May 10, 2011

The story behind the Class of 1960's first reunion in 1980, the first of five conducted by Barbara and Ken Taylor

Barbara and Ken at the class of 1960's 50th reunion last summer


In January of 1979, my husband Ken Taylor received an invitation for his 20 year class reunion for Memorial High School Class of 1959.

Ken’s first thought was “No Thanks”. His memories of Levittown Memorial were not pleasant. The class was broken basically into 2 sections.

There were the “jocks, cheerleaders and snobby “I’m better than you” students. They drove their cars to school, and wore the best clothes. You know what I mean.

Ken said, “Then there was our side. Kids that walked to school in “hand me down” clothes, brought their own lunches, and stayed away from the other side, or risked being beaten and bloodied at the whim of some bully for no reason at all. It was called High School survival, and there were many of us that went through High School that way.”

A month later, there was a phone call to Ken asking if he was planning on attending, and he asked if Jimmy Guetteruiz or Vic Lawson were coming? Jimmy, Vic and Ken were close friends through the four years at Memorial. The answer was yes, so we decided that we would attend his 20 year reunion.

Ken said, “There were a very large number of graduating members at Memorial in 1959, over 400, and when we walked into the reunion hall at the Hilton Hotel on Route 110, we were part of about 50 former classmates to attend. About 40 of the group were the “Jocks”. It wasn’t what we expected.

And only Jimmy showed up but the “Magic” of our youth and growing up together was not there. After less than 15 minutes of conversation, we said our goodbyes and Barbara and I were walking out the door. It was disappointing and sad.”

As we were driving home to Pinetree Lane, Ken explained to me how school life was at Memorial, and I said “Well that was not how it was at Division. We were all one big family.” Ken then said the magic words that started a 50 year adventure that sometimes took over our lives.

Ken said to me, “Well, if someone in your class decides to put a 20 year class reunion together, I hope they do a better job than the one we just went to.”

The next morning Ken found me sitting at our kitchen table, with my yearbook, the white and yellow pages, note pads, and the phone in my hand, talking to Linda Kenley (Gurr) who also graduated DAHS in 1960. Linda had married Mike Gurr from DAHS, 1961. They lived on Elmtreee lane.

Barbara and Linda formed the original committee that consisted of Barbara Almquist, Midge Bollinger (Finck), Arlene Holmes and Sue Eisenberg (Zwerling)

The next day, the first meeting was held at our dining room table. We formed the foundation of finding as many graduates as possible, after 19 years of almost no correspondence among the classmates and less than one year to do it all.

Each member was given a few names to gather any information she could find, and bring it back to the next weekly meeting. As one member added a tidbit on a classmate, another would pull out a paper with more information on them, and the circle tightened around the missing classmate.

The committee became obsessed with finding everyone.

There were 202 members of the first graduating class of 1960.

The main goal was to simply find them, let them know about the planned reunion in 1980 and let them decide to attend or not. The committee never expected the end result of their search and dedication. More on this later.

It was actually easier in 1980 to hunt the classmates down. The parents of many classmates stilled lived in the same house as in 1960. But the first break to the original reunion search was found on almost every street in Levittown. Somewhere on the block, was the “little old lady” who was the historian of the block. She knew how, what and where about every family. This wealth of information led us to a good part of the class.

Then the committee hit a stumbling block, as the little old lady list dried up. Along came Principal Robert Graham. He opened the school to us. He gave us access to printers, a mimeograph machine (Remember the smell of the purple ink?), phones and old records. Barbara, Linda and I combed through old records that were stored in the basement. We found 3 X 5 index cards that every student had filled out over the years at Division, listing their information, but more importantly with the girls, they also listed their date of birth and the names and birth dates of their brothers who followed them in later years at DAHS. This was the final key into completing the reunion “Have to find” list.

There were no cell phones, smart phones or other gadgets that are so common today. We had a house phone and an old used Commodore 64 computer that we set up for storing classmate information, and we found a new website called “Peoplefind” and with those little 3 X 5 index cards we slowly but surely tracked the classmates down across the country.

We would find a brother who would fill in the blanks. (most of the girl’s now had unknown married names). The committee found most of the girls through an older or younger brother from DAHS. Thank God their parents had a bunch of kids, which seemed to be a Levittown tradition.

The committee worked almost daily and had charts, tons of paperwork, a bulletin board in our living room and hundreds of scraps of paper with bits of information with a “lead” on someone. Our living room looked like the set of “Criminal Minds” on the TV. In fact, the last classmate to be found was Ronald Schubert in Queens, New York, the day before the reunion, who wanted so badly to attend, but was flying to California on business that couldn’t be re-scheduled.

The committee had also contracted a catering hall in Syosset and a motel right behind the hall for the classmates to “stumble” to after the dinner/dance. The motel was almost filled exclusively by DAHS members that night. There was also a nice barbecue picnic at Eisenhower Park (Salisbury Park) the next day.

So after it all was said and done, and all of the preparations were put in place, the 20 year class reunion results were:

There were 202 graduating classmates in 1960

194 classmates were found and notified

182 out of 202 classmates attended

28 teachers from 1960 attended

83 classmates attended the barbecue on Saturday

And it was a complete success.

Over the years we have had about five reunions, and a reunion cruise.

But it all was topped by our 50th year reunion held in 2010. That reunion ran beautifully from start to the finish at the barbecue in Seaford.

But the most fun and satisfaction was the very first reunion, 20th.


Anonymous said...

Steve Mohr here..... The story by Barbara Taylor was great, it brought back so many forgotten memories. I still don't know how they found me out here in Ca. and in time to make it to the first reunion. It was the only one I attended and so glad I was able to make the trip that time. Hat's off to Barbara and the rest of the group that pulled that off....we sure had a wonderful bunch of kids at Division Ave. Thanks to all of them. Steve

Frank Barning said...

All of this was accomplished before email. Amazing. Lots of snail mail, telephone calls and banging on doors in Levittown. Hats off to Ken and Barbie, I mean Barbara and Ken. They have kept the Dragons' flame alive.

Anonymous said...

Tim Lavey, class of '63
I know Barbara & Ken were lauded at the 50th reunion last August, but I now see they deserve so much more than just our banal thanks. I vaguely knew they had done work on previous reunions, but I had no idea they had been reunion pioneers.... We owe them a debt of gratitude for keeping the DAHS and Levittown spirit alive that we'll surely never be able to repay. Also, Barbara's article on the 20th reunion was a wonderful piece.

Donald Davidson said...

Don Davidson here... barbara's
Taylor's story was wonderful. The special experience that was division Avenue continues to run through virtually every story and every memory. I intended both the first reunion and the most recent one: events I found memorable.

When I speak to anyone from the class of 1960 I never hear anger or disappointment. They all speak about the wonderment and joy attending school during 1956 to 1960 brought

thank you Barbara and Ken forgiving so many people the opportunity to relive these special moments in our lives

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