My 50th High School Reunion

Cynthia Friedlob, EngAGE Websites & Social Media Manager, and Administrator of this blog, shares the story of her recent 50th high school reunion.

I don’t travel well. I like being somewhere new, but I don’t like getting there. Author Jon Winokur once pointed out that the root of the word “travel” is the same as that for “travail.” Exactly.

But there was no escape. I was going to travel not only from Los Angeles to my old home town – Denver –, but also back in time. I was headed to my 50th high school reunion.

Most people are surprised when I tell them that I’ve gone to almost every reunion since graduation, even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost forty years. I’m fortunate to have had a happy childhood and many friends who have stood the test of time, so I was always motivated to go back to see them. But still, this was the 50th reunion and, like many people my age, I’m perplexed by the passage of that many years. I can’t use the reliable cliché and say that I don’t know where the time has gone. I do know. But so much time, so quickly? That’s hard to fathom.

My alma mater is East High, the first high school in Denver, Colorado, founded in the late 1800s. I went to the “new” school, built in 1924 and located across the street from the beautiful, large City Park.

East High School: The impressive Jacobean building has a clock tower modeled after the one at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The school has many famous alumni: actress Hattie McDaniel, first African-American to win an Academy Award; NASA astronaut Jack Swigert; Antoinette Perry, namesake of the Tony Awards; many more. Photo by classmate Eileen O’Neil

East High School: The impressive Jacobean building has a clock tower modeled after the one at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The school has many famous alumni: actress Hattie McDaniel, first African-American to win an Academy Award; NASA astronaut Jack Swigert; Antoinette Perry, namesake of the Tony Awards; many more. Photo by classmate Eileen O’Neill.

The graduating class of 1966 was well over 500 students, and a solid core group of about a third of that large number has managed to turn up faithfully at reunions that began one year after graduation, then marked every five-year anniversary. Many of us have been friends since junior high school (called “middle school” in some places). Several of us have been friends since grade school, and a few have even known each other since kindergarten!

Having missed the 45th reunion, I was eager to reconnect. My closest friend volunteered for chauffeur duty during my trip. When she picked me up at my hotel, I cried out, “You’ve gone gray!” As a grayhead myself, this should not have been shocking, but it finally registered with me that I was seeing my former tennis partner at the age of 10, now a grandmother. She looked beautiful.

Suzy kindly drove through the old neighborhood, giving me a tour of fondly remembered spots, including my family home where I grew up, the City Park tennis courts where she and I spent our summers all through our school years, and, of course, East High.

There were two major reunion events planned: first, “Friday Afternoon Club” at the clubhouse of City Park Golf Course; then the Saturday night big dinner/dance for grads and spouses at the Museum of Nature and Science, also in City Park.


Old friends: Me, Kay, Suzy

F.A.C. was a well-attended festival of gasps of recognition, hugs, and snatches of conversation as we all tried to talk to everyone at once. Door prizes were awarded, and I won one – a 1966 Beatles British fan magazine!

Saturday night’s grand celebration was only slightly more subdued as we attempted to continue conversations started the day before and were inevitably distracted as we spotted new people. A dee-jay (class of ’86) did a great job of playing all the songs we had enjoyed in the ‘60s. I was continually delighted to see friends, some whom I’d missed at previous reunions, and a few who were attending after a long absence.

But the evening was more than just a good time. It was a milestone event, the second that I’d experienced at our reunions. The first happened at the 25th. Several friends commented back then about how any lingering, unsettled issues and relationships were being resolved. Youthful romantic feelings that had been kept private were spoken of at last; unpleasant break-ups were forgiven; damaged friendships were mended. We all had grown up enough by then to be over whatever had happened – or not happened – when we were young. I spent much of that reunion chatting in a group that included my very first (by then long-married) boyfriend, holding hands with him. It was lovely.

At this reunion, we all connected again with laughter and conversation. After dinner, one friend enthusiastically observed that although we may have gained weight and many of the men had lost their hair, no one cared; we were just so happy to be there. On the way back to my hotel, Suzy commented that people seemed nicer than ever before. “Kinder,” I said. “Everyone is very kind.”

