St. Matthew Grads Celebrating 50 Years
As Reunions Go, This Was The Best
By Jack Coll
I attended a reunion on October 2, at the Plymouth Country Club, it seems like I’ve been to a thousand reunions for one reason or another over the years, but this one was special and I was happy to be part of it, it was St. Matthew High School and it was their 50th Class Reunion.
The weather outside was frightful, the kind of frightful that when you pulled up to the Country Club and parked your car, you didn’t want out get out and make that 50 yard dash to the door, it was cold, the kind-of cold that brings out the word “raw,” chilling to the bone. It was also very windy and the rain was pouring down, I grabbed my camera bag, got out of my van, dropped into a three point stance, and ran the 50 yard dash to the front door in just under three minutes.
But once inside it turned warm, friendly and welcoming, I could hear laughter long before I got to the ballroom, once I arrived inside there were smiles everywhere, I knew I was in the right place. I started to imagine these senior citizens a half a century ago as they stood in small groups reminiscing, talking careers, children and grandchildren. Somehow they made it, most of them were nearing seven decades of life and were thrilled to be here talking about it.
There were a few tables set-up with pictures and memorabilia, I stopped to flip through a year book, it struck me that in row after row of the senior photographs that every female in the book seemed to have short flip-hair, I’m sure there is a more proper word for it. Mary De Paul, Catherine Deuber, Rosemarie D’Ettore, Maria Di Giacomo, Patricia Di Gregorio, Diane Di Marino, Rose Ann Di Nardo, and Phyllis Di Yenno just to name a few all had this flip-hair thing going on, quite the style back then. Although the Beatles had arrived in America a year earlier the boy’s hair was much shorter than the girls and a lot shorter than the Beatles hair.
Checking out one page of short-hair guys I’m looking at Thomas D’Annunzio, who had a full head of hair but still short, Paul Donovan, William Donovan, John Dunn and Carl Dunst, most of the boys parted it or brushed it from the left side to the right side. You can pick out the bad kids from the good kids just by looking at their pictures, the bad kids had a tendency of keeping their sideburns short, as short as possible, guys like Robert Cahill, Robert Blaszczak and Jesse Stemple, apparently they wanted to give the nuns as little hair as possible to work with when it was their turn to be lifted out of their seats by the side-burns. One final thing about hair, if you have a yearbook, check out the hair on Monica Kusek, man she had a beautiful head of hair with about two and a half cans of hair spray on it, almost looks like a football helmet without a face guard.
As I panned the room of senior citizens I couldn’t help but think of what a great time they grew up in, their teenage years spent in the early 1960’s. I’m sure that everyone in the room could tell you their exact feelings and who they were sitting next to when it was announced that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas as they sat at their desk in their classrooms.
As we look back to the fall of 1964, when these happy reunion attendees entered their senior year at St. Matthew’s High school, and the spring of 1965 when they marched in line to receive their diplomas, I thought about the music scene, pop culture, the war and other events that helped shape their young lives.
Of course Lyndon B. Johnson was the president of the United States in 1965, but as seniors in high school go I don’t think many of the students gave a hoot about the president at that time in their lives, and anyone who said they cared about the President of the United States back then well they were just trying to impress a girl, knowing Johnson was president just might have secured them a date at the Ridge Pike Drive In and brother there was knowledge to be gained at the drive-in. Seniors in high school had much more important things to be concerned with like what would be the number one record for the week? Was Peter Noone of the Herman’s Hermits cooler than Mark Lindsey of Paul Revere and the Raiders. So who were the bands and music this roomful of grandparents was listening to a half century ago? Just the coolest bands on earth!
Graduates from across the country were in the thick of the whole Motown scene, The Four Tops, Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Supremes, and all the rest of Berry Gordy’s acts. No band introduction needed with the titles of these songs, Help! Ticket To Ride, Eight Days a Week, I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, Love Me Do, Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Twist and Shout, and I Saw Her Standing There, guess what? They were all hit songs in your senior year.
Here’s a short list of some of the more popular, familiar songs you all remember, and just a few of the hit songs from your senior year in high school that might have slipped you mind.
