MIHS classes of ’61, ’81 look back, laugh and remember

The Mercer Island High School class of ’61 had a great turnout for their 50-year reunion at the Roanoke Inn, Sept. 9. From left are Missy Martine, chairman of the reunion, Lee Miller, JoAnne Vernig, Sharon Lamb, Tom Goedel and Gretchen Boe. - Linda Ball/Staff Photo
The Mercer Island High School class of ’61 had a great turnout for their 50-year reunion at the Roanoke Inn, Sept. 9. From left are Missy Martine, chairman of the reunion, Lee Miller, JoAnne Vernig, Sharon Lamb, Tom Goedel and Gretchen Boe.
— image credit: Linda Ball/Staff Photo

By Linda Ball and Mary L. Grady

The class of 1961 came together over the weekend of Sept. 9-11 with the class of ’81 right on their heels last weekend.

The class of 1961, John F. Kennedy is president

Picture-perfect weather framed the class of 61’s festivities, starting with a three-hour boat cruise around the Island on Sept. 9. Alumna JoAnne Vernig said about 70 class members were on the cruise on the chartered boat “My Girl.” Vernig, who now lives in Bellevue, was on the reunion committee.

“We had some serious tasks — like tasting wine,” she quipped.

She said there is still a core group of 25 ladies from the class that still gets together on a regular basis. Vernig estimated there were about 140 in the class.

Alumnus Bill Harris of Issaquah reflected on another time.

“Things were much simpler,” he said. “Things weren’t as structured, and there was more commonality among people. Sports rivalry existed, but there weren’t as many cliques.”

Vernig said there were no drugs and no bullying, but you did have to follow the rules, including no skirts above the knee and no slacks for girls.

Former football player Tom Goedel spotted Gretchen Boe, a cheerleader in high school, which seemed to bring back some memories. Bonnie Reeves, who flew in for the reunion from Berkeley, Calif., and Judy Blume, who now lives in San Francisco, reflected on how things have changed in 50 years.

“Microsoft changed everything,” Reeves said. “Back in ’61 it was Boeing families; there was no money here. New money has changed everything.”

Blume said the class had a girls’ cruise in May from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia, with 20 women on board. This was the first time in a while that the “boys” were included in a reunion, she said.

Jay Wakefield said he remembers waterskiing around the Island every Sunday morning growing up.

“We grew up on the waterfront,” Wakefield said. “Dad paid $35,000 for the house and sold it for $100,000. He thought he made a fortune.”

Kathy James Hartman, who flew in from Colorado Springs, said there was no Island Crest Way back then, and there was a big Chrysler dealership on the north side of the Island where you come off the East Channel Bridge.

The alumnus who traveled the farthest was Jim Walsh, who has lived in Taiwan for years. Walsh owns an English school in Taiwan.

Missy Martine, who was the chairman of the reunion, seemed pleased with the turnout. One thing is certain; they could not have asked for better weather.

The class of 1981, Ronald Reagan is president

It was yet another high school reunion at the Roanoke — this one at night rather than during the daylight. The place was packed with the crowd spilling onto the front porch and into the backyard. There was some squinting at name tags and a minute or two of guessing, but soon recognition and laughter. The noise rose and fell as friends from as far back as kindergarten found each other and plunged right into reciting the same tales and adventures from yesteryear.

They came from Alaska, Maine, Europe, Asia, and from just down the street. There were many who came from nearby who come to the Island often — yet it seemed that even those who came the furthest still seem to come back from time to time.

Janet Lanford, a reunion organizer who lives in Bellevue, and Jeff Palmberg of Mercer Island were squeezed among the crowd in the Roanoke backyard with Bart Perman of Kent. What did they think of how the Island has changed?

“It has lost its small-town feel,” Lanford said. “And there is not as much open space.”

Palmberg said the downtown, especially, is different. “Downtown used to be for buying groceries, but now people live there. It changes the dynamic,” he said.

It feels almost urban, he continued. But that is a not a bad thing. Perman shook his head.

“It feels too crowded now.”

The three did agree that the community does more together with Summer Celebration, Mostly Music in the Park and the Easter egg hunt. All those bring people into the Town Center, which is different than before, Palmberg pointed out.

“When we were growing up, there was not much to do around town,” they said.

Scott McLaughlin, who now lives in Auburn, noted that when he was growing up, the Island was more open, unrestricted.

“When I was a kid, you could walk a long way south along the shore on East Mercer Way — now you cannot because the land is all taken up — there are fences and walls,” he said.

In the fourth grade, McLaughlin, obsessed with Evel Kneivel, the motorcycle stuntman, got eight of his friends to lie side-by-side on the gravel driveway of his house after a Cub Scouts meeting one day. His mother had already gone inside the house, he explained. After a roaring start from up the hill, he almost made a clean leap, but skinned the belly of his friend, Jeff Yutani.

“We had fun,” he said simply.

Among others, there were nostalgic sighs about pinball at the bowling alley — long gone now.

Ed Flinchem, the class valedictorian, was accompanied to the reunion by his boyfriend, who cheerfully introduced himself as such. Flinchem said of course, he did not let anyone know the way he felt then. He just knew he was different. “I was in love with all the men,” he said. He remembered living in Mercerdale and later near Ellis Pond. “We rode our bikes everywhere.” AHe later went on to work for the software company Tegic, where he was part of the team that designed the T9 predictive text software for cell phones.

A half dozen men fondly recalled a spot somewhere north behind the school dubbed the “boiler room.” It was a place where kids hung out to smoke cigarettes and pot.

Lanford and classmate Andy Adolfson remembered when they and several other students worked at Denny’s, on the old Sunset Highway where Aljoya is now. The place was open 24 hours. Some students even worked the graveyard shift.

When the bars closed in Seattle, people would stop here on the their way home — there would be bad behavior, Lanford remembered. Adolfson also remembered practicing the “electric slide” at a disco called “Tonight’s the Night,” in the building where the True Value Hardware store is now.

There was Styrofoam on the ceiling. Adolfson recalled how somehow, people stuck forks in it.

Lori Glatz Scott still lives on the Island and has two seniors at Mercer Island High School. She noted another curious change on that has taken place on the Island. On Friday, she and other parents attended the fall sports assembly at the school. She marveled at the fact that parents regularly go to such events at the school.

“There is even a special section just for the parents,” she said. “I would have been horrified if my parents had come.”

Mike Tomkins, now of Duvall, and Greg Komenda, of Issaquah, both Islander football players, remembered how people fell into groups: athletes, brainy types and such. But the most important distinction was where a student went to junior high school. Were you a North or a South? The  North Jr. High (which ironically, is really at the Island’s center, where Youth Theatre Northwest is now) or South Mercer, which is where Islander Middle School is now.

Asked what he thought of the changes on the Island, Tomkins did not hesitate.

“It is just the same.”

Jimmy Masocro lives in Atlanta with his family and works for Delta Airlines. He was chilled on this pre-fall night — being more used to the warm, humid evenings in the South. He still comes to the Island to visit his mother, and when he does, stays in his childhood bedroom.

“The change on the Island is incredible,” he said. “It is well-designed, but it is a totally different place.”

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