By Donald T. Little
Sixty years after graduation, the Swarthmore High School Class of 1956 got together in September to celebrate life, share bits and pieces and bigger news, exercise memories, and manifest affection and empathy.
In June 1956 the graduates numbered 111. Thirty-two of our classmates have passed on. It was notable that almost half of the still-living graduates gathered starting on Saturday, September 17, graciously hosted by Ed and Amy Borer at their historic house and farm, Fair Meadows, near West Chester. Some graduates met at the home of a classmate in Swarthmore for a reunion-closing brunch on the 18th. Our special guest was Putty Willetts, remembered as our all-around coach.
On Saturday, the conversations continued with converging energy and goodwill, some remembering their teen years and others recounting travels in adulthood. The day was lovely, and we spread out across two terraces. The refreshments and the stories flowed easily. I had been tasked with writing this article and so found my focus in listening, for a change.
Barbara recalled the story of a formidable and gifted biology teacher, who in a biology class went around the room with a huge container of dead frogs all the while instructing her slightly disturbed charges to get right to the dissection process, as “the clock was ticking.”
Jonathan remembered how the first half was going badly for Swarthmore in the annual Yeadon football game. Yeadon used a 4-4 line, dominating in the total confusion that resulted for Swarthmore. Coach Millard Robinson deftly and calmly explained the situation at halftime, and when the team returned to town, the band led them in a victory march through the heart of the borough.
Andy, a world expert in the dynamics of lightning and air planes, recounted a heart operation. While not astounding (as the success was evident), what was astounding was that the surgeon from Cleveland Clinic had, at age seven, been a day camper in my parents-in-law’s day camp in upstate N.Y.
Mary recalled the huge challenges of moving her mother from her home of half a century and into senior living, compounded by living 3,000 miles away in California. These challenges surely resonated with many among the gathered friends. On a lighter note, this author shared a recollection with Mary concerning a “date” I had with her. We attended a Sea Scout dance held in the high school gym. Afterward while being driven to Media for a Howard Johnson’s ice cream treat, Mary suddenly said, “Oh, there is a pediddle.” Clueless, I missed the invitation. (If you are clueless too, ask your grandparents for the meaning.)
Rutgers Ave. Elementary School had a musical group directed by Bob Holm. A new talent arrived in 6th grade. Deborah, with her cello, eventually went on to Curtis Institute and became a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. As the founder of Kammermusik, she continues to share her talent.
Now this may be scary for parents who may be reading this: Halloween in the early 1950s was a long, protracted and vexing affair. Rituals manifested as corn night, soap night, mischief night, yet the civic-minded merchants and parents of the day would organize a lively Halloween parade (yes, of course, costumes) in the college field house, complete with the high school band including Nelson and Barry as percussionists.
Though I was with some classmates for 12 years (from kindergarten through 11th grade), the reunion afforded me the novel opportunity to talk with a classmate essentially for the first time. Andries Van Dam spent his early childhood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia, was repatriated with his family to Rotterdam, emigrated to the U.S. in time to become a Swarthmore High School grad in 1956. In the subsequent decades he has been a professor of computer science at Brown.
Beverly has expressed her talent and free spirit as a professional artist (and in the engaging art work for our reunion invitations) over many decades. She recalls the long hours of play by the Little Crum Creek, alone and with friends, with no hovering parents, no soccer practice, just freedom to be a kid. Virtually all of us of this vintage spent many hours in the open spaces that were then so abundant — a gift from nature that shaped us in many ways.
Walter Reynolds traveled from Charleston, S.C., where he lives in an assisted living facility. Walter, while in Swarthmore was a co-initiator of the Sea Scout unit, active in the fire department, and opened the Variety Corner. He and his late wife, Carol, had three children and many foster children. His heart is large and caring. I leave you, dear reader with his story,
Walter has difficulty walking, swallowing and talking, but despite his conditions, he came to join us, handing out cards saying, “Hi, I am Walter Reynolds.” His special friend drove him and cared for him with a heart as large as Walter’s. I couldn’t help but thank her for her choices. She gave me a warm hug, then this manifestation of an angel or Jesus or however you may want to define LOVE, turned and once again pushed the wheelchair toward the car. So it was in an afternoon gathering filled with empathy, love, patience and positive energy.