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Classmates Gear Up for Alumni Parade Season

Last year's Hartford Alumni Day Parade makes its way through White River Junction. 

Photograph courtesy of Sargent Photo in Wilder

Last year's Hartford Alumni Day Parade makes its way through White River Junction. Photograph courtesy of Sargent Photo in Wilder

By the time high school graduation rolls around, most students are ready to escape their boxy brick schools for a wide open future. But before too long, they start thinking about going back to their old school. And many do, for the annual day- or weekend-long reunions held across the Upper Valley. Banquets and breakfasts are popular, but everyone loves a parade.

Robert Stringer, president of the Stevens High School Alumni Association, said their event always draws a good crowd.

“Almost every five-year class has a float,” said Stringer, a 1961 graduate who describes himself as “only a young puppy.”

The reunion weekend, with its parties, dance and street fair, draws Stevens graduates from across the country. Camaraderie and history keep them coming back, Stringer said.

“It’s the oldest active alumni association in the good ol’ USA, for one thing,” he said. And, he added with a laugh, “we keep after them.”

The parade, now in its 65th consecutive year, is set for June 8. It will be followed by a fair in Broad Street Park featuring vendors and live music. This year’s theme — the fabulous ’60s — also applies to the dance that night at the Moose Lodge.

In addition to organizing the reunion, the association also awards scholarships to Stevens High School graduates. Stringer estimates various classes have given a total of about $1 million over the years.

For their 50th anniversary, members of his class donated $35,000 to a scholarship fund that generates a little over $1,000 a year for Stevens alums attending college, Stringer said.

In a news release last week, the association called the alumni celebration “the biggest event of the year in Claremont,” and at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor James Neilsen signed a proclamation declaring June 2-8 Stevens High School Alumni Week.

In West Lebanon, the parade season opens on Saturday.

The West Lebanon High School Alumni Association is unique in that its school no longer exists. The last class graduated in 1961, so even the youngest alums are in their late 60s.

Nonetheless, the reunion still draws people from across the country. Last year, about 100 people attended the banquet, said Don Langley, Class of ’53.

“It was a small high school, and everybody was close,” said Langley, one of the organizers. “The community of West Lebanon was close, and it’s older people, so they were (here) back when everybody knew each other.”

The school, once housed in the Seminary Hill building, closed when the city’s two high schools merged.

The alumni association was inactive for a time, Langley said, but in 1964, “it all started again.”

“The Class of 1944 was going to celebrate their 20th anniversary and decided to restart the alumni association,” he said. “It’s been going ever since.”

This year’s parade won’t have too many floats “because of the age,” he said, although local residents who are not graduates of the school also take part.

And that’s good news to Langley.

“Everybody’s getting older,” he said. “What we’ve been looking for is somebody to continue this along, something for West Lebanon. … We’ve had it for so many years.”

After several long-time board members stepped down, the Hartford High School Alumni Association is also looking for some help.

Planning the alumni day celebration and communicating with “thousands and thousands” of former students has been a financial and scheduling challenge, said Erik Ferguson, the association’s president. “A lot of institutional knowledge has kind of retired.”

Seeing participation lag, Sherry Brown reached out to fellow alumni, encouraging them to get involved with the association. She also started a Facebook page for the parade.

“It brought in people from afar who really have a heartfelt interest their (fellow) alumni but are not here,” said Brown, who coordinates the parade. “It keeps them involved, and it’s nice to see.”

This year’s parade is set for June 29.

Participants usually span five decades or more, said Ferguson, ’95. “One year, we had two people from the Class of ’38,”

Jody Trombley Gaffney, ’88, has been meeting with about a dozen classmates to plan their class float.

“Our 20th brought us all closer together, so I really wanted to do our 25th,” Gaffney said.

The group, which keeps in touch on Facebook, was spurred on by a second place finish in 2008.

“We’re competing this time,” she said with mock gravity. “We want first.”

To reflect the parade’s Olympic theme, they are looking back at the 1988 summer and winter games.

“The whole class is definitely invited” to help, she said. “It’s just going to be a great time.”

Brown, ’78, said her class also has become closer over the years.

“In the past few years, we have lost several more of our classmates,” she said. “Life is too short, and we need to make time to go back to the people who really meant something in our lives.”

Between 60 and 75 of her classmates take part in the parade, and they try to get together every few months to “keep that bond together.”

Other Hartford High School Alumni Day events will include scholarship announcements, dinner and a dance that usually draws 200 or 300 people.

“You get people coming from all over the place,” Ferguson said. “If they know a lot of their classmates are going to come, they will make the effort.”

More Parades

Here are some of the upcoming alumni parades:

May 25: West Lebanon Alumni Parade, 11 a.m., Mount Lebanon School.

June 8: Stevens High School Alumni Parade, 10:30 a.m., Broad Street.

June 15: Lebanon High School Alumni Parade, noon, Taylor Street.

June 15: Springfield, Vt., Alumni Day Parade, 10:30 a.m. Clinton Street.

June 15: Windsor High School Alumni Parade, Alumni Parade 10 a.m., Main Street.

June 29: Hartford High School Alumni Day Parade, 11 a.m., corner of Maple Street and Pine Street, White River Junction.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.