There were 252 students in Brien McMahon High School's first graduating class-- the Class of 1962.
Like at most high schools there were certainly some individual cliques, but most members of the class knew each other by first name.
"Even if we didn't hang out together, when we came together for football games, for basketball... . The camaraderie was always really good," said Patty Blake, one of the original reunion co-chairs who has been hard at work planning the class' 50th reunion celebration at the Norwalk Inn on Saturday.
"Because everything was so new to us and we were the first graduating class."
"Norwalk has a small town atmosphere. And what's interesting about that time is it was a time where we had different people, different races in the class and it didn't seem to make any difference. It wasn't a big deal, in fact it was no deal at all. I remember that."
Wilson, a minister at Union Baptist Church in Stamford, is looking forward to taking a trip down memory lane Saturday.
"You remember this teacher and that teacher. We had good teachers and administration," Wilson said.
The principal at the time was Dr. Robert F. Whaley.
Wilson said that her English teacher Julia Duffy had a huge influence on her.
"Her love of the English language and for Shakespeare and for poetry got me into being interested in Shakespeare," said Wilson, who served as principal of Wolfpit Elementary School for 12 years.
"When I went to college my first major was English. Later I changed it to elementary education. But I still used the background that she gave me. As a minister I even go back to some of the plays and essays and poetry that she taught us to use as a reference for some of the things I do now. The groundwork that we had and foundation (at Brien McMahon) we had was very good."
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
The dedication and open house of Brien McMahon took place on a Sunday afternoon, Oct. 22, 1961, according to the school's website. It was named in memoriam of one of Norwalk's most famous sons, U.S. Senator Brien McMahon. Senator McMahon became known as the "father of the United States Atomic Energy Commission." In the dedication program, then mayor John Shostak wrote,
"Brien McMahon High School is truly a milestone in Norwalk's educational history. By all means the greatest investment the city has ever made in the development of our young people, it serves not only to augment our junior and senior high facilities but also houses our new Community College, and innovation of which we are particularly proud."
The sense of pride Blake and the other original reunion co-chairs, Dolores Ramsey and MaryHelen O'Neill, have in being a part of Brien McMahon's first graduating class was palpable when they spoke with the Citizen earlier this week at Ramsey's Norwalk home. This will be the 10th reunion the trio has organized.
Ramsey said they are expecting about 100 classmates at the 50th reunion. A few are even flying in from California.
Among those in attendance will be John Kurtzman, owner of Kurtzman Signs in Norwalk.
"For me earlier days in Norwalk were much like the movie `American Grafitti,' being that the preppies (crew cut college club), the jocks (mussel heads) and the greasers, (motor heads) coexisted in mutual relationships of compliance," Kurtzman said via e-mail.
"Memories of good times then are still vibrant with those who were there and (we) continue to regenerate the best times from our earliest exposures to Norwalk's multi-cultural population of English, Irish, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Italian and Slovac workforces, a proud bunch who reflected European craftsmanship through their apprenticed industries and traditional lifestyles to those who owned the industries."
Fifty members of the Class of 1962 are deceased, including Norwalk humanitarian Richard Fuller, who died last year. Fuller worked tirelessly with the city's youth, and was the director of the Carver Center for 25 years. He was also a teacher at Brien McMahon.
O'Neill admitted it takes a lot of hard work for them to keep track of classmates and plan reunions while juggling full-time jobs, but it's a labor of love. "I dig as much as I can. I enjoy it. I really do. It's gratifying," she said.
Since the trio has been organizing reunions every five years, it has made it easier to keep up with classmates' change of addresses and phone numbers, and Facebook has been a useful tool. This year they also got help from Lucie Sasaki-Scanlon, Sharon Taylor and Joyce Amon.
Ramsey said what's consistently surprising about the reunions is how much people change. "Sometimes you don't recognize people. I think the men change more so," Ramsey said. "But I think we look like our yearbook photos."
"Not quite," Blake adds with a laugh.
"Well you can tell it's us. There are a lot of people you can't recognize," Ramsey said.
The ladies agreed that the 25-year reunion was one of the most memorable ones to date. They honored the prom king and prom queen, which happened to be Patty, by giving them crowns to wear and letting them dance.
As they reminisced in Ramsey's living room, they broke into giggles about how a male classmate mooned guests that year.
What is even more impressive than the work Ramsey, O'Neill and Blake put into organizing the reunions is the fact their friendship has endured since they were in elementary school.
"People can't believe we have lived in Norwalk our whole lives," Ramsey said. "They can't believe we have known each other since elementary school."
"We are living proof it can be done," O'Neill said.
If the women have it their way, this will be the last reunion they will organize. They would like to pass the baton to someone else.
Until then, they are excited about their 50th reunion.
"I am hoping that the people who have never come before to a reunion will say, `Look what we've missed. We should have gone before,' " O'Neill said.