A Few of the Top hit songs from the fall of 1964 and spring of 1965
Hello Dolly Louis Armstrong
Everybody Loves Somebody Dean Martin
I Get Around Beach Boys
Oh Pretty Woman Roy Orbison
We’ll Sing in the Sunshine Gale Garnett
People Barbara Streisand
Last Kiss J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
Do Wah Diddy Diddy Manfred Mann
And Then there was the Four Seasons
Dawn (Go Away)
Save It For Me
Big Man in Town
Bye Bye Baby
Let’s Hang On
Don’t Think Twice
Girl Come Running
Dead Man’s Curve Jan and Dean
A World Without Love Peter and Gordon
You Don’t Own Me Lesley Gore
Walk On By Dionne Warwick
G. T. O. Ronny & the Daytonas
Hey Little Cobra The Rip Cords
Bits and Pieces The Dave Clark Five
A Summer Song Chad & Jeremy
Remember (Walking in the Sand) The Shangri-Las
Leader of the Pack The Shangri-Las
See The Funny Little Clown Bobby Goldsboro
Surfin Bird The Trashmen
You Really Got Me The Kinks
Dang Me Roger Miller
Chug-a-Lug Roger Miller
Do You Love Me The Dave Clark Five
Louie Louie The Kingsmen
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) Marvin Gaye
Down in the Boondocks Billy Joe Royal
Catch Us If You Can Dave Clark Five
Save Your Heart For Me Gary Lewis & The Playboys
What The World Needs Now Jackie DeShannon
Of course we remember the Herman’s Hermits
Hey gang, Peter Noone was just the cutest thing ever, wasn’t he?
I’m Into Something Good
Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat
Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter
I’m Henry VIII, I Am
It Ain’t Me Babe The Turtles
Don’t Just Stand There Patty Duke
True Love Ways Peter & Gordon
We Gotta Get Out of This Place The Animals (High School Seniors Anthem song)
Do You Believe in Magic The Lovin Spoonful
I Want Candy The Strangeloves
Wooly Bully Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin The Righteous Brothers
Downtown Petula Clark
King of the Road Roger Miller
Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Mel Carter
Shotgun Junior Walker & The Allstars
I Got You Babe Sonny and Cher
This Diamond Ring Gary Lewis and the Playboys
I’ll Never Find Another You The Seekers
What’s New Pussycat? Tom Jones
Eve of Destruction Barry McGuire
Hang on Sloopy The McCoys
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag James Brown
The Name Game Shirley Ellis
Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte Patti Page
Like A Rolling Stone Bob Dylan
AND Let’s not forget about The Rolling Stones
If the list of hit music seemed a little long, well these were just a few of the songs on the pop charts while you guys were seniors at St. Matthew High school. Let me present to you a little shorter list of movies and TV shows that were hits back in late 1964 and 1965, I’m sure you’ll remember most of them.
And so who remembers sitting home in front of the living room television, (only after your homework was completed of course) and watching some of these shows:
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
The Lucy Show
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
My Three Sons
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Lawrence Welk Show
I’ve Got a Secret
Wild, Wild West
The Jackie Gleason Show
I Dream of Jeannie
That’s enough of that, let’s take a short walk down Fayette Street and start at the Riant Theatre once located at First Avenue and Fayette Street. Anyone remember Mary Tasker Shaw collecting tickets or Mrs. Cahill working at the theatre, well back in 1964-1965 if you shelled out the quarter for a show you might have seen:
My Fair Lady (Academy Award Winner from 1964)
A Hard Day’s Night
A Shot in the Dark
What’s New Pussycat
The Sound of Music (Academy Award Winner from 1965)
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Great Race
Walking out of the Riant Theatre and looking up and down Fayette Street, I was just wondering how many St. Matthew students attending the reunion remember seeing Kehoe’s Hardware, Rafferty’s Pharmacy, Baldwin Flowers, the Conshohocken Flower Shop, The W. T. Grant Department Store, The Best Shop, Phillips Furniture and Gift Shop located 117 Fayette Street, Sam’s Variety Store, The Brown Derby, Warrell’s Store at Second Avenue, Jack’s Luncheonette, the Conshohocken News Agency, Claire’s Wearing Apparel, Banker’s Tavern, or Charlie Hicks Music Store just to name a few.
If the students who graduated in the spring of 1965 wanted to purchase one of the houses on the avenues they would’ve had a little trouble coming up with the money as most of the houses were selling in the $10,000 range and very few 1965 graduates cold afford a new car at $2,500.
