Honeywell – ‘My lifelong friends are from GAR’
If Ron Honeywell from GAR’s class of 1971 says he played saxophone in the marching band, you believe him.
If Elaine Semanski, class of 1963, says the school canceled the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance when she was a senior, you believe her.
But if Anthony Saracino, class of 1974, tells you a schoolmate named Renee carried him across a flooded creek on the way to school because she was wearing rain boots and he wasn’t? Well, you’ve got to believe that, too. It’s just crazy enough to be true.
Scores of GAR alumni representing several decades gathered outdoors at their alma mater on Thursday morning and formed a cheering, waving and chanting honor guard as the class of 2021 — the school’s final senior class — filed into the building for their graduation ceremony.
But first, the alumni spent a good hour, or longer, reminiscing about the good old days.
“Remember Miss Dierkes?” Saracino asked Honeywell. “I had her in seventh grade, for earth science. I loved her.”
Of course, Honeywell remembered long-time teacher Sabina Dierkes. He also remembered Latin instructor Mary Mulhern, who had always stressed the benefits of speaking distinctly.
“She told us a story about a boy who complained that a teacher called him ‘a scurvy elephant’,” Honeywell recalled, explaining the teacher had actually called the student “a disturbing element.”
“And you remember that after all these years,” Saracino marveled.
As alumni gathered in small groups before the procession, honor guard organizer Steve Morio from the class of 1982 walked from group to group, handing out paper signs emblazoned with the GAR emblem as well as blue hats reminiscent of those worn by Northern soldiers during the Civil War.
GAR High School’s full name refers to the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a Civil War veterans group. Its school colors, blue and gray, reflect the colors of the uniforms of both North and South. And many of the streets surrounding the school are named for Union officers including Grant, Sherman, Meade and Sheridan.
Alums Jackie Comitz and Elaine Semanski from the class of 1963 — they’ve actually been buddies since second grade — and their friend Sharon Bayer, class of 1965, grew up on or near those streets, and two of the three still live near the school.
“She could roll out of bed and be here,” Comitz said, nodding toward Bayer.
“I’m so glad my husband saw this on Facebook,” said Shemanski, who was thoroughly enjoying the informal reunion.
GAR traditionally had a family atmosphere, several alumni said, partly because it was small enough that students could get to know everyone in their class, and partly because their parents and grandparents had often attended the school as well.
“My grandfather was supposed to be in the first graduating class (in the 1920s),” Saracino said, “but he had to quit and get a job.”
While that happened to many people a century ago, being able to complete high school became more of the norm a generation or two later.
“It was a wonderful time of our lives,” said Semanski, from the class of 1963.
“The teachers were strict,” Comitz said, “but they were wonderful people.”
And the friendships the alumni forged as teenagers have been unforgettable, said Bob Manfre, who stood with Fred Francisco holding a banner that welcomed the class of 1972 into the throng.
“I moved to New Jersey but moved back here two years ago, to Trucksville,” Manfre said. “I went to King’s College, but my lifelong friends are from GAR.”