Not Just Another High School Reunion Story

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.

From right: Bev Cens, Joann Hornsleth and an unidentified girl pose at Bev's house. The shot was taken by someone doing advertising for Bigelow Tea. Note the Staples book covers at bottom.

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  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!”

Junior high friends Anne Sharnoff, Jane Smith, Sherri Yellen and Jennette Currie in 1956.

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…)

Barbara Picorello Wanamaker (Staples '60) and husband Charlie today.

Tomorrow (Friday) night they’ll meet at Arcudi’s — owned by classmate Joe.  They were originally scheduled for Cobb’s Mill Inn — owned by another classmate, George Guidera — but it closed in July.

(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.

18 responses to “Not Just Another High School Reunion Story

  1. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Thanks, Dan, for such an accurate article on our 50th reunion weekend. And the editor in me saw the photo Bev Cens had put on the website and immediately thought, “That’s Barbara Wardell on the left.” So I added her name on the website. Amazing that we won’t have seen someone for 55 years but who they are is such a part of our growing up years. We’re all looking forward to your leading our tour of Staples on Saturday. Thanks for giving back so much to our community.

  2. Hi Dan: Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog on the reunion. It is a milestone in all of our lives. I only wish my health were better and that I could attend the reunion, but unfortunately I am unable to come. I think your Blog and all the hard work of the reunion committee is awesome. I also think kudos should go to Linda Gramatky Smith. She has totally kept me in the loop and for that I am grateful.
    HAVE A BLAST!!!!!
    Sheri Yellen Bressman
    Charlotte, NC

  3. Beverley Cens Ransom

    Dan, what a wonderful article. After posting the picture I am quite certain that the person next to Joann Hornsleth is Sheila Wilder.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Nice. So how many are planning to attend?? I heard an interesting assessment of that period of time (now very aptly depicted in AMC’s
    “Mad Men”): “It was a period between World War II and the yeah, yeah, yeah of the Beatles when things were simple, straightforward and very precise in nature.” I wonder if the ’60 graduates would agree?

    • I would be interested in hearing their responses too. But, one thing that struck me looking at the website, was that many of their favorite memories and experiences could have been written by my classmates, who graduated 11 years later. So, in certain respects, the high school experience at Staples remained the same.

      And one thing that stands out about the characterization of the 1946-64 period is the description: “when things were simple.”

      I question how simple things really were for the girls in high school back then who might have been wondering if they could be a doctor, or lawyer, or business executive or if they could pursue any type of career that would have them follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

  5. A wonderful story, and what a terrific reunion website. I think if the reunion organizers are considering a second (or third) career, they’ve found their calling.

  6. The Dude Abides

    Fred: Interesting point. The best and brightest females of my class of ’66
    had a choice between being a teacher, nurse or housewife. Which really is simple. Not right but very simple. Don’t get me wrong (I married an attorney and my daughter is in law school) but women entering into the work force has complicated things. It has caused tension in the family (divorce rate way up) and now is creating problems for their gender when they leave their careers to bare children and attempt to return to such jobs. So I think you are on the right track but I am not sure many females of the class of ’60 were conflicted by the simplicity of their choices or demented becasue they couldn’t be their Daddy’s law partner one day. When we only had five (5) channels on the television then, did you worry about what you were missing????? And I if you graduated in ’71, a whole bunch had changed by then. It is my belief that the innocence of the class of 1960 was lost when JFK was shot.

    • So was the innocence of the Class of 1971 — though we were only 10 at the time.

      • The Dude Abides

        Well you had Vietnam on television every night to gell your senses too and Watergate looming in the near future. No wonder my ex-wife was so screwed up.

  7. The Dude Abides

    I should add that “Mad Men”‘s Jon Hamm recently denoted that the show reveals that things were not quite that simple as they appeared back then.

  8. Hi Dan
    What a wonderful reunion it will be ! Am looking forward to attending with my dear friend Vera Anrig.
    Be warned! I dug up my 1959-1960 , original grade book, and plan to display the names who enrolled in my physics classes for the first day of school. The grades have been deleted to protect the innocent !

    Thank you Mr Staples,


  9. To Nicholas Georgis. Please tell Vera that Gary and Bunni Singer send love and hugs, and that we remember her fondly after all these years.

  10. Marty Sagendorf

    Nick… Thank you for deleting my grade!… Marty

  11. A wonderful reunion, and we’re not done, yet. Photos are still being uploaded, and people ‘tagged’… Just thinking about the whole experience sends chills up and down my spine…

    My thanks to the committee that put this all together, and special thanks to those of you who are – possibly as I write this – looking at, commenting on, and tagging the faces in the pics I’ve uploaded to my faceBook page… I can’t tell you just how much all this continues to mean to me…

    …but I can offer up my heartfelt thank you, and send you my wishes for even longer lives, and greater happiness…

  12. 1960 Planning Committee You have set the bar high for our 50th next year..Thanks for the great planning insight and for the wonderful photos. Also thanks again Dan for the wonderful way you keep us all so connected to Westport.

  13. To the class of 1960
    It was a great reunion and I must add some facts about the class.

    It was my first year at Staples and 1960 was my most favorite unforgettable group in my 34 years of teaching !
    1, I had 12 merit scholars to keep me on my toes
    2. The birth of K1UAT Amateur Radio Club with many sending
    answers in morse code during their first quiz, which led to the f
    formation of Staples Amateur Radio Club.
    Ask Marty Sagendorf for the names of the hams for details
    3. For he patience of our beloved principal ,Stan Lorenzen, who had to cope with the group in building seven
    4. To the most dedicated group of teachers at SHS
    5. To the freedom that the board of education -allowing me to teach my way!
    Nicholas Georgis
    Thanks for the memories
    Ref: Bob Hope!