Saturday afternoon and evening I was reunited with people I had not seen in years. The reunion of the Pioneer Central School Class of 1971 was the second of two reunions I have attended this summer. Both reunions were special for different reasons. The first reunion of the summer happened in Olean, New York where I rejoined the Class of 1970 of Archbishop Walsh High School that I attended from 1966-1968. Attending Walsh was a continuation of Catholic education which began in 1957 at a small grammar school that no longer exists. Walsh was 40 miles south of my home and I needed to make a bus trip with forty other youngsters. Participation in extracurricular activities was out of the question for me. The take home bus only came as far north as Franklinville and my father was unwilling to make that trip to fetch me.

In the fall of 1968 I was abruptly removed from Walsh and transferred to Arcade Central School which was right down the street from where I lived. The transfer was traumatic but I was quickly welcomed to the school and unlike the Walsh experience I could participate in extracurricular activities like interscholastic athletics because of our proximity to the school. I tried out for the basketball team in the fall of ’68 and was cut. The coach liked my work ethic and offered me a job as the manager. The tallest member of the team was the manager.

I was taking trigonometry and failing it and almost lost my manager job until I convinced my parents to let me drop the course and retake it later in high school. Trouble with mathematics in high school was anathema for me. I barely passed algebra as a freshman at Walsh. The next year I failed geometry at Walsh and had to attend summer school to pass the course. The decision to drop trigonometry would prove fortuitous and allowed me to slow down a bit and in the process move into the Class of 1971.

Dropping mathematics allowed me to retain my position as manager of the 1969 Arcade Lions varsity basketball team. That team won the Section 5 Class A title vs Spencerport in the then Rochester War Memorial. Our team was honored with a banquet at the Crystal Inn and we all received complementary AM radios from the local Motorola plant with our names engraved on them.

In the fall of 1969 our classes moved to the new school building in Yorkshire. We became the Class of 1971 at Pioneer Central School. There were more new schoolmates to meet. Ironically I was reunited with some of the students I had met at St. Pius X years before. I was able to join the varsity soccer team, Latin club, Key Club, Wind Ensemble. I made the varsity basketball team that year and felt a part of the school class and community that were formed by the merger of Delevan-Machias and Arcade.

Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone. Mine was no exception. It was complicated to an extent by my father whom we later discovered was suffering from depression. Our home was not a happy one in those years so my classes at Pioneer Central and the extra-curricular activities were the beacon that gave me hope.

Some of my classmates were particularly helpful in supporting and encouraging me through those difficult times at home. One of them actually allowed me to live with him and his family for a time. Another frequently listened, offered encouragement and laughed at my jokes. In June of 1971 we walked across the stage to receive our diplomas and then we were gone. A year later I was drafted and enlisted in the United States Navy. When I returned to civilian life three years llater most of my high school peers had moved on with their lives. We lost touch with each other.

My life was tempest-tossed for a period of time and then I found recovery. In time I met a beautiful woman. We fell in love, married and had a couple of lovely children. I stayed away from school reunions until the twentieth in 1991. Since then I’ve attended several. This year was special because of the trauma of the pandemic and the knowledge that we’re all getting older. We learned at the reunion that 180 of us graduated in June 1971 and since then we’ve lost forty classmates. One of them was my friend Gary who gave me a home for part of our senior year. There were about eighty who attended this fiftieth reunion and it was great to see them all and share our journeys. In Greek mythology there is a term for the safe return. It is soteria. Soteria is the spirit of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm. The spirit that united us as teenagers brought us together and delivered us safely for an evening of reunion.

About Don Watkins

I'm a FOSS advocate, writer, educator, Python coder, Linux user, US Navy Veteran, Secular Franciscan, husband,father and grandfather. I blog about my life and experiences that give it meaning.
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2 Responses to Reunion

  1. acebureaucratyahoocom says:

    Hello Don, Your essay offers some insights into the Senior year we sharedat Pioneer.   I did not know you well enough to know of your challengesthat year nor that you stayed with Gary (Spencer?) for a bit.That must have been very difficult for you knowing that youwere expected to launch soon but didn’t have the impetusparents sometimes provide toward college or other options.And had to deal with the ever-present threat of the draft.   I admire that you made the best of it even if there were morechallenges along the way.  You found your way to a good familyand did it better than you had a model for. From our other conversations, it does sound like your Mom found a happierpath, too. I was new in Nov. 1970 to Pioneer.  I did not find the welcomeyou did in the school.  I, too, was trying to get my feet underme.  I could have graduated in January but could not imaginewhat I would have done with myself in that foreign land.  So,I finished in June with the class.  But I had little in commoneven with those I stayed in touch with for a bit.  Everyone isnow too religious and Republican for me to be comfortable.   Mr. Cheney was my one enduring connection to the school.He made me feel welcome.  Even bought me my first beeron my 18th birthday on a girl’s night out at the Nichols Brook.   I lived in Arcade for about 30 years.  I got involved in educationinitiatives like Shared Decision Making and sat on hiring teamsfor the H.S. and District and was glad to see some of the peoplefrom outside the community come in and make a difference forawhile.  I imagine they have gone back to hiring alumni again.   I am glad you enjoyed your reunions and have gained perspectiveover the 5 decades since then.  I am also glad to have found renewed friendship with you and John Bray from that year of 1971.In the Fall, we all went our separate ways for a number of years. I recognize very few of the people in the photo but you tower abovethe rest in the back.  Nice to be tall sometimes.  In the graduation photo, I am nearly dead center, sitting on theground, flashing the peace sign.   I am still a restless Brat though I have not moved as often as Ihad planned to.  I doubt I will be returning to Arcade anytime soon.It was never a good fit.   Be well, my friend. I do wish I had been a better one in our brief time as classmates but was ever dealing withmy own dilemmas.  It seems we all were back then. Kind regards,Bernie

    | “Sometimes we make our lives harder by how we inhabit them.” – B. H. |

    • Don Watkins says:

      Thanks for sharing your journey with me. You were one of the bright spots of our senior year. Coming into a new situation like you didd in 1970 is difficult. Coming from Walsh in 1968 was also difficult. Many of our classmates were with each other for 10 or 12 years. Ray Cenni was a peach. He helped me when I first moved to Franklinville. He busted me for drinking beer at Bluemont when I was on the volleyball team in the spring of our senior year. Nonetheless we remained friends.

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