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In the oft-quoted phrase of that anonymous idiot: “A great time was had by all!”
Preparations were superb—I don’t know how any class could top the nametags, CDs, handouts, etc., put together by members of the reunion committee (see photos, below—click to enlarge). For me, the Red Barn choice for a crew of our size (about 100) equalled—if not surpassed—Longshore (25th) and the Patterson Country Club (35th and 40th).
To set the stage for those of you who could not attend, here was the schedule:
- Icebreaker, Sheraton Four Points (Norwalk). Friday, 8/12, 7:30pm to …
- Dinner banquet, Red Barn Restaurant. Saturday, 8/13. Cocktails: 6:30pm. Dinner: 7:30pm.
- Bring-your-own picnic, Compo Beach. Noon-ish… (“when sight and hearing kick in…”)
The cost was $45 per person for the three-day event. A bargain! And the committee had pre-arranged group rates at two or three local hotels: The Sheraton Four Points, Marriott Courtyard and Norwalk Inn, if memory serves. Ronnie and I got a room for three nights at $65/night, representing about 40% of regular pricing!
The following classmates (alphabetical order)signed up and contributed—each in their own way—to putting this 50th anniversary reunion together:
- Noel Castiglia
- Jacee McCluckie Clark
- Cliff (formerly George) Clifford (Reunion Rag editor)
- Vince DePierro (MC, subbing for Don vonLiebermann)
- Sue Kline Fiore
- Marie Papagno Gilbertie
- Sue Bannon Riordan
- Tom Saviano
- Bette Clark Sedgwick
- Judy Gault Sterling (reluctant chairwoman)
In addition, the following classmates volunteered greatly welcome assistance in assembling nametags and serving as “registrars” for the event:
- Gail (Armitage) Heath
- Pat (Ellis) Davis
Awaiting classmate arrival at the “registration table” were materials put together by members of the reunion committee:
- Nametag. An amazing, individualized, plastic-covered badge to be worn around the neck displaying the classmate name and yearbook photo (see photo of Gail, Tom and Pat, below). Design engineer: Tom Saviano. Manufacturing staff: Gail and Pat.
- Old Favorites CD arranged by Ed Baer (remember Ed?), edited by Tom Saviano.
- Reunion Rag. The latest tome by yours truly, this time 24 pages in living color and GBC-bound (60 of these booklets later, my HP Deskjet was toast…).
- Clippings. Photocopied pages of the old Westport Town Crier from 1955, featuring writeups of college plans, wedding announcements and sports news of fellow classmates.
The following journeyed—some from far and wide—to reconnect (after first reading nametags…) with classmates from long ago (Eh!… what’s that you say, Bub…? What was your name again…?”):
|50th Reunion Attendees|
|Anastasia, John||Annette, wife|
|Armitage, Gail||Jack Heath, husband|
|Banks, Chuck||Susan, wife|
|Bannon, Suzanne||Dave Riordan, husband|
|Basta, Deanna||Ken Bugan, husband|
|Bennett, Bud||Joan, wife|
|Bullard, Geoffrey||Female guest|
|Campbell, Happpy||Dave Van Sickle, husband|
|Castiglia, Noel||Ann, wife|
|Clifford, Cliff||Ronnie, wife|
|DeMattia, Gloria||Ken Ostenberg, husband|
|Gault, Judy||George Sterling, husband|
|Giannitti, Ted||Maria, wife|
|Gilbertie, Anthony||Diane, wife|
|Helferich, Sue||Bob Winslow, husband|
|Hesse, Carol||John Marsland, husband|
|Keehan, Mary Jane||Fran Hanley, husband|
|Kent, Bruce||Katie, wife|
|Kline, Sue||Anthony Fiore, husband|
|Koons, Judy||Vernon Goldberg, husband|
|Leopold, John||Ruth, wife|
|Malkin, Gary||Susan, daughter|
|Malone, Ron||Carol, wife|
|MacAlarney, Marianna||Joe Renzulli, husband|
|McCluckie, Jacee||Frank Clark, husband|
|Meguire, Terry||Steve Valliant, husband|
|Mills, Homer||Kathleen, wife|
|Needham, Nancy||George Merrill, husband|
|Ornstein, Robert||Linda, wife|
|O’Sullivan, Stephen||Peggy, wife|
|Papagno, Marie||Sal Gilbertie, husband|
|Rippe, Mary Jane||Fred Comfort, husband|
|Ruckert, Dave||Suzanne, wife|
|Sadtler, Mary Field|
|Seagle, Gale||Peter Brown, husband|
|Smith, Tyler||Averil, wife|
|Soderlund, Walt||Nanci, wife|
|Speidel, Linda||Tom Hanley, husband|
|Walker, Leann||Randy Enos, husband|
|Walton, Bob||Terry, wife|
|Wardell, Bill||Hilary, wife|
Altogether 59 classmates planned to attend (most with spouses), with four no-shows (OMG! OMG! 55 classmates attend the 50th reunion of the class of ’55! It’s a sign! It’s a sign…!): Mary Ann Dennert, Dick Fitzgerald (marriage plans—where are his priorities…?), Bob Jones and Fraser Smith. And so 55 of us loyal souls, “dressed to the nines” (what in hell does that mean, anyway…?), showed up after 50 years to…
Roll back the years and be young for the night…!”
