June Sharpe Sweeney will tell you she had the time of her life.
She closes her eyes and her memory drifts back to 1965, when Sweeney was a senior and a cheerleader at what then was the new Seventy-First High School, adjacent to the old high school just across the way.
“I love that school,” Sweeney, 76, was saying Saturday night as she relived those high school days with members of her class and the Class of 1964 at this reunion at Embassy Suites Hotel. “It was the highlight of my life. And when we come to these reunions, it’s like we’ve never been apart.”
They no longer are teenagers who marveled at those Friday night football games or cruised the old Torch drive-in or came to love their teachers such as Lois Lambie, Alice Smith and Marie Pigott, and not to forget Loyd E. Auman, the white-haired principal who loved every student like children of his own.
Older today than yesteryear, but they still are young at heart.
“We had a great class,” Ron Kennedy, 76, says of those 1965 seniors. “We had great teachers, like Billy Ray Jackson,” the physical education teacher and boys basketball coach. “He was like a father to me. And we had Dwight Miller, and we had a great principal in Loyd Auman. He held it all together.”
No question, Mike Goff says, about the school’s principal.
“Mr. Auman kept all of us straight,” Goff says, including those times when Loyd Auman would catch the boys sneaking away from class and spending time at Godbold’s store “shooting pool.”
Roger McLean, the 1964 football star, was there along with Mary Mac Auman McLean, the principal’s daughter. Roger McLean would later in life take her for his bride. Gene Cooper, president of the 1964 student body, came. Joe Williams, president of the 1964 senior class, came all the way from his home in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“Everybody just knew everybody,” says Williams, 77, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. “It was like a small-town atmosphere.”
Cooper says he has nothing but fond memories of his schooldays, but one is with him every day.
“My best memory,” he says, “was meeting my wife, Kathleen Weston.”
Patsy Newton Hurt, 76, came from her home in Dallas to celebrate with the Class of 1965.
“It’s only the second reunion I’ve been to,” said Hurt, who became an elementary schoolteacher. “Just being with my friends on the cheerleading squad back then was special. Going to football games. And some of the best times were in Glee Club with Miss Lambie. Our life centered around family. We had a big family, and we all went to Galatia Presbyterian Church. I was in the church choir.”
Hurt grew up near Gillis Hill back when Gillis Hill still was in the country. Others called LaFayette Village, Drake Park and Gallup Acres home.
Life was simple.
The times were innocent, although the Class of ’64 would come to know the assassination of John F, Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. But they had the Beatles and the Beach Boys and the Colony, Miracle and Carolina theaters downtown and The Torch drive-in and other social hangouts, too.
The Class of 1965 had Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, the Temptations and the Four Tops, Sonny and Cher, the Righteous Brothers, and Diana Ross and the Supremes, and motion pictures to include “The Sound of Music” and “Dr. Zhivago.”
“I hung out at The Torch,” Rose Fisher Thompson, Class of ’65, says. “I wasn’t supposed to, but I did. And the Hillcrest on Bragg Boulevard and Steve’s Tower in the Sky. I enjoyed it.”
Others from the Class of 1965 attending were Barbara Capps, Billy Ray Harris, Carol Melton Tindal, Cecile Ashton Griffin, Cherri Theriault Notington, Donna Hicks Varnam, Emily McLean Patillo, Frank Simpson, Gene Thornton, Henry Butler, Jerry Holt, Jerry Merritt, Jo Von Rainwater Theabold, Kathy Faircloth Harris, Kenneth Moore, Larry Kornegay, Lessie Adams Whaley, Louise Duggins Godwin, Harrell Odom, Norma Parker Strother, Patricia Batton Taylor, Rhonda England Earney, Ricky Odom, Rosemary Fisher Thompson, Terry Griffin Price and Donna Gibbs Haneline.
“Loved seeing all our classmates,” Haneline says. “Felt like being 17-18 again. Great time with all. Good memories.”
Sister Jo Anne Gibbs Yates says as much about reuniting with her Class of 1964.
“The reunion was great with family and friends of 59 years ago,” she says.
Among class members attending were Amy Stubbs Tally, Betty Lou Whitman Waldo, Billy Gaskins, Carson Hipp, Dennis Carter, Diana Wiggins Goforth, Gene Cooper, Gwen Betty, Joe Williams, Larry Strother, Kathleen Weston, Margie Palmer Lenczcycki, Mary Ann Shaw Johnson, Mary Mac Auman McLean, Patsy Farmer Sessoms, Randy Dendy, Robert Lewis, Talmadge Bledsoe Potter and Virginia Rock Grenier.
‘A little apprehensive’ until …
Cecilia Ashton Griffin says she was a touch nervous about seeing her 1965 classmates until she arrived.
“Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about attending the reunion,” she says. “Was it going to be uncomfortable? Would we have anything to talk about? As soon as I got there, I was greeted by my old head cheerleader, June Sharpe Sweeney, looking classy and beautiful. We hugged and complimented each other, and that was all it took. The rest of the night was more of the same. A few of my cheerleader friends, Patsy Newton, JoAnne and Donna Gibbs, Dorothy Bradshaw, were all still looking like they could still break out in a cheer.
“Funny, it seems the older I get the better my high school years become. When I was living through them, I didn’t appreciate the innocence of the times and the carefree days. Looking forward to Fridays, not just because it was homemade soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwich day in the cafeteria, but because Friday nights meant ballgames, riding around The Torch and hanging out with friends,15-cent hamburgers at McDonald’s and Hardee’s, and the fries. And the Hillcrest with my boyfriend and now husband, Stanley Griffin, with his ducktail and white ’57 Ford. Then swimming at Lakewood in the summer, shagging to beach music and twisting with Chubby Checker.
“We started 10th grade in the brand-new school down the road from the old one with shiny new floors and lockers,” says Griffin, who was crowned Miss Seventy-First in 1962 as only a freshman and later Miss Teenager of Cumberland County. “My fondest memories were being part of the cheerleading squad and the pajama parties we had. A bunch of silly girls giggling, snacking, dancing, giggling, snacking, gag gifts, sharing hilarious stories about each other and trying to get somebody to talk in their sleep. And then there was everyone’s favorite teacher, Mrs. (Hilda) Sneed.”
Cecile Griffin still is reliving the reunion.
“We all mingled and got caught up with each other’s lives,” Griffin says. “Most have retired, some from great careers. Some have lost husbands, and a few have lost children. And sadly, 54 members of our class are no longer with us. But in that moment for way too few hours, we were all back there when there were no worries, no problems, only fun, friends and lots of laughs.”
Ron Kennedy is savoring the weekend reunion, too.
“Class reunions are not like going back to high school for a day,” Kennedy says. “It’s about making new memories as you cherish the old ones. When you walk into a room full of your high school classmates, your heart swells with memories. Your peers are there, and it’s not about looks, it’s not about old wrongs and rights, it’s about a special bond that only classmates can share.
“As I looked around the room, I spotted several folks that I was with in the first grade 70 years ago. Other than family, these are the folks, who along with our teachers, helped shape us in our formative years. There they were — Jerry Holt, Patsy Newton, Dorothy Bradshaw and Lessie Adams, to name some of my 70-year mates. Others joined us as the years progressed on our path to graduation, and all were special and unique. Here I was, 60 to 70 years later, with special folks who helped make me what I am today.
“Yep, I couldn’t wait to start hugging and shaking hands,” Kennedy says. “It was going to be a grand evening. The night was full of special moments as we renewed our bond that held us together.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.