Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Something Special: Meade High School, Class of '67

This was the fourth reunion I attended of Meade (Kansas) High School class of 1967, my wife's graduating class. We also attended in 1995, 2000, and 2005. Now some of you may ask how a class with year ending in 7 has reunions in years ending in 0 and 5 instead of 2 and 7. To explain I need to tell you a bit about Meade.
First you need to find it on a map. Look for southwestern Kansas. Find Dodge City, Liberal, and Garden City. Meade in on US Highway 54, about 40 miles southwest of Dodge, 39 miles northeast of Liberal, and about 60 miles southeast of Garden City, about 100 miles east of the Colorado border and 20 miles north of the Oklahoma panhandle. Notice on the map how the towns in this area are ten to fifteen miles apart. The dryland/irrigated agriculture of the regions does not need population centers with services closer than that.

Meade, the city, has somewhere around 1,700 people. It peaked at 2,200 people in past censuses, when agriculture boomed and oil drilling was in full swing. But 90 percent of their high school graduates move away. A few move back ten or twenty hears later to raise their families, and a few people move in in search of jobs, but not enough to replace those who die off.

With the small population, and with the largest graduating class ever being about 64 people, and with a total of 3,400 graduates in the school's 98 year history, the Meade High Alumni Association decided to have all school reunions on the 5 and 10 years. They hold this on the closing weekend of the county fair. So all interested alumns came to Meade last weekend.

Lynda's class had 61 graduates, and three "friends of the class" who for whatever reason left the cohort, making for 64 people associated with the class. Near as anyone can figure thirty-two of those attended some or all of the reunion events. We drove in late Thursday afternoon, not knowing her class was holding a party of the early arrivers, so we didn't attend that. We did attend the Friday evening party. It was supposed to be for the class of '67, but there were people there from '57 (kind of old and out of place), '61, '64, '65, '66, '67, '68, and probably '69. All over town there were similar pre-reunion gatherings that evening.

Saturday was a reunion at Lynda's home church of returning attendees, then tours of the old school, then a picnic at the park of the classes of '65, '66, '67, '68, and '69 (while other groups met elsewhere in town). Then a banquet and program that evening of all the classes, then an after-banquet party for '67 that sort of fizzled (or started very late), then an ecumenical church service on Sunday morning. At each of the official or semi-official gatherings, the conversations lingered long. Heck, even the check-in on Saturday morning was a reunion, with small groups engaged in animated conversations.

I enjoy going to these reunions, even though I didn't attend that school and had met only one of her classmates before 1995. I sit back with the other spouses or significant others, and watch the interactions of the returning classmates. For a long time only two or three lived in Meade. That number is now up to six, so almost all of the classmates are coming in from afar. The interaction is great. Every reunion someone returns who has never been to one before, and that person becomes a star of sorts as everyone tries to catch up. The men keep looking older in five-year chunks, and the women seems to change less, no doubt the chunks mitigated by applied colors and perhaps surgeries. The women all insist the guys take their caps off to see what they are hiding. The guys...make no similar request of the women.

This class of sixty-four people has something my class of 725 doesn't have: a shared school experience, and a shared community experience. They all went to the same grade school and junior high school, actually in the same building as the old high school. When someone tells a story about Mrs. Griffiths, one of the two 6th grade teachers, everyone knows her (even those who had the other one), and can appreciate the story. Everyone in the class knew each other well, and hung out with a large proportion of the class after hours. They shopped at the same grocery store, tormented the same elderly people, vandalized the same vacant houses, participated in the same pranks, and played in the same woods.

In contrast, I doubt if I even knew a hundred people in my graduating class. I think not more than five others from my elementary school spent all twelve grades in the same schools that I did, though many others spent more years together. Those shared experiences and relationships with the entire class is what I don't have with my class. Maybe part of it is because it took me forty years to ever get to one of my reunions. But I knew very few of those at my reunion. Of the 79 who attended, I probably knew fifteen while I was in school. I met about five or ten of my classmates for the first time, even though forty years ago we walked the same halls and hated the same assistant principal.

My class will never have that special bond that Lynda's class has. It can't have it. For all the benefits of growing up in a good sized city with a large school, the lack of shared experience is one of the unfortunate drawbacks.

Kudos to Meade High class of '67. I hope you know what you have.

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