“She was a very organized, detailed event planner who thoroughly enjoyed the planning process,” said Marian Mack, treasurer. “She loved people and delighted in hearing from classmates all over the U.S. and Europe. Several of us are dedicating our efforts in her memory.”
There are other changes. The class reunion shifted from Lake Wright to the ballroom of the Airport Hilton several years ago. And the price started at $50, but now costs $160. Faces have also changed over the years.
“We have gained a few pounds through the years,” said Atkins, who retired as a building inspector in Portsmouth after a 35-year career. “But the Lord has blessed us to continue to embrace each other with the love we had in high school. I hope the Lord blesses us to continue.”
One thing has not changed: Details. About 15 to 20 former classmates, who are retired or semi-retired, meet about twice a month to iron out the fine points. About 80 classmates have already made reservations. And the ballroom inside of the Hilton will be filled with former BTW students who now live in at least 11 states including California, the Midwest, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Hampton Roads, and Germany.
“They have done a fantastic job and are still diligently working to locate classmates,” Mack said. Atkins added, “Everybody is pitching in, we’re all pulling together. We all work together and know each other. People are retired and have more time now.”
The time-honored class reunion has changed since the first one was held in America at Harvard around 1800. Dunbar High School, located in Washington, D.C., is the nation’s first black high school dating to to 1870. Its class of 1936 held its 75th class reunion in May 2011. Twenty classmates and more than 100 friends and family members gathered at Pier 7 Restaurant.
Some sat in wheelchairs as they belted out the school song, while others sat with their canes singing.
Nationwide, reunions continue to change like the people who attend them. For example, Web sites provide details, rather than detailed handbooks and invitations. The annual get-togethers are more casual. Classes meet at parks, restaurants, hotels, and country clubs.
Unique awards are conceived and passed out as time passes. Some classes bestow awards on the Most Changed, Most Successful, and the Happiest Couple. Yearbooks are passed around. Some classes provide a video and offer photographs.
Mack said, “We have a 4-person correspondence sub-committee. They use computers to research and update our member listing.”
But sentimentality is the glue that holds each class reunion together.
This year’s reunion will start with a meet and greet on Friday. On Saturday, Aug. 11, classmates will enjoy a cocktail hour, dinner, and a dance which will feature a deejay. Students will also honor their former teachers. Sunday, old classmates will attend church together.
Currently, sponsors are needed to provide keepsakes. However, donations have already been provided by the Booker T. Washington Historical Foundation, the Norfolk Convention Bureau, and area hospitals. Meanwhile, class members are still soliciting donations for the annual scholarship they present to their alma mater after each reunion.
And you can buy an ad in the 50th souvenir journal. Prices range from $12.50-$50 for an ad in the journal. The patron list costs $5.
“We enjoyed our life,” Mack said. “We didn’t know our neighborhood was considered a ghetto. We knew all of our neighbors, everybody in the community, and several generations in one family.
“As time passes, you just remember the good times,” Mack continued. “We feel we have survived in life because of the lessons we learned at Booker T. Washington High School. They taught us. They didn’t give up on us. I look back now and realize we did have challenges. Most homes only had one bathroom. There were segregated libraries and restaurants. But we enjoyed our lives.
“We are now experiencing various stages of health, some have gray hair or no hair at all,” Mack said. “We have lost many family members and friends. We have experienced many highs and lows in life; but we are still happy to be here and to be able to once again reminiscence.” To reserve a space, make a donation or learn more, please phone: 393-9074; 466-7449; 735-1893; 243-4587.