In the 1960s, Staples High School was in the forefront of social change.
Students could take “Experimental English.” On an open campus, they came and went as they pleased. Bands like the Doors, Cream and Yardbirds played in the auditorium.
Staples was also one of the first schools anywhere to hold a “Computer Dance.” After teenagers answered 50 questions, an “electronic computer” matched them with their “perfect” partners.
Staples may also be the first place where a “Computer Dance” actually led to a marriage.
This weekend, Collin and Sherida Stewart enjoyed their 50th high school reunion. In June, they celebrated their 46th anniversary.
None of it would have been possible without that new-fangled computer.
And the desperate financial straits of the Staples Student Organization.
The “Computer Dance” was page 1 news in the Staples High School newspaper “Inklings.” Student government president Paul Gambaccini is shown supposedly filling out the match questionnaire.
Back in the spring of 1966, the student government needed money. SSO card sales were low; gate receipts from football and basketball games were “bitterly disappointing,” said the school paper Inklings.
What better fundraiser than a “computer dance”?
Students replied to questions about their own looks, intelligence, activities, cars, favorite school subjects, TV-watching habits, movies, and time spent on the phone. Then they answered the same questions about their ideal match.
Part of “ideal partner” questionnaire. Even though a computer did the matching, students answered the questions by hand.
Sherida Bowlin was a relative newcomer to Westport. She entered Long Lots Junior High School in 9th grade, when her dad’s employer transferred him from Kansas to New York.
Collin Stewart was even newer to town. Amoco moved his father from Houston to New York in the winter of 1966 — the middle of 11th grade.
In fact, he was not yet at Staples when he filled out the computer questionnaire. His dad — already here — heard about the dance from a new acquaintance at the United Methodist Church.
Realizing it was a great way for his son to meet people, he called Collin. Together on a long-distance call, they filled out the questionnaire.
The 2 juniors did not know each other. But they were matched together at the dance — despite a computer glitch that rendered the boy’s name as “Stewart Collin.”
Collin Stewart and Sherida Bowlin at the junior prom.
They shared “maybe 1 or 2 dances,” Sherida recalls. Neither remembers if there was a live band, or records.
Their friendship grew quickly — though more at their shared Methodist Church than Staples.
Their 1st real date was the junior prom.
Soon they were going steady. They continued all through the next year. By senior prom, they were a well-established couple.
Within days after graduation however, both families moved. Sherida’s went to the West Coast; Collin’s to London.
But they’d figured out a way to stay together. Collin was going to the Colorado School of Mines. His father and uncle both graduated from there — and he wanted to major in geological engineering.
Sherida headed to the University of Colorado — just 20 miles away.
In June 1971 they got married in Lebo, Kansas — her grandparents’ hometown.
Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, on their wedding day.
Collin’s job as a mining engineer took them all over the West. They lived in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada. They love the outdoor lifestyle.
They’re now in Farmington, New Mexico, in the heart of the gorgeous Four Corners. They have 2 sons, and 3 grandchildren.
“We remain each other’s best friends,” Sherida says.
Collin earned a master’s degree before their kids were born. After he retired, he went back to Colorado School of Mines for a Ph.D. As of last December, he is Dr. Stewart.
Sherida taught 1st and 3rd grades, then preschool working with special needs children. Now she’s turned to inspirational romance writing. She’s won a few contests. (With her 50-year relationship, she knows a bit about romance.)
Sherida and Collin Stewart, in a recent selfie.
Collin came back to Westport just once, a couple of years after graduating. Until this weekend, Sherida had never been back.
Both looked forward to returning here. After all, had it not been for that “electronic computer,” the previous half-century of their lives might have turned out very, very differently.
Take that, Tinder!
(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)