Old friends and good times

For members of Howard High Class of '66, much is changed and much remains the same

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July 19, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jeffrey Simering remembers working summer jobs clearing rocks and creating new landscaping for a planned development called Columbia. Tom Slomaker used to debate the pros and cons of nuclear proliferation. Bebe Bethard rode her horse in areas that are now crisscrossed with highways.

Graduates of the Howard High School Class of 1966 were teenagers during a tumultuous time in the world and in Howard County. While they were students, the Vietnam War escalated, their school became integrated, Columbia moved from idea to reality and John Lennon claimed he was bigger than Jesus.

But mostly, said Class of '66 grads who gathered at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center on Saturday night for their 40th reunion, they remember having a great time. Many of the people attending the reunion recalled the dances and football games, and the fact that everyone in the class, Howard High's largest at 447, seemed to know one another.

Many had been together since kindergarten. "We had a good class," said the former Debbie Delp, now Debbie Bloom, chairwoman of the reunion committee. "We had a good time."

Between bites of chicken, steamed vegetables and rice, there seemed to be a constant chorus of "Oh, my gosh - how are you?"

The graduates wore nametags with a picture from their high school years, and spouses had name tags with their name and the name of the Howard graduate to whom they were married.

About 140 people, including 1966 graduates, spouses and teachers, attended. Organizers said this reunion was easier to pull together than the 25th reunion because of e-mail.

Howard County was considered country in 1966 and had only two high schools - Howard and Glenelg. But things were about to change. The year these students graduated, the first shovel of dirt was scooped out of the ground for what would become Columbia.

"The place is so different," said the former Donna Hopkins, now Donna Phelps, who has been living in Connecticut for 37 years and attended the reunion with her husband, Don Phelps. She spent several hours driving around Howard County and reminiscing Saturday, but she could not find the school, she said. With so much development, nothing looked the same, she said.

Arlene Sparks, formerly Arlene Dotson, agreed that the county has grown tremendously. "We lived in the country," said Sparks, who lives in Pasadena. "It's like this big city now."

Though Howard County was more rural then, the 1960s was not a more innocent time. At least two graduates lost their lives in Vietnam. Meg Workman, now Meg Brinegar, who came to the reunion from Athens, Ga., remembers traveling to Washington and to Baltimore with friends to protest the war. "We tried a lot of things to stop the war, and nothing helped, of course," she said.

The school was integrated during the tenure of Class of 1966, but "it wasn't a big issue for us," said Bloom. She, and others, remembered a smooth transition.

Bebe Bethard, now Bebe Breen, was prom queen and head of the cheerleading squad. So perhaps it is not surprising that she remembers her high school years as "awesome." She recalled decorating the school gym for dances, listening to soul music and cracking up during the talent show at the end of the school year, when the guys dressed as flappers, she said. "It really was incredible," she said. "We had a very good class."

After graduating from Howard High, Breen went to Catonsville Community College and then worked as a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines for many years. She lives in the 250-year-old Ellicott City house in which she grew up, she said.

Frank Lupashunski was a popular teacher at the school, known universally as "Lupe." He started in 1952, the year Howard High opened, moving from Pennsylvania because in Maryland he could earn $2,600 instead of $2,200, he said. He taught at the high school for 32 years, retiring in 1983.

Howard High was the county's first consolidated high school, he said. Before that, many schools taught grades six through 12. Howard High's first graduating class, in 1953, had 108 students.

Tom Slomaker, who was student council president as well as president of the Central Virginia Regional Student Council, which encompassed Maryland, also was on the debate team at Howard in 1966. After a career as a sportscaster, he moved into real estate and now owns restaurants, he said.

He remembers that a big issue taken up by the debate teams was whether to be for or against nuclear proliferation. "We thought we'd solve the problem" by now, he said, noting that the issue remains 40 years later.

Slomaker, who lives near Charlottesville, Va., said he had not seen many of his old classmates in decades. But listening to oldies music in a ballroom at Turf Valley, it seemed as if he had graduated only yesterday.

"The years melt away," he said.

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