A box step down memory lane

At a senior prom of a different sort, elders enjoy an evening hosted by students

May 21, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The couple sat at a table in the back of the gymnasium at Havre de Grace High School, which was decorated for the prom in pink, black and white.

Linda wore a new two-piece, knee-length turquoise dress, while Art donned a charcoal-gray suit with a light-blue chambray shirt.

The school's jazz band struck up a familiar song, inspiring Art to rise and extend a hand to Linda.

"Once the music starts, we start dancing and that is where you can find us all night long," Art said as he led Linda onto the dance floor, where they glided and spun amid the colorful flurry of other dancers.

Their grace on the dance floor shouldn't surprise, given that the event was not Art and Linda Stuempfle's first prom - his was in 1957, hers the year before.

The Edgewood couple joined more than 100 adults ranging in age from 60 to 90 who attended the 18th annual Senior Citizens Prom hosted this month by a community service club for students based at Havre de Grace High.

It's been a regular on the Stuempfles' calendar for the past decade, after their ballroom dance instructor suggested they check it out.

"We were flabbergasted. A prom for senior citizens?" said Linda, 67. "We'd never heard of such a thing."

The event gives Art ample opportunity to make up for some of the dancing he missed out on at his high school prom.

"The seniors' prom gives me a chance to dance to every song," said Art. "Back in my high school days, I was part of a quartet that played the music."

On this night, the theme was the 50s, and as the Stuempfles finished their dance, more people arrived and filled the more than 25 tables lightly sprinkled with shimmering confetti. While making their way back to their seats Art, 66, said he and his wife attend partly to show their support to the students who put on the event.

But mostly they just want to dance.

"We love getting out on the floor and dancing," Art said.

As if on cue, another familiar song started and Art led his wife back to the floor. At a nearby table, two 72-year-old friends - Marci Collins and Jo Ann Angelini - watched the Stuempfles.

"My legs are too bad to dance," said Collins, 72, a Dublin resident who was attending the event for the second time. "But many of the dancers take lessons and they do just the exact right thing on the dance floor. I love to come and watch the dancing."

Instead of dancing, Collins and Angelini reminisced about their high school proms.

Recollection was easy for Angelini because she attended her first prom at Havre de Grace High, where she was a student.

"I wore a white cocktail dress and had dinner at the school," said Angelini, a Havre de Grace native. "Back then we didn't have the fancy hotels and expensive dinners. You didn't have to be a millionaire to go to prom."

The hosts distributed a sheet of paper for a trivia game on the songs the band played. Players were to write the name of the song, the artist and when it was poplar.

As "Only You" by the Platters began to play, Collins thought for a moment and said, "I don't know who this is singing this song because it's from the '50s and I'm not old enough!"

It was the first prom for some guests, such as 85-year-old Ralph Sparling of Havre de Grace. He attended Benjamin Franklin High in Manhattan, which didn't hold a prom.

Belatedly attending a prom wasn't what drew Sparling to the event, but rather his love of dancing. His sister was a Radio City Rockette many years ago.

"She taught me to dance," Sparling said. "We had a little routine that we did."

Sparling also recalled many nights dancing at the USO clubs during World War II.

"At the clubs I was always the last one to get back to camp," Sparling said. "You couldn't get me off the dance floor back then.

"But I can't do much dancing now," he said, rubbing a sore knee.

Jack "Buckets" Kaylor has attended the prom for all but one year. He said he loves dancing and learned how to move to the music of some of the biggest performers of the 1950s.

"I broke in rock 'n' roll with some of rock's great performers at a dance hall in Havre de Grace," said Kaylor, 73.

Kaylor told of shows at the Fireside Inn in Havre de Grace, which booked such acts as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Little Richard, and Bill Haley and Comets. The singers played at the Fireside on Wednesdays en route to shows in Philadelphia.

"It was an intimate setting and cost $10 to see them perform," Kaylor said. "They played and I danced. It was my only chance to see them because on the weekends you couldn't get near them. My only regret is that we never got Elvis to come and perform."

Elsewhere around the room, guests visited between dances.

"I like the fellowship of mixing with seniors," said Roy D. Mentzer, 86, of Havre de Grace. "This prom is a place to talk about family and children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

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