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By: Daniel Jackovino - Staff Writer
GLEN RIDGE — The Glen Ridge High School Class of 1973 held its fourth decennial reunion this past weekend. For some returning alumni, it was their first reunion; but other graduates had been to all four.
The get-together began at noon, Friday, Sept. 13, at the train station which was rented for the occasion from the borough’s Recreation Department. The high school’s opening football game was a scheduled stop later in the afternoon. After that, the reunion was to continue to the local eatery, Fitzgerald’s. The itinerary had a dinner and dance for Saturday night at Renaissance in Rutherford. But to starts things off, about 15 classmates showed up at the station.
“We were the first graduating class at the new high school,” said Celeste DePiero Baxter, now of St. Louis, Mo. She was chatting with Barbara Conover, a classmate who lives in Montclair.
Baxter explained that there were three elementary schools back then — Linden, Forest and Central — and that grades seven to 12 were located at the middle school.
She said she did not know the actor Tom Cruise personally and it was sad that he was only a fifth-grader when she was graduating high school. But the movie star piqued the interest of Conover only momentarily.
“His backyard was adjacent to ours.” she said. “But forget Tom Cruise; our band played at the Jets and Dolphins’ game in the Orange Bowl in 1972.”
Baxter was happy at the recollection. She was a trombone player that went with the group to Florida.
Conover said when the band performed at halftime, the father of a classmate, who was a big-shot at NBC which broadcasted the game, did not permit any commercials to be aired so that local residents could watch without interruption. Neither Conover nor Baxter would reveal the name of the executive or his daughter because their classmate, the daughter, was the sort of person that still would not like it.
Ken Steiger remembered that halftime performance, too. He was something of a recording engineer in high school and made a record of it. He even made the front page of a local paper, presumably, The Glen Ridge Paper. The headline, he said, read, “Record is made.”
“We made about 500 copies and sold it door-to-door to finance the trip to the Orange Bowl.”
Steiger said he later became a recording engineer in New York and Los Angeles and worked with groups such as The Cars, Kiss, the Bee Gees and Debbie Harry.
Bruce Dold walked over. Baxter told him that he must be the Class of 1973’s most accomplished graduate. She said this because Dold had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, for editorial writing in the Chicago Tribune.
Dold said he started off writing for The Glen Ridge Paper. His editor was Floyd McKnight and he recalled discussing Bob Dylan lyrics with him. “Glen Ridge had a really great educational teaching corp.,” Dold said. “My dad grew up here and we moved away. But he was terribly homesick and we moved back within two years. I was in the seventh grade.”
Ted Fitzgerald was at the train station, too. He co-organized the event with Jim Gardan of Stamford, Conn. Fitzgerald said he was no relations to the local saloon to where the group was headed after the game, a contest which later that day would be won by Glen Ridge, 24-14, over St. Anthony’s, of Jersey City.
“I was the class clown,” he kidded when asked why he organized the reunion.
“It was an elected position,” Dold said. “The vote was unanimous.”
“We had about 190 graduates,” Fitzgerald said. “About 12 have passed away. I was in contact with over 100 people and about 80 are coming.”
He remembered the class president to be Bill Zavirtnik who would not be coming. Fitzgerald, who lives in Dallas, Texas, said he thought Zavirtnik was in Ohio.
But Bambi Kittle was coming, he said.
“Nancy is her birth-certificate name,” interjected Jeff Jordan who said he subscribes to The Glen Ridge Paper and lives in Glendale, Ariz.
“This is where I grew up,” he said to explain the long-distance subscription. “I want to watch what’s going on as much as I hated growing up here.”
He called the borough unique and seeing it now, he thought the property was better maintained than when he was going to the high school.
“It was rare to see houses so well-kept,” he said. “Like ours, for instance. But the tree canopy will have to come back. I really appreciate my time here now.”
And some teachers were coming to the reunion, too: John DeMado, a French teacher, Paul Perna, an art teacher and Larry Shillings, the band director.
“Bryce is threatening to come,” Fitzgerald said of John Bryce, although no one could immediately recall what he taught but they guessed it was history.
Also making it to the train station on Friday afternoon were Peter Waldner, a cartoonist, and Bob Volpe, an editor of TV commercials. Volpe lived in Los Angeles for 22 years but now resides in Bloomfield, in the house in which he grew up before moving to Glen Ridge. The house stayed in the family.
“There’s a connection when you know people for 50 years,” Jordan continued. “I haven’t seen Celeste for 40 years. But there are people I’d love to see that won’t come. The people that come are very close knit.”
Conover and Baxter, after conversing for a short time, have something to say.
“We’ve decided that we’re old enough not to remember who the class president was,” Conover states. “It wasn’t Bill Zavirtnik. It was Bruce Watson.”