History, future meet at reunion Relationships: Forty- five years ago, the Class of '52 faced the transition to adulthood. Now, class members cope with new changes in their lives.

November 16, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The dusty pink banquet hall in the Linthicum restaurant had chintzy chandeliers, a dance floor, a DJ and a photographer in the corner taking stilted pictures of couples as if it was prom night again.

Except the music the DJ played was Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller and Perry Como. The well-dressed couples were gray- and silver-haired.

Last weekend, 78 graduates of Glen Burnie High School's Class of 1952 gathered from Ohio, California, Florida, Ferndale and Glen Burnie to see one more time old crushes, homeroom pals and football standouts.

Their Saturday night was special, and not just for the usual reasons class reunions are. As high school seniors 45 years ago, they'd set out as a group on a new, scary stage in life -- adulthood. Now facing retirement, they were together again, talking about new roles, life changes and breaks in relationships.

"Your priorities change as you get older," said John Moore, an organizer of the event. "Now, our kids are raised, we've paid off the house, we don't have to worry about showing up for work Monday morning. We're now at the point where relationships are more important."

Moore, who's organized the reunions for 20 years, said this year's attendance was the largest.

"There are fewer of us," said Moore, a retiree who lives in Glen Burnie. "And none of us can be sure we're going to make it to the next one in five years."

Connie Saltz, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who specializes in aging, said such "social markers" as reunions become increasingly important to people as they age.

She said that as people enter retirement, they assess their losses -- such as youth, work life and friendships -- more and begin wanting to re-establish old links.

"They're looking back at the things that did mean something to them and wanting to hold on to the good memories," Saltz said. "High school was the height of your energy, and the world was wide open in front of you and people like to go back to that."

The evening was a regression in many ways. Shirley Reese Wei, 63, was attending her first reunion. A busy job as a medical lab technician in Barrington, R.I., had never given her a chance to take a weekend off for the reunions.

Newly retired and considering a move back to Glen Burnie with her husband, Reese Wei said she was hoping to rekindle old friendships so she and her husband would have a social group when they return.

"It'd be nice to meet old friends again," she said, looking around the room. "I haven't seen any of them since high school."

Sitting at a table with an endless stream of people coming by to say hello, Katherine Frantum brimmed with pride.

In 1952, Frantum was known to this crowd as Miss Kaiser, a math and science teacher and class adviser. She was one of six teachers who attended the Nov. 8 event.

"In high school, you have so much hope for what this child is going to do," said Frantum, who's attended several reunions of this class. "Now, you're meeting them as adults, and they have success stories to tell. After all the years, you're seeing the product."

Huddled in a corner and watching people work the room, Margaret Benson, a retired sales representative, and Joan Schramm Cook, a retired telephone operator, recalled their time in high school being governed by a social caste system.

"There were the academics, the stenographers, the commercial and the shop people," said Benson, 64, of Glen Burnie, who was "commercial." "And the academics never associated with the commercial people."

Schramm Cook, who was a "shop" person, confided she used to have a big crush on Jack Roethe, the class president.

"He was on the sports teams and he sat next to me in biology," she said. "But, man, I'm glad I married my husband."

"Now, we've all gotten old," Benson said.

"I didn't really want to come, I guess," Benson acknowledged. "I've got wrinkles and I've gained weight and me not being married, they're probably thinking, '45 years and she's still not married?' Now it's OK, but 45 years ago, if you didn't get married, you were considered strange."

But Roethe, Schramm Cook's one-time heartthrob, said the nice thing about reunions as the years went by was that people became less caught up with status and looks.

"At the first [reunion], they want to know where you work, what car you drive, but none of these questions are asked now," said Roethe, a retired senior engineer of Ferndale. "Now we talk about what we do in our free time, do we sleep in, what time do we get up, do you play golf?"

Moore said he hoped people would still be able to show up to discuss such topics at the next reunion.

"If we're still ambulatory and functional," he said, "2002 is our 50th."

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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