Anita Collins Martin
I’m pretty sure I know how to end this article; however, where to begin is really hard for me. I will just start and see what happens!
At the encouragement of Donnie Skuja, my husband Bob ( WHS Class of ’53) and I (’57) attended a reunion hosted by her brother, Ronnie Collins (’64) at his home in Premier on August 5, 2000, appropriately called “For Anyone Who Ever Attended Welch High School”. It was a lot of fun seeing all those “young” WHS graduates, some like Eleanor Turner Bright who we had known since she was a very little girl, living beside Bob’s parents in Roderfield. I was beginning to think Bob and I were the only “old folks” going to show up, when into the drive pulled this distinguished looking gentleman with a rather young looking lady by his side. When he stepped out of the car, I knew immediately who he was; it was that kid, Ron Thompson who used to copy my homework. I never really minded since I had a bit of crush on him, as I am sure all the girls in our class did at some time or other during our days “on the hill”. We hugged and I could still see that “little boy” in that face that has matured so well. He then introduced his wife Bobbie Jean to Bob and me and I liked her right away. It wasn’t long before we started talking about the “Fabulous Fifties Reunions” that I had missed. Ron told me of the past reunions and all the people who had attended and I made up my mind then and there not to miss another opportunity to see all those people that I had spent so much time with and cared so much for in my youth. I told him I would certainly be attending the next reunion. Ron, the great leader that he is, asked me if I would be willing to write an article for the paper after attending the Fabulous Fifties Reunion in October 2001. Before I could think to say, “Oh, I don’t really think I would be very good at that” my mouth opened and I heard the word “yes” come out. Being a person of my word, I will attempt to tell you what a wonderful experience my trip to the WHS “Fabulous Fifties Reunion” of 2001 was for me.
This weekend was a bit of a family reunion as well as a class reunion for Bob and me. Bob and I drove up to Pipestem on Thursday evening, to meet Henry and Gwen Martin Lucion (’55), Bob’s sister and brother-in-law and Jim Martin (’60), Bob’s brother. Along with a few friends we planned dinner and to spend some time together before all the activities began on Friday. Well…guess what? The party had begun. We pulled up in front of the lodge and we started seeing familiar faces. Judy Hulme Beuchert (’55) and her husband Bruce, Larry Matney (’55) and his wife, Gloria, and who else but Ron Thompson, there to greet everyone as they arrived. I jumped (slowly) out of the car and left Bob to get the car parked. Got a big hug from Judy, Bruce and Ron and immediately felt I was where I should be. We sat there and talked for a few minutes and who do I see but Tony Miano (’57). We hugged, reminisced a bit and off he went for a run. We had dinner that evening, not only with Henry, Gwen and Jim but also with lots of old and new aquaintances. Bill Tolley (’55), Shirley Price Tolley (’56), Peggy Tolley Foster (’55), Bruce and Judy Hulme Beuchert, Don Rankin (’55) and his wife, Vickie, Pete Plymale, Pat Friel Johnson (’58), Faye Tolley Milam (’57), Ron Thompson (’55), Wanda Goad Wertz (’55) and her husband. Dean. Faye Tolley Milam’s guest Kenneth “Esau” Wilson and Bob had played football in the early 50’s together; they had a great time remembering old friends and I am sure replaying some football games as most WHS former athletes do when they get together. After dinner Bob and I made the trip back to Beckley, spent the night and headed back to Pipestem the next morning.
This time we came prepared to stay with all the things I believed that we would need for a weekend at beautiful Pipestem State Park. The drive into the lodge was breathtaking; the leaves were beginning to show their beautiful colors of reds, yellows and oranges that only these West Virginia mountains could produce. I would love to be able to capture them on canvas. The roadsides were so clean and neat as if someone had just cleaned house in anticipation of company arriving. An occasional deer would appear and seem to be checking out the intruders that dared to come into their domain. We saw, what appeared to be a family of four deer standing so proud, not at all afraid, behind a line of trees waiting for us to pass so they could cross the road.
