Friendship of Ludlowe '45 grads withstands test of time
Published 10:28 am, Friday, September 17, 2010
The ribbing and repartee exchanged by about two dozen members of the Roger Ludlowe High School Class of 1945 at a brunch gathering Sunday suggested the friends had never been apart, even though they graduated more than six decades earlier and most see each other only every five years at reunions.
The classmates carried on as if they were still walking the halls of their old high school (which now houses Tomlinson Middle School) with good-natured jokes about their teen years, and several even made comedic observations about how those memories are getting harder to summon up.
"I wore my name tag because some people might not remember me from last night," laughed Adele Daley Thomas, 83, of Fairfield. The brunch took place at Roger Ludlowe Middle School on Sunday, the morning after the reunion dinner at Cinzano's restaurant, attended by about 60 people, 36 of whom were members of the Class of 1945. Some came from as far away as Florida for the gathering.
Among the assembled classmates was Joseph DelBuono, 81, of Miami and Fairfield. He will be 82 on Sept. 28. "I had the distinction to be the youngest graduate of Roger Ludlowe," he said, having skipped second grade at McKinley School.
"I'm Class of 1945 along with the rest of these reprobates," joked Bob Waehler, 82, now of Woburn, Mass., who came to the reunion with his wife Marilyn.
Humor was a hallmark of that class, according to Dave Russell, 82, of Fairfield, the town's former fire chief and chairman of the reunion committee. Russell, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday later this month, wore a badge with his yearbook photo under which was printed his yearbook quote: "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men."
It was silliness that got them through their senior year, poised between childhood and adulthood, between the innocence of youth and the harsh realities of the era. Theirs was the last senior class of World War II and for the males among the 214 original class members, the military draft loomed large.
"Our class was a party class. You knew you were going to get drafted," said Bob Seirup, 82, of Fairfield, a member of the reunion committee. Still, he said, "School was good. We really enjoyed it," even though the harsh realities of the war were never far from their thoughts.
"I had a kid sitting next to me in class who enlisted and three weeks later he was dead in the Battle of the Bulge. We gave everything away because we expected never to come back," said Seirup, whose enlistment got deferred until graduation. He was drafted into the Army and was headed to Japan when the atom bomb was dropped, sending him back to a base stateside.
"We were the last class of World War II. Very few of the males graduated. We went into the service," Russell said, adding that he and others received a wartime diploma. Russell was a U.S. Navy seaman 1st class and assigned to a submarine chaser.
For many of the female classmates, on the other hand, wartime did not have the same ominous connotation.
"To this day I'm embarrassed to say I had a wonderful time in high school. We were aware (of the war), but we were young enough and naïve enough to not be serious about it until our senior year when some of our classmates were drafted," said Betty Rowe Mercurio, 82, of Fairfield. She called that year her "awakening."
"It was a big transition. It was a different time," she said.
Back then things were quite different, and not just because of the war, said George Peterson, 79, of Fairfield, Class of 1949, whose brother was a member of the Class of 1945. "It was a small, rural town then. Only four kids in my class had a car or access to a car. Two wealthy kids had a car and a couple of guys in the shop classes bought a jalopy and fixed it up. Some of us were lucky to get the family car for our dates," he recalled.
He was not the only one who was not a '45 grad to attend the reunion events. "I go to theirs because we don't have one," Nora Vayser, 84, of Fairfield, said of her RLHS Class of 1944.
During their school days, the big rivalry for Ludlowe students was posed by Bassick High School in neighboring Bridgeport. Peterson said the traditional Thanksgiving football game was played each year between the two schools and the group reminisced about the games.
"The Bassick people were our rivals and they still rub it in," Thomas said.
Susan Fisher Benton, 82, pointed to Joan Seirup, Bob Seirup's wife, and said, "She's wearing purple because she's in mourning because she went to Bassick." Joan had a few Bassick signs proudly displayed on the coffee table. She has brought them to every reunion since she married Bob 61 years ago.
Although the classmates' numbers are dwindling and some suggested having another reunion in two years, Russell said a lot of work goes into organizing such the events, so they'll stick to the usual schedule. "We'll probably plan another one in five years," he said.