hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 31, 2013

A class reunion hits the skids

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Don’t be surprised if I suddenly give up my allegiance to Somerville High School, where I graduated, and join up with another alumni association.

The invitation came quite unexpectedly during a recent brunch culminating the 55th anniversary of Haverhill High’s Class of 1958.

It was good to see such a reunion, considering the fact my school decided to forego the formalities this year. It would have been my 55th as well. I was there because my wife was a member of that class.

To be quite honest about it, I probably know more of her classmates than she does, given my 48 years with the Gazette and the contacts I’ve built up over that time.

Class President Ed Wilson happened to be there and marveled at such a wonderful turnout. About 120 guests showed up the evening before for the dinner dance, followed by this brunch with 90 people the next morning.

Tim Jordan, the city’s roving ambassador, caught their interest about some of the exciting events taking place downtown, before it was time to chow down. That’s when I managed to vent a little.

“Nice job, Ed,” I told the prez. “To get this many people our age at a double affair is truly a remarkable showing. Shows me the spirit that’s in your class. Too bad my school didn’t follow your example and kept the tradition going.”

It was then that Ed put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Listen, Tom. You can always join our class. You know most everyone anyway.”

I probably wrote about many. It’s that way when you’re a community reporter. People become your business. Doesn’t matter who they are. More than one person approached me about an article I had written about them. I felt attached here.

On this weekend, as they’ve done in the past, Haverhill High joined forces with Haverhill Trade and St. James High. While St. James fielded its own football team, Haverhill Trade and HHS bolstered their ranks together.

Such a unified spirit continued for 55 years and wasn’t about to dissipate with age.

I should have heeded the warning signs at my 50th. Our reunion was joined with the previous class to boost attendance. The 45th was a disaster. Less than 70 showed up from a graduating class of 320.

It got so impersonal that some of my fellow officers went table to table reading name tags, trying to identify who was who. My wife and I sat at a table with some 1957 grads, who cliqued with their own.

I remember one day at the Gazette getting a telephone call from a 93-year-old, inviting me to lunch.

“And bring your camera,” he said. “We got a photo opportunity here.”

I didn’t know what to expect until I arrived. There, seated around a table, were eight folks. Six were women, two of them in wheelchairs. They represented all that remained of a St. James High class.

This would be their 75th reunion. They had been meeting annually for the past 25 years. There was no way the tradition was going to die, not with attrition or apathy.

As a final gesture, a hat was placed in the center of the table and each of the guests tossed in a $10 bill.

“It’s for the last person standing,” someone explained. “We started the collection a decade ago. Whoever outlives the rest gets to keep the money.”

In the end, it was Charlie Danielian, the guy who called me that day. Charlie ran a tailor shop on High Street for many years and lived to be nearly 100. Last I heard, he took the money and gave it over to some charity.

I’ve never missed a reunion. This time, the reunion missed me. I heard through the grapevine that the old were getting older and few were willing to do the work anymore.

Ed Wilson has truly become his own guardian angel with the Haverhill class, emailing his classmates at every opportunity, following their birthdays, engaging others with class highlights and being the perpetual leader.

Odd that he and my wife (Nancy Yeghoian) would be the last two entries in the class yearbook.

After graduating, Ed secured a degree at Bates College and wound up working there. He’s still employed as the associate dean of alumni affairs at Northwestern University. His “rock” has been wife, Jean, a product of St. James.

Together they’ve traveled across the country and around the world.

“Who would have thought that a kid from ‘The Acre’ would have had such good fortune?” he pointed out. “I never forget my roots or the blessings of having grown up in Haverhill and having attended HHS.”

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.