We arrived at the lodge, this time I am really anxious but trying not to be too nervous about seeing all those people I haven’t seen for such a long, long time. I, like everyone before me who has written about the reunion, felt sure no one would recognize me or remember me. We stood, sat and walked around the lobby for what seemed like forever and then I started seeing faces I knew. I share some very special memories with some of the girls and guys from the class of ’57. One by one they came, each with a smile and filled with anticipation just as I was. John Summers (’55), Carl (Toup) Pennington (’59), George (Babe) Pennington (’60), Punky and Patricia Foster (’55), Wanda Goad Wertz, Ann Barns Williams, Nilda Ramella, Pat Donnelly Bradley, Cuzzie Belcher Mathena, Mike Callaway, Pete Bignotti, Lila Snow Cline, Sam Spangler, Jeanne Grogan Batten, Margaret Campbell Barker, Rush Floyd, Tom Cloer, Richard Clark, Maria Forbes Shover, Barbara Mitchell Howlette, Evelyn Sheffey Tomlin, Andy Tolnay, Fairy Harper Christian, Oda Stout and Ann Tucker Rosch (all class of ’57), Pat Friel Johnson(’58), Jackie Funkhouser Tanner (’55), Roberk Piercy (’55) and Thelma Green Chaos (’58) all were there by early afternoon. I was so excited but there were still some faces I was searching for that I had not yet found. Soon we all had our rooms and were off to get ready for the Friday evening activities.
We walked into the reception and the first person I saw through the crowd was long tall Dexter Dillon (’57). Dexter had gotten taller and even better looking than when I last saw him in the 10th grade. I almost needed a ladder to hug him. I met his lovely wife for the first time and I am sure she hears what a great guy he is all the time. I started looking around and there stood Tom Cloer with Nilda and Ann talking over plans for Saturday’s picnic. This was the perfect opportunity to get another big hug. Jo Ed Phillips (’57), Charles Warner (’58), Kenny Crabtree (’57) Wanda Bignotti Simons (’60), Joanna Bignotti Brooks (’60), Patty St.Clair (’59) who will always be remembered as our “little mascot” and Jim Friel (’57) were there. There were still some special faces I was looking for. I walked toward the back of the room and there were two I had been looking for all day, Geraldine Rotenberry Salcines and Shelby Rotenberry Robertson (’57). I have such wonderful memories of the twins. I can’t begin to name everyone I saw that night, I might not remember your names but your faces were beginning to come back to me. We ate well at the reception but the conversation and getting reacquainted were the only things on our minds.
Coach Tony Colobro attended the reception and as always he gathered a crowd. He and all his former players rehashed lots of games and who did what, where and when.
An announcement was made that individual class meeting would be held following the reception. Right away, just like the old days on the hill, we started hearing “what did he say?” “Where are we supposed to go?” “Where is the class of ’58 meeting?” “Where did he say the 1960 people were to go?” “Will somebody show me where ’55’s meeting is being held?” Someone from ’57 was heard saying “just follow Ron”. The classes of ’56 and ’59 seemed to know where they were going. As for myself, I pretended to know, and followed the twins. We sat down and I began to look around, Jack Yielding (’57) was right behind me and I hadn’t spotted him all evening until then. We said our hello’s and I turned to my left and I was sitting beside someone I had known what seems like forever, Joyce Hall Casto (’57), we had to look for a moment but we soon recognized each other. We had to hug fast because Ron was about to start the meeting. I would like to note that Tony came in late and caused a disruption in the meeting.
