06/22/08 — New Hope Class of 1948 sticks together

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New Hope Class of 1948 sticks together

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 22, 2008 2:01 AM

When Sue Boyette Coltrane graduated from high school in 1947, she wasn't quite ready to go "off to school," she says.

So she asked the principal at New Hope High School if she could return the following year and take a post-graduate course.

She now considers herself a part of the Class of 1948.

"We had a wonderful year. They're good people," she says now. "I love this class so much. They accepted me just like one of them.

"Since then I have been very close to them."

Mrs. Coltrane has had
plenty of opportunities to stay in touch with her classmates. They have held annual reunions for the past 60 years.

"I've only missed three," she says. "It had to take something real important. Sickness or family events are the only things that keep people away."

The gatherings are low-key, no frills events, she said.

"We just keep it simple. We don't do the things like a lot of the larger schools. It's just one night out," she said. "When we first started, we did cookouts and things like that at one of the class member's homes. But then as we began to grow older, we started to go to restaurants.
We have volunteers every year who will reserve a restaurant."

The latest, hosted by classmate Al Eason, was held earlier this month at a local steakhouse. Of the 34 in the graduating class, 17 attended. Six are deceased.

But the group's uniqueness goes beyond the fact that they haven't missed a year reuniting, says class member Ben Casey. It's about the shared history.

Casey, 77, started school at Casey's Chapel School in 1936. The following year, he transferred to New Hope School, on the site now occupied by Eastern Wayne Elementary School.

The school had grades 1 to 11, he said, with 12th grade added the following year.

New Hope was the consolidation of Beston, Hood Swamp, Saulston and Casey's Chapel schools.

Senior year, Casey said, Mae Taylor Allen was homeroom teacher and Donald Peele was class president.

Mrs. Allen was "wonderful, just like a mother" to the class, remembers Mrs. Coltrane, crediting the educator with creating a closeness among the students. Mrs. Allen even attended a number of the reunions until her death.

Peele recalls how the annual reunion tradition began.

"We all went to the beach after graduation and somebody said, 'Let's meet every year,'" he said. The first one was, in fact, held at Mrs. Allen's home in LaGrange and the rest, as they say, is part of the Class of 1948's history.

"We kept it going, we didn't quit," Peele said.

He is among those who have attended almost every one.

It's something he looks forward to each year, on the first Saturday in June, he says.

"It's just a great bunch of boys and girls, or should I say men and women," he said.

Classmate McGee Smith attributes some of the closeness to the way they were all raised.

"Our lives were similar and we had a lot of things in common," he said.

Most of the class went to school together throughout, so they became like a family, he said.

"It's been quite interesting. Our joys have kind of been shared and our sorrows have, too," he said.

It's the "love for each other" that keeps them coming back year after year, said Casey, who admits he didn't always go but has become more faithful in recent years.

Despite the passage of time, he said, his old friends remain unchanged.

"They all look about the same to me," he said.

The majority of the class still live in the surrounding community, with the list constantly updated to ensure they keep in touch.

One member, Ruth Starling Andrews, made this year's trip from her home in New York.

"She said gas was so high, she took the train," Peele said.

The bond among the group is evident, he added, and remains strong. Although only a handful have passed away, he added, when it happens, a few of the classmates will typically be at the funeral.

When they gather for the class reunion, it's a time to share a meal and pictures, and have a "good talking spell," Casey said.

"It used to be we would come up with our aches and pains but we have gotten so much of them now, we don't talk about that," he said. "Now it's grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

"Once in awhile, somebody will stand up and say, 'Do you remember such and such?'" said Peele. "But for the more part, we just fellowship and everybody talks."

Mrs. Coltrane recalls bringing her own children to an earlier reunion.

"My son was about 17 or 18 at the time," she said. "He said afterwards, 'I don't think I have ever been in a room where I felt that every person in that room was a good person. They're just so friendly ... and you just feel comfortable with every one of them.'

"And they are. They're just good old country people."

It may be a short night, it may not contain much fanfare or hoopla, but for those from the Class of 1948, it's always a night to remember.

"Some people might consider us a little boring, but we don't think so," said Mrs. Coltrane. "We really look forward to it."