I think it was because we’ve all lived fifty years of life since graduation, and you don’t get through that amount of time without being affected by loss and the resulting feeling of appreciation for the good things you have and had in the past. This time when I saw my old boyfriend (now proud of his grown children), he was still able to make me blush slightly with a very innocent memory of him having run all the way home after staying at my house past curfew. He may have wondered why I was rather quiet. I was simply looking at him, thinking, “You were important to me. I’m happy that your life has turned out well, and I’m happy that I knew you then, and know you now.”

There was talk that night of having less formally organized, annual events. Or maybe there could be a 70s birthday party in a couple of years, when everyone will have crossed that threshold. As I headed to the airport, I thought about how much I would enjoy seeing everyone again.

So much has changed over fifty years, in Denver and in all of us. The neighborhood movie theater is long gone, and trendy restaurants and shops fill the block. The corner donut shop is now a tattoo parlor. The old junior high, suffering from declining enrollment and lowered test scores, finally closed, then transformed with a completely new student body brought in from another area.

My friends have grown older; many have raised families, some have lost spouses, and some, children. Some friends also have been lost, as a too-long memorial list posted at the dinner/dance acknowledged. Jobs and careers have come and gone, with many friends now retired or on the verge of it, and contemplating what to do next.

But not everything has changed. East High remains a fine school. The old neighborhood is still beautiful, with charming brick bungalows surrounded by sturdy, mature trees and small, well-tended yards. And, most importantly, the people are the same. Conversations flowed easily, as if we’d seen each other daily for all these years. And in a world where older people are usually invisible, absolutely none of us were invisible that weekend. We know each other in a unique way that can’t be duplicated, and when we look at each other, we still see the kid we grew up with, as well as the people we are today.

2016 East High 50th Reunion

I’m front and center in black pants and shirt, gray sweater (okay, fancy hoodie), and brand new black sequined sneakers, perfect for dancing “The Stroll.”

At the airport, I faced a two-and-a-half hour delay due to a storm west of town. When I was finally on the plane (a sardine can that held, appropriately, fifty passengers), I struck up a conversation with my seatmate. She was a writer/director, currently doing research on a documentary she wants to produce. The subject: creative aging. What are the odds? “You’re seated in the right place,” I told her, and we passed the time amicably chatting about EngAGE.

I was on my way home.


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24 Responses to My 50th High School Reunion

  1. Nancy Sherman says:

    What wonderful memories of a grand weekend! I still am shaking my head – I looked forward to the reunion for so long and it came and then it was gone in the bat of an eye. Odd thing old Father Time…

    I wish I’d had more time to talk to so many people – I just had a blast!

    Thanks for the memories!

  2. admin says:

    You’re welcome, Nancy! Glad you enjoyed the post. It was a great weekend and I think we all agree that it went by too fast.

  3. My graduation class (1963) had a 70th birthday party last summer. It’s interesting that so many people stayed in the same town in the same state for their entire adult lives.

    What I noticed is that the eyes don’t change, even with advanced age. The Senior Annual kid is still lurking inside the silver-haired older body.

    • admin says:

      I hope we have a 70th birthday party, too. We have a dedicated group of volunteers who make the reunions happen, so they’re probably thinking about it already.

      Nice to hear from you, Glenda.

  4. Eileen O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the lovely discussion of our reunion. It was truly a blast to see so many old – or should I say long-standing – friends that weekend, even when it took a minute to jog our memories and put names with faces. I’ve only been able to attend a couple reunions, but I’m glad I made this one. We may have aged, but we’ve still got that East High Angel spirit!

  5. Donna Jackson says:

    Thank you, Cindy, for helping me to relive such a fabulous weekend. What wonderful memories and great people. I am still smiling.,

  6. Linda Schenkein says:

    Thanks for the grand recap of our reunion week-end. I loved every minute of seeing so many long ago friends and re-kindling them. I think we are fortunate to have had a really nice city to call home and a very special school to call ours. East seems to have stood the test of time and graduates terrific young people. I felt tremendous pride when I looked at all the past East High Angels gathered for our reunion….and thought what a testimony to a school in the 60’s that had such a blend of people that seemed to get along, appreciate and enjoy each other. What lovely memories.
    I’m still smiling too!

