By Pat Springer
EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – The bell bottoms and mini-skirts were missing. In their places were khakis and capris. Music from the ’60s blared from the old school CD player. The East Palestine High School Class of 1970 50+1 reunion was a five-hour, one night event Sept. 4 that took two years to plan amid three COVID-19 postponements.
A half century ago, before an unprecedented time of protests, prosperity and political upheaval, our senior class graduated 142 classmates. Amid a pandemic, 90 classmates showed up one late summer night to celebrate friendships and a common history.
Growing up in East Palestine during the 1960s, we were mostly middle-class kids. We came from all the neighborhoods in the city plus Unity and Negley. We walked to school, to church and to the park.
We didn’t come from privilege. When our school shoes wore out, we had them resoled. If we had an extra dime or quarter in our pockets, we bought comic books from the local tobacco shop and penny candy from the corner store. We shopped for Christmas at the local 5 & 10. We played with Barbie, Ken and GI Joe, Matchbox Cars, and EZ Bake Ovens.
It’s a wonder, though, that we survived our youth. Most everything we ate had sugar in it. We wore no helmets riding our bikes and no seatbelts riding in the car. We survived broken bones from the notorious bell on the playground, the merry-go-round, and monkey bars.
We were the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation – the generation that fought in World War II, lived through the worst depression our country has ever known, and sacrificed every day so we would receive the best possible education.
Many of our parents owned their own businesses in East Palestine – full-service filling stations, restaurants, sports and clothing stores – which formed the backbone of the then-thriving small-town economy.
Our teenage years were somewhat sheltered. We didn’t have a drug problem. We had no guns or shootings in our school. We stayed up late at slumber parties and, after we earned our drivers’ licenses, cruised the park nightly.
We were a pretty well-behaved group, with a few exceptions. At the Rollerena on state Route 14, we skated on Friday night, returning for the dance on Saturday. As a badge of honor, we sneaked trunk loads of friends into the Midway Drive In and were thrown out of the local pizza shop too many times to count.
Did we receive a good education? I know some of us could still diagram a sentence or dissect a frog. But who would have thought that 51 years later, we would use every day the skills learned in typing class while emailing and texting?
Our faculty staff was one of the best in the area. The English department staff taught us Shakespeare, Dickens, news reporting, and Freud. Our chemistry teacher drilled us in sines, cosines, and how not to blow up the lab.
Finally, in May 1970, after four years of walking the halls as students, we said goodbye to each other and to our teachers.
We moved on to married life, work, or college – ending up in many different roles and professions – teaching, nursing, the military, raising a family, transportation, engineering and business. We were a pretty self-sufficient, achieving group.
But somehow – somewhere between kindergarten and our senior year, we created special bonds called friendships – friendships not defined by time but by memories that have lasted almost 60 years.
We are the only people who knew each other when we were NOT a mother or father, an aunt or uncle – before we built a career working 12-hour days, six days a week.
We knew each other when we were just a 17-year-old – sitting in shorthand class, playing football or singing in the chorus. We knew each other when we were standing in the cafeteria lunch line and on stage performing in “Harvey.” We knew each other when our biggest concern was getting a date for the weekend – and when life was so much simpler.
We grew up without a dependence on technology. We had no iPad, no iPhone no computers. The internet didn’t exist and Google wasn’t a verb! We relied on our exchange students to teach us about different cultures.
Yet, during these last 51 years, we have had the privilege of living in an unprecedented time. In 1970, the world outside our bubble was in chaos – with the Vietnam War raging and college campuses, including Kent State, under siege.
The ensuing decades brought us an explosion of media, the landing on the moon, the women’s movement, endless wars, and the death and destruction from two deadly viruses.
Throughout them all, we have experienced success and failure, happiness and heartache. We have lost spouses, children and classmates.
Still, those of us who attended our 50+1 reunion recognized that the values we learned and the friendships we made at East Palestine High School formed the foundation of who we are today.
The author, Pat Springer, served on the 50+1 reunion committee.
Pictured: The East Palestine Class of 1970 numbered 142. Ninety classmates and guests attended the 50+1 Reunion. Photo by Cindy Parker.