Group of '42 high school graduates in Burlington continue to stay in touch
BURLINGTON — Their numbers - their hearing and eyesight, too - have diminished greatly.
But members of the Burlington High School class of '42 are still close. And determined to stay in touch.
They proved as much on April 15 when they got together at Western Steakhouse for lunch and a generous serving of camaraderie. Almost 71 years since graduating high school, they showed why they're still a tight-knit bunch.
"We've had some fun, fun times," said Rachel Yow, one of about 15 class members who attended.
They recently added to their memories.
Deleano Williams was secretary of the class of '42 - elected to the position a couple of months before the Japanese came calling at Pearl Harbor. Over the years she's been a ramrod of the class reunions - held periodically since 1957 - and led the latest get-together.
It was anything but a formal affair. Members - all in their late 80s - gathered in a back room at the restaurant on Graham-Hopedale Road where they shared laughs and hugs. A few were accompanied by their spouses. More than one brought a child - the children themselves well into middle-age.
Of the 217 members of the class, 150 have died (three lost their lives fighting in World War II). Another 45 are on an "inactive list" - too sick or disinterested to attend the periodic get-togethers.
"They don't know what they're missing," Williams fussed of those who make up that latter group.
About 22 remain involved in these class gatherings.
Many have been friends since first grade. Their senior yearbook was dedicated to "Victory" - including the inscription: "To all our boys and girls who are serving in the armed forces of the United States."
Williams kicked off Monday's luncheon by distributing cards addressed to class members too sick to get out.
"Please sign and write a little note, if you would," Williams said as she sent the cards off on a circular trip around the table. "Let them know we're thinking of them."
Everyone in the room sat silent while Williams read the names of 11 class members who died since April 2012 - the last time they had an official gathering. At one point, Williams' voice broke in the reading.
Those formalities out of the way, this proved anything but a somber occasion. There were plenty of laughs and the sharing of stories that don't normally see the light of day.
Fred Genaway allowed to anyone within earshot that he and his wife, Carrie, had recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
"With the right woman," he stressed.
Genaway wasn't in the class of '42, but Carrie was. A singer in her younger days, she traveled north where she was introduced to her husband, a native of Massena, N.Y. They met in 1944 when Fred was on leave from the Navy.
When it came time for Carrie to stand and tell about the latest happenings in her life, she declined.
"He's the talker," she said, motioning to her husband. "He can't hear, but he can talk."
Fay Redding is retired from Grove Park Elementary, where she was secretary. Asked her claim to fame in high school, Redding laughed and shook her head.
"I was very shy in those days," she said.
Not everyone owned up to being so bashful. Parker King is retired from Western Electric, where he worked 34 years. He shared with the group that he turned 18 in September 1942 and found himself serving in the Army Air Corps two months later.
"I served my time with the B-29's in Saipan," King said of the bombers that played a huge role in deciding the outcome of the Second World War.
Buddy Wagoner and his wife, Nancy, traveled the longest distance for Monday's luncheon - driving 180 miles from their home in Sneads Ferry. Wagoner, a former circulation director of the Times-News, told a tale of the years he served in the Marines during World War II and the adventures he continues to encounter.
"We do have a good time every day," he told his classmates.
Williams said their first class reunion happened in 1957. Few classes held such gatherings in those days. The initial reunion was at the Alamance Hotel in downtown Burlington, also the site of their senior banquet.
After that, they met every five years until 1976 when they decided to up the ante - increasing the frequency to once every three years. In 1992, on the 50th anniversary of their graduation - with their numbers dwindling - they decided to hold a get-together once a year. The gatherings became less formal, usually a meal like the one on April 15.
Louis Allen III accompanied his father, Louis Allen Jr., to the lunch and shared with group members the latest happenings in his father's life. He said Allen Jr. - who is hard of hearing and needs help getting around - has moved in with his daughter.
But life remains good for his dad, Allen III assured members of the group.
"He and I go out to lunch every chance we get," he said.
Lorene Harrod's escort for the luncheon was her daughter, Pam Smith.
"I just enjoy my family - especially this one," Harrod said, indicating her daughter.
"She's pretty," someone at the table immediately observed.
Sylvia Oakley wasn't a class member, but her husband, Carl, was. He died, she said, three years ago, but she stays in touch with the class of '42.
"I still call these my people," Oakley said.