    • admin says:

      My pleasure, Lin! We were a rather motley crew and I think that made the school experience all the more interesting. You know how much I enjoyed seeing you!

  7. Sara Johnson Dalrymple says:

    Your Angelus Copy Writing skills rule! Thank you so much for your beautiful recap of our 50th reunion. You have given those attending a lasting record and those, like myself, who were unable to attend this milestone event, live it as we were actually in attendance! I especially appreciated the part when you and Suzy expressed how “kind” everyone was. We were blessed in those days for being kind to one another regardless of the national turmoil around us. It is no surprise that this gift of comradery still exits and has even grown through the years. Go Angels!

    • admin says:

      Sarah, how wonderful to hear from you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. We were, as my 94-year-old mother still says, a very nice group of kids. Sorry you weren’t able to be there for the 50th, but I hope we’ll meet at the next event. Go, Angels!

  8. Greg Hume says:

    A wonderful time so great to see all my young friends. I loved your post

  9. Joan Mueller Holmes says:

    It was a wonderful weekend; your article expressed so many of the feelings I think we all had during the events. I still can’t believe that it’s been 50 years!!!

  10. Carl Turnbullsaid says:

    Dear Cindy,
    Thank you so much for capturing the heart of our, and I’m sure others, reunion. Couldn’t have been expressed any better. Just wish I could have had more time to see and talk to those attending. Thanks again.

    • admin says:

      Thank you, Carl! It was my pleasure. I think everyone wishes we’d had more time to talk. We’ll just have to try again next time! Glad you made the trip for this one.

  11. David W Hardy says:

    Aloha Cindy,
    I attended East High for my sophomore year only. Then, on to Colorado Academy and I graduated from Thomas Jefferson.
    My family moved out South in 1964. My mother and father both graduated from East, my mother being the Editor of the school newspaper.
    Cindy, you probably know my story better than just about anyone, because you were kind enough to read my autobiography, written in 2010, and entitled “The Only One”.
    I remember a lot of the 1966 class names: but, of course there are many I didn’t know.
    One of my best friends to this day is Gene Burk; we were college roommates for 2 years in Boulder. He described living with me as a “cattle show”, because of all the different women I brought home.
    Many of our class members will remember “The Barn” and “The Orbit” dances on alternate Friday nights. I was lucky enough to be a member of “The Road Runners”, with Phil Van Buskirk, Rick Achatz, Kenny Baker, and George Kawamoto. Scott Post was an original member, but his family made him quit when my mother and I broke into their house to get my guitar; the Posts were on vacation.
    Special thanks to Gail Takamine for dancing with me in 8th grade. And Susie Ando for double dating with Warren Jackson at the bowling alley.
    One of my memories is waiting at John Sneed’s house after school in November, 1963, to head over to George Washington for swimming practice. Suddenly, on KIMN radio we heard The Beatles for the first time.
    Then, Friday noontime, Nov. 22, 1963, I was in the cafeteria when John F. Kennedy was shot. A girl dropped her lunch tray in mid-walk. School was dismissed.
    I’ve been living on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu since 1980.
    Aloha to everyone.
    I’m a very nostalgic person, so I really appreciate seeing all the photos and reading all the posts. Long live The Esplanade.

    • admin says:

      Aloha, Dave! Good to hear from you. Yes, many of us remember the dances at The Barn and The Orbit, and The Roadrunners band. And I remember that shocking November 22nd, too. Gail Takamine stopped me in the hall between classes to tell me the news and I didn’t believe her. In the next class, within minutes, I learned that she was right.

      I hope you ordered the Memory Book that will have lots of the photos taken during the weekend. Should be fun to see everyone!

  12. John Mayers says:

    Does anybody remember a band called The Capris. Also played at “The Barn and The Orbit” and some other local east Denver sites? Or Happy Logans Downtown Fender guitar and amp showroom. Mecca for all bands on the front range

    • admin says:

      I remember the doo-wop group called The Capris that sang, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight.” I remember the the name, “Happy Logan’s,” but that’s it. Long, long time ago!

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