The class meetings were brief and people soon began the walk down to Mulligan’s for a relaxed evening of dancing and mixing. We joined Bill and Shirley Tolley, Gwen Martin Lucion (Henry stayed in to rest up for Saturday), Ed and Joyce England Fly (’55), Punky and Patricia Foster, Wayne and Kimiko Richardson (’55), Don and Vickie Rankin and Bruce and Judy Hulme Beuchert. The dance floor soon filled up and you had to find a place to squeeze in to get to dance. I saw some very good dancers out there showing their stuff. I wish I could name them all but since I can’t you know who you are. Ron and Bobbie are quite good and have obviously done a lot of dancing in their years together. I saw Roy (’55) and Angeline Lucion Hall (’59) dancing cheek to cheek. Pete Bignotti was seen dancing quite a bit with his sisters. Tony Miano hasn’t forgotten any steps he knew from the fifties. Pete Plymale’s feet got so hot with his fancy moves that Punky had to fan them to cool them down. The club was rather warm with all the action so we moved out on to the patio for a breath of air (cold I might add) and ran into Tom Joyce (’60) and his wife. We had a nice long chat with them. There was a lot of excitement on the patio when Rush Floyd slipped and fell on the steps, injuring his head. The rescue squad came and took him to Hinton Hospital where he was treated and released. I guess it just proves you can’t hurt a hard headed West Virginian enough to keep him down. When I left Mulligan’s the party was still going but everyone was beginning to wind down.
Saturday morning breakfast was in the dining room overlooking that beautiful view of the mountains. This was the most relaxed time of all. Everyone seemed to have by now found friends and had time to just sit down and do some catching up on what had been happening in their lives. I really enjoyed spending some time talking with Evelyn Sheffey Tomlin (’57) and met Thelma Green Chaos (’58) for the first time. Girls, we are definitely getting together again soon.
We woke up Saturday morning to a cold misty rain. Tom Cloer, Andy Tolnay, and Mike Callaway were out braving the rain and cold in the wee hours of the morning to get the fire started and the food going for the picnic. Nilda Ramella, Ann Barns Williams, Pat Donnelly Bradley, Geraldine Rotenberry Salcines, Shelby Rotenberry Robertson, Pete Plymale and Betty Tolnay joined them later to help with the cooking and preparing for the picnic. Brenda Muncy McPeake, Chandler Swope and Wanda Bignotti Simons were very generous with their contributions of food.
While preparations for the picnic were getting started, Brenda Muncy McPeake and her crew were busy working their magic to transform a very plain room into a world of fantasy.
Golfers, being the diehards that they are, did not give up; they played their tournament as planned. What decent golfer would dare say it is too wet or too cold to play?
Tony Miano planned a tennis tournament for this morning. With the planned tennis match there was a slight problem. Can you guess who was a “no show”? Our fearless leader, Ron Thompson. He explained that he just knew no one would show up because it was too wet and cold so he stayed inside where it was nice and warm. Joan Willis Corney (’56), Eleanor Triplett White (’56) and James White were left waiting in the cold for Ron.
A lot of people turned out for the picnic, some dressed warm and some not so warm. Not everyone expected it to be so cold and some of us did not have coats to take care of the chill. One more thing to remember to pack for the next reunion. It was still fun and the food was good. Jean Battlo stopped by for a while. It was interesting to hear that she has a book being released sometime soon. Start looking for it around the holidays. Everyone appreciated the efforts the entire group put forth in causing the picnic to happen. See, Ron you worried all night for no reason. The rain stopped and the sun came out and it all worked out fine in the end.
After returning to the lodge from the picnic, we indulged ourselves with hot chocolate; certainly did taste good, as well as warming us up a bit.
Part of the group spent the day with a drive to Coalwood to visit with Homer Hickam.
We started gathering for class pictures around 5 o’clock. Mass confusion prevailed during the picture taking session, no fault of John’s. John Spencer (’58 ) has patience like no one I have ever seen. John, I love your two pocket filing system. Someway John managed to get all class groups together, took pictures and sent us on our way. Thanks, John for preserving all those memories for us.
Jeanette Bivens stopped by during the picture taking session to visit with her former students. As always, she looked lovely and was such a joy to talk with.
Anxious for the evening festivities, we all began the trip down the hall to the room where the banquet and dance were to be held. What a surprise! We are suddenly back in the fifties again. We passed a gas pump as we entered the room. This brought back memories of being able to buy 50 cents worth of gas to go to Starland to a movie, to The Sterling for a coke or maybe just to circle the drive-in. This happened for most of us only if we were lucky enough to get to use the family car. We then entered a place where we could turn back the hands of time and once again dance to our favorites from the fifties. Jukeboxes, 45 RPM records, cokes in bottles, ’50’s model cars, “cheap” gas pumps, leather jackets, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean were all there to remind us of that wonderful time in our lives. We found seats and sat for just a minute taking in the wonderful atmosphere that filled the room. Brenda, I applaud you for a fantastic job.
