Class of ’61 returning to share the memories – Reflections of Ponoka

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Congratulations to the Ponoka Composite High School graduation class of 1961. Shown in the back row are: Ross Flohr

On the weekend of Sept. 17 and 18 there is no doubt there will be a few tears but lots of hugs, cheers, and camaraderie as the Ponoka Composite High School grads of 1961 come home to celebrate their 50th anniversary class reunion.

The gala event will be hosted at the Tommy Dorchester Paddock on the Ponoka Stampede Grounds and will be also be highlighted by tours around the community, and of course an exciting stroll back through those memorable and hallowed halls of learning.

The Class of 1961 Reunion committee has worked hard on this exciting project and has made every effort to contact all their former classmates and teachers to extend an invitation to this classic fall funfest. Along with a dinner, pancake breakfast and all the other festivities, the weekend will also feature the sharing of countless mementos of their youthful years, as well as class and family photos of then and now. A real treat will also be an extra special edition of the popular PCHS Inkling, featuring 1961 student biographies, and affectionately entitled “The Inkling — 50 Years Later.”

Thanks to the reunion committee members: Dianne Carr (Berdine), Janice Chase (Umbach), Edith Williams (Trennery), and Isabel Gette (Trennery) here are just a few of the many cherished memories of those good old days in and around Ponoka and I will of course add a few of my own.

• Dianne Carr (Berdine) fondly recalls that during the 1950s, all of the cosy one-room country schools surrounding Ponoka were closing one by one, so there would be more buses every year, and they were building more and more schools in this fast growing and vibrant community. In her case she attended the Seafield School just south of Ponoka for one year, then actually went to classes in town in a Royal Taxi, and it would be a year before the bus route was arranged from their district.

The students who later joined them from Crestomere, Sylvan Heights, and Mecca Glen for Grade 12 in Ponoka didn’t even get a bus and either had to drive themselves to school or board in town, which they claim was a bit scary. Dianne remembers that their bus came through the Provincial Mental Hospital grounds where a few kids were picked up along the way.

• Janice Chase (Umbach) was one of the town students and vividly remembers beginning her school adventure in Grade 1 and 2 at the historic Red Brick School, moving into the too cold or very hot army huts for grades 3 to 5, over to what is now the Ponoka Elementary School for junior high, and then enjoying the final high school chapter at what now is the Diamond Willow Middle School. Her most vivid memories of those huts included having to put on your coat and boots to go to the outside bathrooms, having to sweep up the snow drifts that came under the door after a winter storm, or attending dances and sports events in a big room down at the end of the hall. Black leather jackets with studs, pony tales, and bobby socks were prominent then. There were no computers, more bike racks than cars, and everyone got revved up for games, Student’s union elections, and the arrival of the cheer squad.

• No will ever forget our strict but caring teachers of the ’50s and ’60s, including Mrs. Eileen Hailstone, Mrs. Atha Topley, Miss Lillian McPhie, Miss Mieklejohn, Miss Toole, Mr. Stuart, Mr. Dick, Mr. McCoy, Mr. Purnell, Mr. Petterson, Mr. Day and Mr. Zientarski. Mrs. Francis Cline was the home-ec teacher and Mel McCoy taught shop and both adamantly believed that you could teach boys how to cook and that girls would eventually make good carpenters.

Some of the other delightful recollections included: taking Grade 9 drama from Mrs. Hailstone, how the diminutive Tom Dick always twirled his chalk during math class and threw it if we weren’t paying attention, and that they always did their French homework first, or be prepared to stand all day at the blackboard in Mrs. Topley’s class. Miss McPhie taught social studies, Miss Mieklejohn quietly drilled us at English, and Mr. Jim Day taught most of the high school phys-ed as well as coaching most of the Broncs/Aces travelling sports teams.

• In those days the country students brought their lunches to school, so noon hours were always fun because we could go out to the big playgrounds, take part in intramural sports, or get involved with the Junior Red Cross, Mrs. Topley’s Glee Club or band, or with the Inkling newspaper. It was never ‘cool’ to get detention and have to stay in at noon hour, especially in high school when we were allowed to walk downtown where the girls could cruise for boys who could usually be found hanging out in the pool hall or at Bud’s Café.

• Although there was a difference between the country kids and the town kids, for the most part, everyone got along quite well, especially at sock hops and skating parties.

Dianne Carr (Berdine), who will emcee the Class of 1961 Reunion, proudly summed up the last exciting half century.

“Since 1961, we have “Been there — done that.” and I am sure that our teachers would be very proud of the accomplishments of the members of this class over all that time. We have earned countless diplomas and degrees, we have worked and excelled in many different occupations and professions and we have been great parents. We have lived and worked in many different parts of the world, we have served in many communities, and although some of us are still working, many are now retired and busy spoiling grandchildren. Most of us feel that our lives have been blessed.”

As they prepare for a warm welcome and the great hospitality of Ponoka, the Class of 1961 Reunion committee is still trying to get in touch with former classmates Ralph Peterson and Susan Zahara (Mrs. Kenneth Gall). If you can help locate them or need more information on the gala event please call Janice Chase at 403-783-4295 or Isabel Gette at 403-704.2246.

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