Friday night at Sheraton Four Points
Since this was the first meeting for many of us in at least five years, it was kind of exciting to be driving up to the hotel on Route 7 in anticipation of meeting classmates of yore. (Route 7, for us, had changed almost to the point of non-recognition.)
Although nowhere near as grand as the Sheraton website would suggest (see photos below), it turned out, nevertheless, to be adequate for the icebreaker, and for those who stayed there—one of two elevators disabled notwithstanding. As Ronnie (my wife) and I entered the tiny lobby just about 7:30pm, I immediately noticed two vaguely familiar faces on the sofa: Gail (Armitage) Heath, in from PA, and Pat (Ellis) Davis, in from running things down in the nation’s capitol.
The icebreaker was held in the bar on the ground floor just off the lobby. It was a two-room setup: a bar area w/ cocktail-style high tables and, off to the side of the bar, a larger dining area. Even with a handful of locals at the bar, the place was big enough for our affair. My guess is that 50 or 60 people showed up to reconnect with old friends. We kept the bartender busy.
After a pandemonious (probably not a word) hour or so, a few classmates ordered dinner right there in the dining room. One snippet of conversation I will not soon forget. A late-arriving Bruce Kent—wife, Katie, in tow—showed up looking a little lost. By way of explaining why he was late, I recall him asking me: “Why are we here in Norwalk? When did we ever come to Norwalk in high school? We might have ordered drugs from Norwalk, but they delivered, didn’t they…?”
A hit by any measure! Perfect setting at the Red Barn restaurant, perfect atmosphere. And the dinners (salmon and prime rib(?)) seemed to suffer no loss in quality despite having to serve 100 of them!
Pulling into the parking lot right off the Merritt, I spotted Chuck Banks and wife, Susan. Walking over to greet them, we spotted Bob Walton and wife, Terry, just pulling in. I had the Reunion Rags tucked under my arm in a box (Ronnie and I had visited Deanna and her husband, Ken, that afternoon in their hotel room at the Sheraton where the four of us stuffed about 50 Rags and updates into catalogue envelopes, each with a class name on it), and we all chatted briefly while Bob opened the trunk of his car and pulled out a gum ball machine. In the excitement of seeing old pals again (Chuck and Bob) I saw nothing remarkable about being shown a gumball machine a classmate had brought to our 50th reunion. Worked for me.
Entering the restaurant I breathed a sigh of relief as I read the sign on the door: “Casual Dress”. Whew. I had forgotten to pack shoes for the event and was hoping no one would notice my sneakers…! Many of the guys came dressed in jacket and tie, but many came to the event, like me, sporting only a jacket and polo shirt. The gals, of course, were all dressed to the nines!
Inside the barn-like structure (I think it just might have been a barn at one time…!) we headed toward the rear—toward the function room, passing a few regular patrons on our left: eight or 10 tables. The Red Barn staff seem ready, willing and able to handle both regular diners and functions like ours without breaking a sweat.
As we walked in classmates were already waiting in line at the “registration” table Tom Saviano had arranged for us (see photo, below). And there, as eager as two volunteers at a Blue Ridge mountain county sherrif’s runoff election, sat Gail (Armitage) Heath and Pat (Ellis) Davis (see photo, below) all ready to check ’em in and hand out reunion badges. Somewhat embarrassed at classmates arriving before I was there with the Reunion Rag booklets, my discomfort oddly disappeared after about a dozen vodkas…
As scheduled, cocktails lasted about an hour, with wait staff circulating, delivering drinks at $6 a pop (if you do the math, that’s about $100 profit a fifth!). Not a glass was empty for more than two minutes. People found seats in the main (function) room, that also featured a dance floor when needed.
