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Orchard Park Class of '47 still has school spirit

An apartment building now marks the spot where Orchard Park High School's Class of 1947 attended school.

The students who graduated two years after World War II ended are around 88 years of age, and on Sunday, 14 of them and a number of their spouses showed their school spirit was still intact at their 70th high school reunion.

"It's wonderful to get together," said Mary Ann Gravius of Orchard Park, a key organizer of the event held at JP Fitzgerald's in Hamburg. "It means a lot of love, and that God has been good to us that we can still be together."

The class reunion was held every 10 years for the first 50 years. Now, it meets every five years.

"Our 70th – I'm in awe, really," said Shirley Hull, also of Orchard Park. "I think we're very fortunate that we have kept this group together this long."

The high school graduated 50 women and 22 men in 1947. About a half-dozen men didn't start with that class, but returned to finish high school after their discharge from the military.

Don Saville was one of them. He was drafted into the Navy at age 18, and served during World War II as a crewman on a troop transport ship. Saville still lives in Orchard Park, but said he doesn't have close ties with the class he graduated with.

"I have fond memories, but the guys I went to school with and the class I should have graduated with are all gone," he said.

Myra Ferguson, who grew up on a farm in Orchard Park and now lives in Hamburg, also missed those who passed away.

"The people I was friendly with in school and would really, really like to see are either in nursing homes some place, or have already passed," Ferguson said. "So, I'm a little bittersweet about the whole thing."

But Ferguson still enjoyed herself, including the company of two men on either side of her. "It's a lot of laughs," she said.

Nicholas Nicoloff, who traveled from his home in New River, Ariz., to be there, liked the ratio of 11 women to three men. "We don't need too many guys," he said. "We can handle the girls."

Ferguson estimated about half the students who graduated back in 1947 stayed in Orchard Park and Western New York. Gene Saville, Don's cousin, came with his wife from Port Charlotte, Fla., to be there. "It's really something," he said. "It brings tears to your eyes, you know?"

A copy of the photo of the Orchard Park High School Class of 1947 on top of the Empire State Building during a class trip to New York City. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

 

A yearbook shows how the students looked when they graduated in the school's combination auditorium and gymnasium. The yearbook was printed with a soft cover because students were given the choice of going on a trip to New York or having the money spent on a fancier book. It was no contest.

"Most of us had never been out of Orchard Park," Hull said. "We just jumped on that trip to New York City. We still talk about it today."

Arthur's Hardware and Anthony-Brown Pharmacy are among the last remnants of the Village of Orchard Park from 1947. Many of the students lived on farms, but most of the farmland is gone, too, replaced by luxury homes.

"Chickens had to be fed, cows had to be fed and watered," Ferguson said, noting she usually got up around 5 a.m. to do morning chores at her Ellicott Road farm before going off to school.

Infrequent bus service also meant that if kids needed to stay after school for play practices or for sports, or had a job in town that ran late, a long walk home usually awaited.

Hull said there were a lot of good things about going to school at that time. Having only 72 students in the graduating class meant everyone knew everyone, she said.

"I think the world is much faster now than when I grew up, and I think people miss things," Hull said.

Some in the Class of '47 don't wait to get together every five years.

A dozen women meet on a Monday once a month for lunch. Most live in Orchard Park, but others are from Holland, Collins and Hamburg.

"I brag all the time that we still get together," Hull said. "Some of us have walkers and some are in wheelchairs, but we still go."

One of the school's teachers, Janice Schram, was honored Sunday by her former students. Schram wasn't much older than they were, having started teaching at Orchard Park High School right out of college.

She enjoyed lording her rank of a teacher over them.

"They know to whom to look for for their rules," Schram said. "Have you noticed they're all well-behaved? Someone's got to do it. That's why I'm here."

Gravius said she would be looking forward to the next one, five years from now. "We'll try to aim for 75," she said. "We got 70 so we have to go for 75."

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