Northampton Class of ’55 couldn’t wait to get back together

  • Chuck Wilhelm talks with other classmates at a Northampton High School reunion of the Class of 1955. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Donna Ives and Pat Lawler talk with other classmates at a Northampton High School reunion of the Class of 1955. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Members of the Northampton High School Class of 1955 at a reunion at Jane Lebiecki's home in Northampton on Saturday, June 15, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carrie Wailgum and her husband George Wailgum look at an old photograph of themselves at a Northampton High School reunion of the Class of 1955. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2019 9:13:29 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Under the shade of a silver maple tree, the Northampton High School Class of 1955 gathered Saturday afternoon for a reunion, 64 years after graduating.

“There were so many people who said, ‘Do we have to wait for our 65th?’” said Bill Bailey, one of about 40 NHS graduates who attended the reunion. “We had a class that enjoyed each other immensely.”

The NHS class of ’55 graduated nearly 150 students, and in the living room of Jane Lebiecki’s home, people flipped through a yearbook filled with black and white photos and scribbled messages to go along with the headshots.

Notes such as “You’re a real swell gal” and “Best of luck” were handwritten alongside later notes that recorded people’s occupations after graduating and where they lived.

“Our class was wonderful — everybody was good to each other, and I think that’s what keeps us coming back,” said Lebiecki, who hosted the reunion in her home on Old Wilson Road.

Even though class members typically reunite every five years in a hotel or in a formal setting, they decided not to wait. In Lebiecki’s home, people were shuffling from room to room, drinking seltzer and wine, catching up on the intermittent years and sharing stories from earlier days.

In the 1950s, Northampton High School would separate students into different divisions — college, commercial and general — and many students never shared classes and did not get to know each other, Bailey said.

The reunions have since become an opportunity for many NHS graduates to connect for the first time, Bailey said, and that’s how he got to meet Lebiecki. Now they both co-chair the reunion committee.

The year they graduated, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the middle of his first term as president, Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, and “The Johnny Carson Show” — a precursor to “The Tonight Show” — debuted on television.

“1955 was not a troubling time,” Labiecki said. “We were a little naive, though, because Northampton is wonderful and there were things going on — a lot of racism at that time — that I can’t believe is in our history. But in Northampton, we were comfortable, we were happy.”

In another room, people were passing around photo albums over dessert. Sheets of paper with contact information and people’s addresses were being updated as well.

In the backyard, Chuck Wilhelm, Donna Ives and Pat Lawler were recounting their days before and during high school while sitting at a picnic table.

Wilhelm said songs such as “16 Tons,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley & His Comets were popular on the radio in his high school days.

He remembered that there were no foreign cars at the time, and most everyone drove Fords and Chevrolets.

Ives said that during World War II, when many in the class of ’55 were between 4 and 8 years old, there was food rationing, and no new cars were manufactured from 1942 to 1945.

“I remember people running out of their houses, saying, ‘The war has ended!’” Ives recalled.

As for what keeps the class so close-knit, Lawler said, “It was the time we lived in. It’s so very different now.”

Today, there is 24/7 everything — television, music, news, Wilhelm added.

“I listen to my grandchildren, and it’s different,” Lawler said.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.




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