- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Joe Levinskas never imagined organizing the Scranton Technical High School class of 1951 reunion would become a grim duty when he took over the task a half-century ago.

After all, this was the group that at its 20-year reunion drank the bar dry, forcing the owner to bum booze off a neighboring establishment. At the 40th, a classmate hired an actor to play the school’s mascot, the Red Raider, who ate, drank, danced and had more fun than anyone.

But now, with the 65th reunion around the corner, many of the addresses in Mr. Levinskas’ small, spiral notebook are crossed out because of death or starred for serious infirmity. The in memoriam list gets longer with each gathering.

“This used to be fun,” said Mr. Levinskas, 83, of North Scranton. “I never imagined this would be depressing.”

On July 17, 50 to 60 people will attend the reunion, about 40 of them members of the class of 1951, which graduated about 380.

Of those graduates, he estimates about a fourth are still alive.

The scheduled events begin with private trolley rides through Scranton to visit old sites and see new ones since many visitors may not have been in the city in years, or even decades. They will go to the Everhart Museum and Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour.

The day ends with a reception at Stirna’s Restaurant in North Scranton.

Levinskas’ process as reunion organizer is analog - pen, paper, printouts and snail mail. A classmate in Georgia has emails for the octogenarians who are online. Levinskas keeps everyone informed about goings on with the class, now more often about deaths. Still, there is the occasional marriage.

“Life ends, but life goes on, too,” he said.

Ties that bind

The group always has been close-knit, even going back to the classroom. Their parents’ generation went to work at a young age to contribute to the household, so many in the class of 1951 were the first in their families to complete high school. The class also was affected by war. Some young men were active U.S. Army Reservists. When the Korean War started, about a dozen members of the class were activated during their junior year. Classmates remained in touch with them. The concern and the uncertainty brought the class together. The length of their tours meant those men never returned to school to graduate. After graduation, the war claimed one classmate, Mike “Yi Yi” Henehan.

High school sweethearts often married soon after high school. The diaspora that followed graduation, as many sought work opportunities elsewhere, increased the desire to remain connected to Scranton. For many, the Tech class of 1951 provided that connection.

After all those years, some memories are indelible, like when students were banned from a pizza shop. Using napkins, a small amount of ketchup or mustard, and a quick twist, they made gooey balls and flung them at each other. The owner had a fit and banned the students.

“I don’t tell my grandkids that story until they are 16,” Beverly Kelly Hoeffner, 83, of Scranton, laughed. She’s helping out on the reunion work, but gives credit to Levinskas.

“If he’s gone, I don’t know we’ll have a reunion,” Hoeffner said. “So I always tell him, ‘Joe, stay healthy.’”

Reunions mirror life

Levinskas shrugs off the plaudits and wants neither thanks nor attention for his work on the reunion. Instead, he brags about the success of his classmates.

Anglo Troquato founded a vineyard in California.

Joe O’Malley played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears.

Ken Wynn became a major antique dealer in Connecticut.

Others, he knows, became “big deals” in companies such as Sony or Kraft. As for Levinskas, he served in the Air Force and later in Scranton’s parks and recreation department. He has a daughter.

Those first few reunions, conversations focused on career advancement and children’s accomplishments.

Then, people talked about the joys of grandchildren.

More recently though, they talk about loss and health, illnesses and prescriptions, Hoeffner said.

Even those losses can create an occasion to laugh.

Joe McCue, 83, of San Diego, lost his wife, Betty Eastman, 12 years ago. His daughter, Karen, accompanied him to a following class reunion. He stopped his introductions with “This is Karen.” He overheard classmates making comments like “Look at that geezer with such a younger woman.” Eventually, a few caught the resemblance between Karen and her mother.

The jig was up.

McCue looks forward to the reunions, where people he rarely sees continue to greet him with “Hey, old buddy” and a hug. The years, still mounting, never fail to melt away.

“No matter where you go in life, you relate to the people you graduate with,” McCue said.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/29nkXmy

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/

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