A group of 14 women and men exclaimed over photographs in the main entrance of East Leyden High School on July 10.
“Sherwin, class of 1971,” said Rita Szyszko, pointing at a photo. “He’s just a young whippersnapper.”
Meanwhile Jill Madaus-King, former class president, points out three members of the class of 1963 who have been inducted into the Wall of Fame. They are Doug Eden, John Markese and – here in person - Dennis Pietrini.
It’s been 50 years since most of these former students have had reason to enter the high school. When they graduated, John F. Kennedy was still president, the embargo on Cuba was a few months old, the comic book Iron Man had just debuted, the Supreme Court declared that lawyers must be provided for defendants who can’t afford them, Martin Luther King issued his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the first James Bond movie (Dr. No) had recently been shown in U.S. theaters and George Wallace had just became governor of Alabama.
At East Leyden the changes were smaller.
“Welcome Class of 1963,” said Dean Dennis Byrne. “We welcome you with the correct colors.”
Indeed, the banner hanging from the security desk is burgundy rather than the blue and gold that replaced burgundy in 1981.
Byrne told the group there are about 1,700 students at each high school, and that several places in East Leyden are being remodeled. Then, he headed toward the Little Theater.
“Could you go slow?” requests Madaus-King. “Some of us wobble and hobble.”
After graduation, Madaus-King tried to join the Peace Corps but was rejected for her age (at 19 she was considered too young) and her lack of a college degree.
Instead she traveled, got married, lived in California for several years and had two sons. Twenty years later, as a single mother, she went to college and earned a degree in food service administration. She ran food service programs in several schools.
“My real aspiration was to become an author,” Madaus-King said. “The closest I came to it is to do a daily journal.”
In the Little Theater, the class of 1963 poses for photos. Next, in the board of education meeting room, alum Dennis Pietrini notices two watercolors on the back wall.
“Those were done by Tom Lynch,” he said. “Class of 1968.”
Then it’s back to a hallway.
“Are these halls talking to you?” asks Madaus-King.
“I used to fly down these halls,” recalls Pietrini.
The next stop is the fieldhouse. Allen Geiger walks alone to the center of the basketball court.
“I was on the team for four years,” Geiger said. “I made it to varsity and lettered in 1963.”
Geiger, who now lives in St. Charles, joined the Air Force right out of high school. He served for four years, including a year in Vietnam. When he was discharged, he got married and worked in transportation services including air-freight and trucking.
“(In high school) I didn’t have any idea what I would do,” Geiger said.
Next stop: Auto shop.
“Wasn’t this the entrance to the fieldhouse at some time?” asked Marilyn (Morrison) Woods.
This is the first reunion for Woods in more than 15 years. She drove two-and-a-half hours from Geneseo, Ill.
“I enjoyed going to the Little Theater,” she said. “I was in the a capella choir. We put on an opera. I was singing and dancing.
Woods went to secretarial college, did general office work in Chicago and later got married.
“I was interested in architectural drawing,” Woods said. “That didn’t work out for me. Later in life I went back to school and took computer--aided drafting. As a hobby, I like to design homes.”
On the way to the upstairs library, there is talk of mortality.
“My mom died three years ago yesterday,” said one woman.
“My (school) counselor died in Florida,” said another.
On the way to pool, a school employee in a red Led Zeppelin t-shirt said “Hello, Class of 1963. How are you?”
“We’re good,” replied a woman. “We’re alive.”