Friday, November 5, 2021

Insight: Celebrating a half-century of friendship

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

It's said that genuine friendship is much like enjoying great health because you truly never fully appreciate its worth until it’s gone. For many of my high school classmates attending our 50th Rush-Henrietta Class of 1971 Reunion last weekend in Rochester, New York, that supposition was a stark reality as we reveled in each other’s company but mourned our departed friends who we will never see again.

I loved every moment of catching up with more than 100 of my classmates at this reunion, some of whom I haven’t seen in 50 years, but I felt profoundly sad that some of my cherished friends who wanted to be there for this milestone gathering were no longer alive to join us.

Some of my close friends and classmates passed away years ago and another classmate, Mike Wilson, who was really looking forward to attending this reunion, suddenly died of a heart attack over Labor Day Weekend.

While on a tour of our old high school, I also reflected on many of our teachers and school administrators who are no longer with us.

One of my classmates, Ellie Gruver Doughty, mentioned that she became a chemical engineer because of the encouragement she received from her high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Saunders. I told her that my own guidance counselor, Mrs. Nickles, suggested that I abandon my dream of becoming a writer and explore plumbing or carpentry because she didn’t think I could make a living writing. But my sophomore year English teacher, Ruth Silverman, thought otherwise and advised me to pursue my dreams no matter what and 46 years into my journalism career, I believe she was right.

It was quite memorable to visit with classmates I had not spoken with since high school and to learn about where their life had taken them. Jim Quetschenbach has worked in organ donation and transplantation for years and had a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force. Roger DeMarco has been a successful home builder in Virginia, New York, and Georgia and is a father of three children and a grandfather of three. Karen Holzermer Braafhart has had a long career in food service distribution and although I didn’t know it at the time, she lived near me when I was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona.

In junior high and high school, I had a major crush on Peggy Stidd Muhs, whose locker was right next to mine and before leaving the high school tour on Saturday afternoon, I was able to tell her how much our friendship has meant to me for the past 55 years.

Tears were in my eyes when I hugged my two oldest friends from school, Quentin Gordon and Ricky Jentons, at the Friday night dinner. Seeing them again reminded me of how proud I am to be a member of this school class and growing up with them so long ago.

Through the years I’ve been able to reconnect with many classmates on social media, but it was wonderful to visit with them in person during the reunion. Like all of us, they have endured life’s ups and downs and I cherished the time I got to spend speaking with them. This included my good friend Penny King Moody who has a camp in New Hampshire, and Gary Goodridge, who retired from one career and now works for his wife at a senior moving services company. I liked hearing about Joe Mastrantonio’s career in restaurant management and discovering that my classmate Aaron Cole married a Mainer and now lives in Damariscotta.

A longtime regret of mine was also put to rest for good at the reunion. In school I was rather shy, and it took me weeks to summon the courage to ask Margie Novak to the Junior Prom the day before it was to take place. She said no because she didn’t have time to prepare and get a dress at such a late date. It bothered me through the decades since, but when I mentioned it to her, she told me that she didn’t even remember it happening.

It was gratifying to learn how many classmates appreciate my writing and they went out of their way to tell me so. Among those who also told me they admire my work was one of our teachers who attended the reunion, Paula Summit. She looked amazing and I enjoyed a meaningful conversation with her about how she came to teach physical education at our school.

Viewing all the sports championship banners hanging in the gymnasium that my classmates earned during our time there made me proud and yet deeply sad for those exceptional athletes and classmates who have died. Steve Graves, Todd Clemens, Rick Calver, and Rod Middelsteadt may no longer be with us, but their legacy of what they accomplished on the playing field remains on those banners for all to see.

The theme of this reunion was “Celebrating us, Remembering Them” and that we did. If memories are indeed the thread that holds together the patchwork of friendship, our Class of 1971 has been blessed and some. <

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