­ing here,” Suder said.

Gur­di­neer tracked down an email ad­dress for Lobach’s grand­son, Jeff Lobach, who lives in York with his wife, Cindy. The cou­ple’s re­sponse to his email was al­most in­stant.

Jeff Lobach was al­ready in pos­ses­sion of his grand­fa­ther’s dress uni­form from World War I. As a child, he would of­ten dress up in it.

But he didn’t know a se­cond uni­form ex­isted. While Jeff Lobach had a close re­la­tion­ship with his grand­fa­ther, the elder Lobach didn’t talk much about World War I.

Af­ter James Franklin Lobach was drafted, he served at a base in New Jersey, Jeff Lobach said. Years later, the fam­ily found wartime let­ters in­di­cat­ing he hadn’t been thrilled about be­ing drafted.

Jeff Lobach finds it for­tu­itous the uni­form was re­turned to the fam­ily on the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I.

“My grand­fa­ther must have been very re­lieved about 100 years ago,” Jeff Lobach said.

Cindy and Jeff Lobach value the fam­ily’s mil­i­tary his­tory. In ad­di­tion to his grand­fa­ther’s serv­ing in World War I, Jeff Lobach’s fa­ther, James Franklin Lobach Jr., en­listed in the Navy dur­ing World War II and served in the South Pa­cific.

The Lobachs have de­voted a room in their house to the fam­ily’s mil­i­tary his­tory. The relics in­clude the World War I uni­form the fam­ily al­ready pos­sessed, World War II pis­tols and cap­tured Ja­panese weapons.

Cindy Lobach vis­ited Trexler Mid­dle School on Mon­day to bring the uni­form back to the fam­ily. It will be dis­played next to the World War I dress uni­form, Jeff Lobach said.

“It’s just a very serendip­i­tous se­ries of co­in­ci­dences,” Jeff Lobach said. “It was re­ally great that the school went through the trou­ble of find­ing the fam­ily.”

The Lobachs re­mained in Al­len­town un­til af­ter World War II, when Jeff Lobach’s fa­ther moved to York for a job with Beth­le­hem Steel, ac­cord­ing to his obit­u­ary from 2008.

How the uni­form ended up in a box at Trexler Mid­dle School, which was built in 1968, is un­known.

The teach­ers spec­u­late it could have come in dur­ing a show-and-tell, or per­haps as a prop for a play.

“It will for­ever re­main a mys­tery,” Gur­di­neer said.

COUR­TESY OF JEFF LOBACH

A World War i uni­form be­long­ing to James Franklin Lobach of Al­len­town was dis­cov­ered at Trexler Mid­dle School.

COUR­TESY OF CONCHETTA MARUCCI

A group of Trexler Mid­dle School teach­ers dis­cov­ered a World War I uni­form while clean­ing an un­oc­cu­pied room. They were able to re­turn the uni­form to its wearer’s grand­son.

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