Dinner was then served and the persistent background buzz of 50 animated conversations made it difficult for some even to hear the classmate across the six- or eight-seat table.
Following dinner there were the traditional speeches from members of the reunion committee and from Bob Walton, former class president. Since Don VonLieberman, our traditional MC, had been missing in action for some time (see below), committee members prevailed upon Vinny DePierro to stand in. Later explaining his initial reluctance to me, he said that come 9:00pm Saturday night he had earnestly held plans of being face down in a martini…
Prior to Vinny’s gig, we were entertained by remarks from Bob Walton about the declining quality, character and civility of American life, followed by a page out of the life of Abe Lincoln during the Civil War. Actually it was four pages. Very interesting in another venue, perhaps, but difficult to hear for some of us in the back room, as the background buzz never seemed to let up.
In addition we heard from Homer (Larry) Mills who led a moment of silence for the passing of former reunion committee chair, Diane Bertasi (see Deceased).
Finally, we all smiled in anticipation of a few well-timed, well-aimed, and perhaps, well-deserved barbs as Vinny took the microphone. We were not disappointed. After kudos to the reunion committee for a remarkable effort, he congratulated Noel for the longest “resume” to appear in the Rag and sent Vinny zingers to a couple of others. I couldn’t quite hear over the noise. In closing, he urged us all to sign a get well card for Don Von, promising to deliver it in person at the hospital in Stamford during his next visit.
Something many of us first learned at the reunion: Don had begun to suffer from a “bleeding on the brain” disorder a year or more ago. When the surgeon went in to relieve the bleeding, Don had a stroke which left him paralyzed on one side. He’s been a patient at a Stamford hospital ever since, on occasion coming home for a weekend. (This account comes from Bruce Kent who went to see him on Saturday. Noel visits from time to time when in Westport, and Vinny visits Don practically every week.)
So, having signed Don’s card and bade farewells, we all made our way out of the restaurant to find our cars and head back to motels. Some planned to stay the night and meet up at Compo the next day but most (I believe) planned to head home on Sunday. Of course, a few of us staying at the Sheraton (Deanna and Rick Beck and Bruce Wilson who was staying elsewhere but who joined us anyway) were happy, as I was, to do our collective part to keep the Sheraton bartender company until closing time (it must be a lonely occupation…), whilst we remembered Mike Sutton, the Westnor and high school high jinks, generally, the way classmates do 50 years removed…
Gathering around noon at Compo (having spent the waking hours dealing with the jackhammer in my head, I have no idea when classmates first began arriving at the beach), someone had staked out a place near the cannon with a table and large umbrella (not sure who brought them).
During the time Ronnie and I were there, we counted about 50 or so people. Too numerous to mention here, you can almost identify everyone from the photos (see Reunion photo pages).
We visited with many, not even pretending to catch up on 50 years. We sat for a spell chatting with Vinny. We saw Noel showing pictures of his ancestors, going backward through the generations (it was as he approached the time of Hannibal’s invasion that I wandered off…). Over shoulders seated at the picnic table (Deanna and Heather and Judy and Linda seated) we looked at photos of us as kids in elementary school, guessing the identity of this one or that one who’d peeled off from the pack somewhere in the long ago.
And then we departed, unanimously agreeing that the reunion had been a huge success. All looking forward to the next one. As Ronnie and I drove off we spotted Vinny leaving the beach ahead of us in a Jaguar sedan, and I had a momentary itch to ask him some time whether he actually owned it or just rented it for the reunion… :-)
In closing I would like to say that this reunion has not been simply a milestone event for me. I have seen how the years have changed us all, but I have also seen how the passing of a half century has not altered in any fundamental way the values and sensibilities (or lack of them) and inclinations of the young men and women we used to be. Thanks to this reunion I am now corresponding regularly with some of the same people I haven’t seen or heard from in 50 years! Just think: after all these years—after college, military, marriage, raising a family, sending kids off to college, signing up for Social Security—it just amazes me that, after all this time…
they haven’t learned a damn thing!
May the next one find us all alive and well and in attendance!
Best regards :-),
—Cliff (George) Clifford
Blaahger in Chief