The biggest news that high school seniors would have paid attention to in 1965 was the news that the United States planes bombed North Vietnam as the U. S. Marines invaded Da Nang in the first deployment of U. S. combat troops in Vietnam. This became bigger news and hit home when two St. Matthew’s graduates from the class of 1965 sacrificed their live in Vietnam, God Bless Michael Balitchik and Daniel Thurston. By the end of 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that troops in Vietnam would be increased from 75,000 to 125,000.
Perhaps other nationwide news our Conshohocken seniors weren’t paying much attention to was the “Watts Riots” as the riot started with a drunken driving arrest, two days later 14,000 national guardsmen were called in to help restore order. When it was over the city looked like a war zone with much of the city burned to the ground and 34 people were dead.
Pope Paul VI became the first Pope to visit the United States. In St. Louis Missouri a 630-foot-tall parabolic steel Gateway Arch was completed. (How unbelievable is this?) and the Gemini Space Program dominated the news in 1965.
The Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote became law. Malcolm X was shot and killed in New York, and Dr Martin Luther King Jr led a civil rights march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.
In March of 1965 the first civil rights march took place in Selma, Alabama crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge where a wall of white State Troopers waited for the mostly black crowd, the demonstrators were met with violence sending seventeen marchers to the hospital. The march became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
And for all you graduates of 1965 you might want to recall the great Philadelphia Phillies collapse in the fall of 1964, just about the time you were starting your senior year, on second thought let’s not recall that great season and miserable ending.
Hey, Joe Namath was signed by the New York Jets of the American Football League making him the richest rookie in the history of the sport. Wilt Chamberlain was traded from the San Francisco Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers. Jackie Robinson was back in the news breaking down barriers as he was hired by ABC to become the first African American Baseball Commentator by a network. Remember Cassius Clay, of course you do, in 1965 he retained his World Heavyweight Boxing Championship by knocking out challenger Sonny Listen in one minute of the first round in Lewistown, Maine. Say-Hey Willie Mays, centerfielder of the San Francisco Giants won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
And so-it-was, students like Tom Zadroga, Bob Wesley, John Toole, Melvin Thornton, Tom Smith, Francis Stanley, Michael Sheedy, Mary Lou Schank, Mary McCabe, Jesse Stemple, Francis Ruggiero, Judith Ricci, Sophia Gravinese, Alice Firman, Bill Donovan, Arlene DePallo, Carl Dunst, Patricia Cullen, Cheryl Carven, Patricia Bianco, Marie Buno, Nancy Brady, Bob Cahill, Leona Burt, Thomas D’Annunzio and all the other members of the St. Matthew’s Class of 1965, you left behind the comforts of the classroom in June of 1965 and walked into a turbulent world at best to make your mark. The football games and basketball games and all the other high school sports and activities were behind you, with a lifetime in front of you.
And so, it was a half a century ago these reunion attendees walked out of St. Matthew’s High School with a diploma in one hand and a pocket full of dreams in the other. Fifty years later most of them all gathered at the Plymouth Country Club to share their stories of a lifetime. It all seem so brief, graduate, get a job, marry, have kids, grandkids, but it wasn’t brief, a life was lived, for most of them they had a partner by their side for the journey, for most it was a glorious journey. The evening of October 2, was glorious, food, drinks, friendship, and dancing, mostly line dancing. I wondered as I took pictures of the dancers, just when did every song played become a “Line Dance”? I figured it must be a sixties thing.
As the evening ended, kisses, hugs, goodbyes, and back out into the October storm where the winds were still whipping, what a difference 50 years makes. Walking out into a storm in 1965 would have had everyone dancing and twirling, pointing up to the heavens thanking the lord for a glorious night. But on this night, 50 years later, I walked out onto the porch at the country club, dropped down in my three point stance, (not really, the knees and other body parts don’t allow me to do that anymore) but I started my sprint, approximately 50 yards, I raced back to my van with my camera bag in hand and made it in just under four and a half minutes. Most of you are thinking it only took him three minutes to cover that ground at the beginning of this article, well it was three hours later and past my bed time, it would have taken most people my age five and a half minutes to cover that rough stretch of 50 years so that puts me ahead of the curve.
From the 50 year reunion, I take the smiles, realizing most of the reunion attendees are into the late fall of their life, perhaps you guys will stay in touch, it’s about the smiles.
Thanks for the invite
I enjoyed the memories