Ron welcomed everyone and Dexter Dillion asked the blessing. We enjoyed dinner, and again lots of good conversation. After dinner, Ann Tucker Rosch introduced our special guest, Coach Joe Orrison. Coach Orrison enjoyed chatting with the guys and they with him.
Ron Thompson gave an update on the Kathryn Noel Edwards Scholarship Fund. We are now able to give a $500.00 scholarship annually to a deserving student. This fund can only grow through our continued contributions and earnings. Please remember that any contribution you would like to make can be added to the fund at any time. Contributions should be sent to McDowell County National Bank Trust Department and specified for the fund as mentioned above.
Awards time brought us a lot of laughs, oohs and ahhs. For instance Dexter is the proud grandfather of 22 little ones. Charles (’57) and Carolyn Sharousky Donchatz (’59) have the youngest grandchild born October 5th. Jackie Funkhouser Tanner, Sammy Funkhouser (’58) and Sandra Reeves Clauss (’59) traveled the farthest, from California. Rush Floyd was given a special “Survivor Award”. People were frantically digging in the wallets and purses for pictures of grandchildren. Mescal Greer Korman was carrying 24 pictures to show her pride.
Jo Ed Phillips presented awards for the golf tournament. First place went to the foursome of Ron Vandell, Dexter Dillion, Charlie Dillon and Bill Bowlen. Cathy Luther Steorts' (‘58) husband, Dave, won awards for the longest drive and closest to the hole. Rush Floyd was given a towel for his head for “The Good Intention Award”.
Ron thanked Pat Friel Johnson for her many hours and continued effort spent on preparations that make a great part of this reunion go so smoothly. Pat in turn thanked all those who helped her. He also brought special attention to all the work Brenda Muncy McPeake does to make the reunion so enjoyable for all of us. Brenda thanked all the alumni who turned out to help assemble everything on Saturday morning.
Ron also mentioned the value of everyone that helps, in any way, with the reunion and wishes to thank you all for making his job easier.
Brenda presented Ron and Bobbie Jean with monogrammed chairs as a token of our appreciation for all the work he does to make the “Fabulous Fifties Reunion” possible.
We spent the next few hours dancing the night away. Thanks to Bobbie Jean and her generosity, the ladies in the group kept Ron on the dance floor. Everyone danced like they were 16 again or at least wished they were. We said goodnight in the wee hours of the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.
We assembled again Sunday morning for breakfast. Wanda Bignotti Simons gave a beautiful and touching reading in remembrance of our deceased classmates. A representative of each class lit a candle in memory of deceased members.
Ron was again elected CEO of the “Fabulous Fifties Reunion”. He led discussion on future reunions. It was unanimously decided that we would meet again at Pipestem in October 1-3, 2004 for another “FABULOUS FIFTIES REUNION”.
Sunday morning after breakfast was a time of reflecting, parting and promises to stay in touch. We began saying our goodbyes with hugs and kisses. We at first tried to hide our tear filled eyes but soon it became impossible. Who really cares if we see each other cry? We cried together many times in the past over skinned knees, lost loves, lost ballgames, lost loved ones, last days of school, graduation and many joyful events in our lives. I am so thankful to all those who encouraged me to attend this, my first class reunion. I realize now just what I have been missing and I don’t intend to miss any other reunions if I can possibly get there. Thanks to those who remembered me for I never forgot any of you. It may have taken me a while to recognize some of you but it didn’t take long before I began to see in each of you the same faces that I used to see “on the hill”. I have such fond memories of my years in school in Welch. Hope to see some of you soon and all of you again in 2004 when we can once again make more memories.
Take care, be safe and bless you all until
we meet again. Let’s all pray for our country and may God Bless America.
Many thanks to Anita Collins Martin for allowing us to publish this article.