Laurel High Class of 1967 heads back to school

For the Laurel Leader

In 1967, as the national winds of social change swept through the small town of Laurel, population nearing 10,000, 101 young men and 99 young women at Laurel High School tossed their graduation caps in the air and embarked on their futures.

Thirty-three would serve 219 collective years in the military. Some became lawyers, carpenters, first responders, teachers, nurses, realtors, ministers, office administrators, authors and engineers.

Some served society as flight attendants, hair stylists, intelligence and security specialists, radiation physicists and counselors.

And 70 came from near and far to attend the Laurel High Class of 1967 50th anniversary reunion the last weekend in September.

Exquisite weather that would last the entire three days began at the varsity football game Friday afternoon as the Class of 1967 came to kick off their golden reunion.

Dick Wenzel, co-chairman of the reunion committee, flew in from the West Coast. He said “it was a really big deal” when Laurel faced the same rival — Bowie High School — during homecoming in the class’s senior year.

“We were sky high and we steam rolled them [31 to 14],” he said. “Football was really fun.”

A half century later, Friday’s game finished 28 to 13 in a deja vu victory. MOre than 60 class members attended a reunion reception at the Double Tree Hilton following the game that evening.

Saturday morning, about 30 gathered at Laurel High’s theater annex where Principal Dwayne Jones greeted them in the lobby with a memory display crafted by the Laurel High School History Club.

Inside, Mayor Craig Moe formally welcomed home the Class of 1967, proclaiming Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, 2017 “Laurel High School Class of 1967 Weekend” and presenting class members with symbolic key-to-the-city pins.

County Councilwoman Mary Lehman presented a Prince George’s County proclamation designating the Class of 1967 as the “Perfect Transitional Class [the first seniors to attend a full year at the “new” Laurel High School on Cherry Lane] … celebrated for its exemplary and continuous contributions over the past half century.”

Committee co-chairwoman and Laurel resident Melanie McKnight read a letter of congratulations from County Executive Rushern Baker III, and Jones gave a casual talk prior to leading a tour of the campus.

Amid happy chatter about the football victory, Jones said the Spartans hadn’t beat the Bulldogs in at least 13 years and thanked the class for bringing good luck to their “Laurel family.”

On Saturday evening, the Class of 1967 celebrated its golden anniversary at Club Meade on Fort Meade. Retired Laurel High teachers Harvey Beavers, Norris Diefenderfer, George Fiackos, Janice Stanton Loftus, John Kalie and Robert Tomasic attended the gala.

A picnic catered by the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary on the lawn of the “old school” (now the Phelps Center) on Montgomery Street on Sunday capped off the lively festivities with a surprise showing of 18 classic cars, organized by Wayne Masters and Clark Hensley.

Planning the 50th reunion started last May, a month after McKnight said she and Wenzel began discussing it. Connie Grauel Durkin, who lives in San Diego, and Columbia resident Robert Stokes signed on to serve as secretary and treasurer.

Locating classmates scattered across 15 states — 10 currently live in Laurel — required making hundreds of phone calls. The committee said they received invaluable assistance from super sleuth Diana Clark Ericksen, of Northern California, and others.

Durkin created a database of contact information and set up a Class of 1967 email address and Facebook page. The reunion committee eventually found all but 12 members of their graduation class; 38 were confirmed to be deceased. She compiled bios and did the desktop publishing for a memory book, “This Was Our Time,” written by Francine Fochler Biere.

Reaching out to alumni, she said, was a bittersweet undertaking.

“We had the Vietnam War looming in the distance [in the 1960s] and I was surprised to find out how many of our guys ended up in the war,” Durkin said.

Ericksen said she contacted classmate Anita Smith Hiller, whose voice sounded “deep and dark” and promised to pray for a miracle for Hiller. But when she called back, Hiller had died.

“Working on locating classmates made us realize how important our health is and that we really are getting older,” McKnight said.

But the joy of rekindling and forging new friendships overshadowed sadness for those who planned and attended the reunion, which Wenzel said was a “perfect” success.

“It was so much fun,” McKnight said.

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