- Middle school friends catch up at reunion
39 years of students, teachers from Richardson Park Junior High celebrate with dancing, food and, of course, reminiscing
8:47 PM, Apr. 20, 2011
Written by KIM HUEY
Special to The News Journal
When Brenda Presley told friends she was going to a middle school class reunion, the response she usually got was, "Why?"
Many of the 256 people who showed up for the Richardson Park Junior High School reunion March 26 endured plenty of ribbing from friends who just didn't understand.
"We were a tight-knit group," said Presley, who ran fundraising for the group. The reunion took in $1,500 to cover expenses and buy a plaque for the school commemorating the students who attended when it was a junior high. Today, the school near Newport is an elementary school.
Jim Kelley, a 1976 graduate of the school, said it makes more sense to have a junior high reunion than a high school one. When he attended Richardson Park, the school went from elementary to junior high. He spent more years with students there than he did with those in high school.
"High school, we only spent three years with them," he said.
The reunion started as a celebration of one class, whose students were turning 50 this year, but so many others asked if they could attend that the party was opened up to anyone who attended before the junior high was closed. Alumni from 1944 to 1983 showed up.
"We got some incredible stories of the school," said Kelley, who spent time with some of the older alumni. He learned how the school grew and added different features through the years. "It's a really old school."
Participants ate, drank, danced and spent time catching up with friends, some of whom hadn't seen each other in more than 35 years. For many, the highlight was spending time with the teachers and principal who attended.
"To see the teachers come, that was awesome," Presley said. "To know they cared as much as we did."
Former band director Anthony Clatch, 88, flew in from Las Vegas with his wife.
"It was the best thing that could have happened to my husband," said Margaret Clatch, as she choked up recalling the standing ovation he received when he rose to speak. "He worked hard all those years. He worked hard with these children and they remembered him. He didn't even get to eat, so many people came over to talk to him."
The event was so successful, the group is already looking into dates to have a casual picnic at Banning Park, across the street from the school. It's even inspired others to work a little more on their high school reunions.
Graduates of the class of 1978 at Conrad High School, where many of the Richardson Park Middle School graduates went, are working on events to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their school. They will hold an awards dinner to raise scholarship money May 5, a day to help clean up the school May 18 and an alumni golf tournament June 3. For more information on the Conrad events go to the Conrad Facebook page or www.conradalumni.com.
While calls already have started about when the next reunion will be, Christine Schnatterer, lead organizer, said she is in no hurry. Others said maybe every five years.
"Everything was perfect," Presley said about the evening, except for one thing. "It was way too short."
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