High school reunions are like medical operations. Everyone has them, but no one wants to hear about yours.
Still, a 50th reunion is special. 50 is the new, well, 50. So when Staples’ Class of 1960 gathers this weekend, it’s worth noting.
And the story of how that class — raised at a time when transistor radios were considered amazing — used 21st century technology to find long-lost classmates, and get nearly half of them to come, is both instructive and inspiring.
For their previous gathering 10 years ago, they hired a professional planner. But once he hit the 75 attendees he’d promised, he stopped working.
This time the graduates vowed to do it themselves — and better, and for less money.
They gave themselves a year’s lead time. They learned that even though online “white pages” might give hundreds of results, filtering by age made searching much easier.
They called relentlessly. A Westport family named Shornick was not related to James from 1960. But the local Shornicks remembered that someone — okay, me — once asked if they knew my former classmate Cathy. They told organizer Linda Gramatky Smith that story; she found Cathy Shornick in Washington state, and Cathy led Linda to her brother James.
Few people have heard of the search engine Pipl.com. But Alan Konigsberg uses it in his law practice, and the site provided plenty of good matches.
Committee members pored through old directories, and called current Westporters to ask about neighbors who moved away years ago. “I must sound really trustworthy,” Linda says. “Everyone gave me lots of information.”
Steve Mechlin seemed impossible to find. But one day Skip Shaeffer looked at the “Class Wills” section of the 1960 yearbook. There he saw Steve’s last name, spelled “Maechtlen.” Sure enough, the Steve Maecthlen who now lives in Albuquerque was the same one. He was delighted to be found.
Similarly, a classmate’s last name was spelled both “Cowishaur” and “Cowishaw.” In his “Class Will,” he left something to someone with a famous Westport name. When a committee member called the Westporter, he talked about Jim “Cowlishaw.”
The organizer heard the pronunciation, searched online — and found Jim Cowlishaw in Nebraska. His wife answered the phone and said, “He always wondered why no one ever told him about a reunion.”
“I must have found 20 names misspelled in the yearbook,” Linda says. “I’m appalled. Come on – these were our classmates!”
The more they dug, and the more old photos they looked at, the more the Class of ’60 remembered friends who had not gone to Staples.
“The people you hold dear are the ones you played ball with, or went to your first parties with,” Linda says. “They might have gone to prep school or moved away, but we wanted them.”
The committee found many non-graduates. They’ll be part of the 175 reunion-goers (including spouses) this weekend.
Three former faculty members will join them: English instructor (and founder of Staples Players, during their years there) Craig Matheson; social studies teacher Gordon Hall, and physics instructor Nick Georgis.
(Members of the Class of ’60 are now 67 and 68 years old. You do the math…)
(In addition to being restaurateurs, Joe and George share another distinction: both were first selectmen, of Westport and Weston respectively.)
On Saturday morning returnees will tour the new Staples (deja vu — they entered Staples as sophomores in 1958, the same year the new North Avenue campus opened.)
Tomorrow night there’s dinner at the Norwalk Inn — complete with ’50s music — while Sunday morning features breakfast by the Compo cannons.
So once they found (nearly) everyone, how did the Class of 1960 pass along all the info on their reunion — and provide private email links so everyone could communicate with everyone else?
They set up one of the best reunion websites I’ve ever seen, for any class.
Who knows what they’ll think of for their 75th.