EXETER — There was a birthday party Saturday. The clown with the balloon animals never found his way there and the magician didn’t show up, either. And nobody played “Pin-the-Tail-on the Donkey.”
But there was cake. And clams.
The Wyoming Area High School Class of 1973 held a “between-reunions” party to celebrate the fact that members have turned the corner on six decades of living. At least, most of them could claim that milestone.
“I just came because I like hanging out with these old-timers,” said Lou Palmieri, of Kingston, who could claim he was still in his 50s. “Yeah, I’m 59 and 51 weeks.”
There might have been three or four others, too. And the class members could name each and every one of them.
“That’s the kind of class this is,” said Dotty Martin, of Forty Fort, who, along with Mariella Bravyak Confair, also of Forty Fort, organized the party.
They’re the kind of people who aren’t pulling out pictures of their children and grandchildren. They don’t care what kind of car anyone drives, although they did enjoy watching David Amico arrive on his Harley Davidson, complete with a girl on the back.
They prefer picnics to formal dinners and would rather have pulled pork and burgers than sit at a fancy place setting.
The picnic was held at St. Barbara’s Pavilion, just a few blocks from the school where these people once studied algebra and chemistry.
They are the kind of people who enjoy getting together and talking, too.
Conversations ranged from chats about fishing and hunting to sports, even discussions about the crowd of potential presidential candidates. And no one got hostile.
Sometimes the conversation centered on a return to the Wyoming Valley after careers elsewhere.
Joe Bartoletti talked about his 40 years as a designer in New York City before returning to his family home in Wyoming to take care of his ailing parents. He loves the big city and loved his time there, but he’s not making any plans to go back.
“I have a daughter who is pregnant,” he said. “Now I want to be grandpa.”
They’re the kind of people who can look back at their high school selves and be a bit in awe about where they are now.
“I never thought I’d be a teacher,” said Jill Smith Space, of Forty Fort. She decided to go back to school after years in retail, and in September will start her 12th year as a consumer family science teacher at GAR High School in Wilkes-Barre.
They are also the kind of people who don’t boast about where they work but will tell you about their jobs. If pressed.
Andy Hergan, now retired from a 35-year career working in special education at the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, traveled from his home in Bloomsburg for the party.
“I started in speech therapy,” he said. “And then I had one course in educating special needs children. There was a kid in our neighborhood with special needs and something just clicked with me. So I went into the field because, well, it was where I belonged.”
He chatted with Drew Whyte, a beer distributor in Pittston, who stayed close to both his alma mater and his favorite sport. He was an assistant baseball coach at Wyoming Area for 26 years as well as a coach of various baseball leagues in the valley.
They’re the kind of people who keep in touch. Facebook has made that easier in the past few years and also made it easier to plan the party.
They’re the kind who travel from as far away as Tennessee or Ohio for a five-hour party.
Mary Kay Carchilla Embleton, who has worked in banking all of her life, made the trip from Charlotte, North Carolina.
They have a bit of fun teasing each other, even when it comes to gray hair and balding pates.
“I don’t know any of these people. They’re all old,” said Warren Stahl, of Harding.
He can’t complain, though. He’s been retired for 11 years after a career “making diapers” with Procter and Gamble. He and his wife love to travel, and when he’s home, Stahl volunteers with Meals on Wheels.
Stahl is also one of those people who set a goal and reached it.
“I planned to retire early,” he said. “That’s when you start your bucket list.”
They are the people who always take a moment to remember classmates who have passed on. The list stands at 17 now. At this picnic, names and senior class pictures of deceased members appeared on a board under the words, “We Remember…”
At the 40th anniversary reunion two years ago, class members phoned one of their own who was in the final stages of fighting cancer to sing “Happy Birthday” to her as the reunion was held on her birthday.
The 70-plus old friends took to the dance floor after the burgers, salads and clams. The beer ran out 10 minutes before the party’s official end.
“When the disc jockey stopped at 8 p.m., everybody sprung into action — and I mean everybody,” Martin reported. “A few people had left but everyone who was still there cleaned off the tables, took the table coverings off, including a zillion thumb tacks we had used to keep the coverings from blowing away, folded the chairs and put them back on the racks and stacked the tables.”
Leftover food, soda and water were loaded into Confair’s car so she could haul it to Ruth’s Place, a shelter for abused women she visits often with a carload of donated goods.
They are the kind of people who look forward, as well.
“I worked in a shoe factory when I was in high school,” said Linda Hughes Thorne, of Exeter. “And then I went on to become a supervisor in a group home. And in November, I’m moving to Arizona to be with my kids and grandkids. They’re all out there and I have nothing holding me here.”
And they’re the kind of people who treasure their friendships.
Gloria Castellani Sekusky, of Highland Hills, was the senior prom queen. She put away her tiara and now calls herself a workaholic, putting in hour after hour as a surgical assistant and part-time helper in the obstetrics department of “a local hospital.”
“Want me to tell you about this class?” she said. “It’s simple. The Class of ’73 was always bonded by friendship and cherished memories.”