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My View: 50th class reunion yields great stories

By Peter Simon

I would have preferred to be remembered at Bennett High School’s recent 50th reunion for academic brilliance, outstanding leadership or athletic prowess.

But that just wasn’t me, so I would have settled for a reputation as a nice guy with emerging hints of writing ability. After all, I penned a book report during lunch hour for a girl I had a crush on, even though I never read the book. She got a grade of 98 on the paper – written under deadline pressure – and a glowing note from the teacher. Despite my Herculean efforts, I never got to first base with the lunch-mate.

Instead, circumstances beyond my control sealed my fate at last month’s 50th and 51st reunion of the Bennett classes of 1966 and 1967.

“Peter Simon? You got so tall,” I heard over and over again. That wasn’t the most astute observation, but it was dead on. A dramatic growth spurt late in high school and well into college turned me from one of the shortest kids in class into a 6-footer with a ready response to height comments: “Yes, I’ve been tall for 50 years now.”

If you’re lucky enough to attend a 50th high school reunion, turn back your watch half a century, take what comes your way and get ready for some great stories – some funny, some sad and some uplifting.

Leslie Newell, a Los Angeles resident with California written all over him, talked about playing on Bennett’s championship basketball team led by Bob Lanier, who went on to a Hall of Fame career. More impressive was Newell’s commitment to family. He plans to return to Buffalo soon to help his sister look after their ailing mother so she can avoid a nursing home placement.

Even 50 years later, everyone remembers the heroics of Fred Gordon. The cross-country star missed the bus to a race, so he ran from Bennett – located on Main Street near Hertel Avenue – to Delaware Park just in time to log a first-place finish in the race. Gordon, long one of Buffalo’s elite runners, now has health problems and got around at the reunion with a walker.

Bennett, which has struggled academically in recent years, was an outstanding school in the 1960s. We had a diverse student body, skilled teachers who cared deeply about their work and impressive percentages of pupils who earned Regents scholarships to help cover college costs.

Bennett evoked the kind of old-fashioned loyalty found in the Beach Boys’ song “Be True to Your School.”

Krishnan Ramachandran, who lives in India, was a 1967 foreign exchange student at Bennett who now has children living in the U.S. He timed his visits to them so he could attend the Bennett reunion.

Rob Warenoff and Marsha Katz, who met at Bennett and have been married 47 years, visited from Austin, Texas.

People who made names for themselves in a variety of fields attended, but clearly the most recognizable Bennettonian of the evening was meteorologist Kevin O’Connell, who, not surprisingly, was president of the school’s Debate Club and assistant manager of the stage crew.

The death of at least 72 graduates from 1966 and 1967 added a strain of sadness to the reunion, but the overriding theme was one of vitality, appreciation and good times to come.

After all, Bennettonians adhere closely to the closing and most prominent portion of the school’s longtime anthem: “Bennett, Bennett, lead us onward, for the best is yet to be.”

Peter Simon, who lives in Williamsville, is a retired Buffalo News education reporter.
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