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After 40 years, a reunion and a reality check for 20; Envelope with dreams of students opened

Forty years ago, they were 13- and 14-year-olds, with freckles, pimples and peach fuzz, not quite on the cusp of adulthood.

But they had hopes for dreams of the future, of where they would be in 20 years, and they wrote down their dreams as an assignment for Mrs. Dolata's eighth-grade homeroom in School 81 at Tacoma and Delaware.

It took 40 years instead of 20, but Monday night, the manila envelope was opened and the predictions read to Buffalo classmates gathered in a virtual reunion in Boston, Mass., Tampa, Fla., South Carolina, Montana, Michigan and Hamburg.

The 22 classmates had been together as a "special progress" class from fifth through eighth grades. They were selected from schools throughout Buffalo and bused to School 81 for the gifted program.

"We got pretty close. We were in all the classes together," said Rochelle "Shelly" Reback of Tampa.

"Gosh, they were unusually bright," Aurelia Dolata, their homeroom and English teacher, recalled. "They were just a wonderful, rambunctious, and outgoing. You gave them something to do and you left them alone."

After eighth grade, some went to private schools, some went to Buffalo public high schools, and others moved to the suburbs. And eventually, they lost contact with each other until Bernard Brothman decided to try and contact some of his former classmates.

There was a conference call with about eight of them about a month ago, and they decided to try to find others. Altogether, 20 classmates were contacted.

Gathering at Victor A. Tomasulo III's Hamburg office Monday night were Tomasulo, Alan Brown, Dave Todaro, Elizabeth Gurney, Mark Stanley and John Jaremko.

"Hi Mrs. Dolata," the Buffalo contingent said in unison when their teacher got on the conference call.

Many remembered writing down their aspirations, but most didn't remember what they wrote.

"What if you haven't done anything yet?" one of them asked.

"It probably does say something about me being a lawyer and being involved in politics," said Reback, who is a criminal lawyer involved in local politics in Florida.

And she was right.

"I'm guessing I thought I would be married with a family," said Elizabeth Stevens Gurney, assistant head for advancement at Nichols School.

Gurney wrote that "Joan Khattab says I'll be rich. I'll be a housewife. I'll be rich."

Gurney said she wished Khattab was right.

"I live in Buffalo, right near PS 81," she added.

All gathered around the telephone as predictions of marriage, or, NO marriage, of work at IBM, as a teacher, as a veterinarian or a housewife were read.

Sylvia Mihich thought she said she would be an archaeologist or anthropologist, but she did not pursue either of those professions. She did keep the envelope with the handwritten predictions for 40 years, through at least six moves, including the East and West coasts.

The envelope was supposed to have been opened in 1991, 20 years after graduation. But sometime after that the classmates decided that 20 years was too long, and they crossed it out and put 15 years. But that never happened.

In 1971, the classmates were watching "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn, the Osmonds and the Jackson 5, and their older siblings were catching the Doors, the Rolling Stones and John Lennon.

Apollo 14 landed on the Moon, and National Public Radio had its first broadcast that spring. A stamp was 8 cents, gas was 40 cents a gallon, and a movie ticket was $1.50.

Alan Brown was surprised by his prediction, which may have been a sign of the times.

"In 20 years I have a hunch I might be lawyer, writer, actor, speaker, advertising agent, pianist, or dead soldier," he wrote.

His friends said he was glad the last part did not come true.

"I'm not a dead soldier," he said, adding that he is a published author and a Christian. "I'm very blessed and very fortunate."

The friends, from across the country, talked of what they do now, and how it was then.

"It's been a really fun thing," Mihich said.

And what's more fun than a virtual reunion?

"It will be really good to get together in person, if we can arrange a live reunion," she said.