Some of the first baby boomers, already witnesses to so much American history, are marking another milestone this year during the 50th reunions of their high school graduating classes.
Last weekend it was Classen High School’s turn as members of the class of 1964 looked back and marveled at their journey the past half-century. Before it was the Classen School of Advanced Studies, Classen High School was one of the older, established schools in Oklahoma City.
Last week’s gathering at Abuelo’s restaurant in Bricktown was in a way like most reunions, as former students caught up with old friends and relived the past. Yet there was a feeling this group was special, seeing many extraordinary changes.
The class of 1964 was the first baby boomer class to graduate. Baby boomers are considered the generation born between 1946 and 1964 in post-World War II America. They are credited, some say blamed, with redefining traditional values and having a major impact on the culture.
The official Classen T-shirt noted 1964 as the year the Beatles came to America from England, bringing a seismic shift to the pop music landscape.
Jim Hampton and Mike Reaves have a friendship that spans more than five decades. For them, there has been one significant event over the years.
“It would have to be desegregation,” said Hampton, an Oklahoma City financial consultant. “We had one of the last classes without black students.”
They were part of a system they said had “always been that way” and was generally not questioned. Later, when Reaves went to Oklahoma City University, he had minority classmates. By the end of the 1960s, Classen and other Oklahoma City schools were court-ordered to desegregate.
“It (having integrated classes) was great,” said Reaves, a violinist with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic orchestra.
Both said another positive development has been Oklahoma City getting an NBA team. Neither would have predicted it years ago.
“The Thunder’s been wonderful for Oklahoma City,” Reaves said.
Effects of Vietnam
No discussion of the 1960s would be complete without a mention of the Vietnam War. The Classen class of 1964, with 192 graduates, lost a popular class member, Robert Henderson, in the southeast Asian war. He was killed in action in Cambodia in 1970 — at that time the 981st Oklahoman to die in the conflict and 154th from Oklahoma City claimed in the war.
“Many of us had known him since kindergarten,” reunion organizer Joyce Silvernail said. “We were all devastated.”
The war also was significant in the life of Mark Ison, an Edmond insurance agent. Ison was Classen’s football and wrestling captain. Eventually Ison would graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. With his student deferments over, he went into the Army and helicopter flight school. He survived combat in Vietnam but remembers the close calls.
“It (Vietnam) made a man out of you real quick,” he said.
Having survived the dangers of combat, he was proud of his service and returned home. He came back to a nation divided over the conflict. At San Francisco’s airport, he was spat on by war protesters, who also made obscene gestures. That didn’t stop Ison from additional service to his nation. He retired from the military after 24 years.
Martha Bradley remembers life being more carefree in the 1950s and 1960s. She recalls having her photograph taken by The Oklahoman on her first day of kindergarten.
“Our childhood was a lot different,” she said. “During the summer I could ride my bike all day. I might not even be home until dinner. My mother didn’t mind and she didn’t worry. Today it’s not that way at all.”
Then there’s the influence of the computer. Fifty years ago, they were big as most living rooms, some with tubes.
Silvernail, owner of a bookkeeping business, remembers the office atmosphere of the 1960s.
“We used big ledgers and journals back then,” she said. “Now it’s all on computers.”
She remembers using ditto machines to make copies. “A lot of people don’t even know what those are anymore.”
On this weekend, the 50 or so classmates who showed up remembered it all — from computers to the Beatles to Vietnam and the Thunder. They paid tribute to the more than 20 classmates who have died, and they were generally thankful for friendships and having survived and thrived in the past 50 years.
“This (the reunion) is awesome,” Silvernail said. “It’s great to get together, and many of us still stay in touch.”