"Don't you remember me? My hair is different but I was in your science class."
"What year are you from?"
"I've been waiting! I was beginning to think you weren't going to come!"
The joy and surprise in the voices of the alumni who returned yesterday to Anne Arundel County's Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High School for an all-class reunion were evidence of the event's success.
About 500 people came from across the state and around the corner, eager to celebrate in the hallways and classrooms of their alma mater.
The event offered one last opportunity to tour the 44-year-old building before it closes this summer for renovations. Scheduled to reopen in 2000, the building will serve as a multiuse center that will house community agencies, the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts and the long-awaited return of the Brooklyn Park Middle School.
Conceived by Arlene Hodges, president of the Olde Brooklyn Park Improvement Association, the reunion was to serve a dual purpose -- for alumni to revisit their youth and to benefit the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts.
Conversation with a friend
Hodges, a graduate of Southern High School in Baltimore, was thinking about a conversation she'd had with her best friend, Mary Ann Stuchinski Ferrin.
"It was one of those nights when I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about the Chesapeake Center and I was thinking about Mary Ann and how she had lamented that she was not able to come back to the school before it shut down," recalled Hodges.
Convinced that a tour of the school would be a great fund-raiser for the CCCA, Hodges called her friend the next day.
"There was dead silence on the other end of the phone," said Hodges. "Then she said 'Great, let's do it.' "
It wasn't long before the tour metamorphosed into a reunion of all the classes that had attended the school from its opening in 1954 to the graduating class of 1990. After that, students were transferred to the new North County High School.
In a little more than two months, Hodges and Ferrin organized a committee that spread news of the reunion through newspapers and word of mouth.
But would they come?
"It was like planning a wedding and wondering if the groom would show up," Hodges said.
She needn't have worried. Not only did the graduates come, but they brought family and friends.
"That's where I took driver's education," Sylvia Jones Fox told daughters Katie and Allyson as they surveyed what was left of the school library. "I can remember everything. I know where everything is."
5 children graduated
Fox, a 1982 graduate, traveled from New Windsor in Carroll County to Brooklyn Park to share the moment with her daughters and her mother, Frances Jones.
"All five of my children graduated from Brooklyn Park, and all did exceedingly well," Jones said.
Catherine Benicewicz had a similar story to tell. A substitute teacher at the school for 15 years, all three of her sons graduated from Brooklyn Park and went on to earn master's degrees. Her twin sons, members of the class of 1966, are teachers in county schools. Anthony teaches biology at neighboring Glen Burnie High, and Lawrence teaches eighth grade science at Brooklyn Park-Lindale Middle/Junior High School. Youngest son Mark graduated in 1972 and went on to a career in satellite communications.
'I wanted to see everything'
Visitors wandered through halls looking for familiar faces in the pages of the old school newspapers and yearbooks that decorated the building. Donning glasses to read the inscriptions on trophies and awards, more than one person asked where the time had gone.
Several alumni paid $50 to have their names inscribed on a plaque that will grace the CCCA's halls. Others bought commemorative T-shirts and bid on school memorabilia.
"I had to come. I wanted to see everything," said Debbie Doane Ernest of Pasadena.
Ernest, a 1971 graduate, had not been inside the school since she was a student. Once she visited the school grounds for an athletic event and peered in the windows. The reunion gave her the chance to come back inside.
Looking around, she noted wistfully, "My school years were such good fun."
The reunion offered Ernest and hundreds of other alumni the chance to relive those memories.
Hodges reminded the guests, "This school was the heart of this community, and this school will remain in our hearts forever."
Pub Date: 5/04/98