Class of 55 still very much alive and spry

Tupelo High School class of 1955 alumna, from left, Cherie Brown Harris, Mary Ann Doty Boyd and Sylvia Owen Pegues enjoy fellowshipping during their monthly meeting.

The year 1955 was an eventful one. Ray Kroc began the McDonald’s fast food restaurant chain, now a worldwide enterprise. The first riot at an Elvis Presley concert took place in Jacksonville, Florida. “The $64,000 Question,” a popular U.S. television game show, started. James Dean starred in the movie “East of Eden” and was killed later that year in a car accident near Cholame, California. In 1955, a loaf of bread cost around 18 cents, which converts to about $1.50 today. A new car in 1955 was about $1,500; today, that same car will cost you $15,000 or even more. But, also in 1955, 130 seniors graduated from Tupelo High School. And several of them – usually 12-20 – still reunite once a month to reminisce about old times, talk about present times and remember classmates who have passed on. They even plan for some future times. Today, 84 of the alumna are still living. Each year, it seems, several are lost as time takes its inevitable toll. They are, after all, 80-81 years old, most born in 1937. “The life expectancy for people who graduated in 1955 was 69 years old,” said Howard Davenport, who serves as the coordinator for the group. The remaining ‘55ers have certainly proven that forecast wrong. “We cheated death,” said Hugh Lamar. In fact, while they are moving a bit slower these days, with more deliberate steps, they are mentally strong and can be downright entertaining. “Did you ever turn 80?” someone asked Jo Gillespie Reese upon her arrival at the usual meeting place in a private room at Midtown Pointe in Tupelo. “Finally,” said Reese. “I tried to keep it quiet.” The monthly meetings usually happen about noon on the second Friday of the month; lunch at one of the center’s eateries is part of the gathering. Last Friday, however, was the last of the Midtown Pointe meetings since the room has been rented to an as yet unannounced business. One of the points of business Friday was to find another meeting place, though nothing definite has been decided; they agreed to meet in the food court itself in April and decide a new location. “I told them this is going to be a Hooter’s,” Lamar said of the currently vacant room. Davenport said they have been meeting since 2004, when they gathered to plan the 50th reunion, held at Tupelo Country Club in 2005. They continued meeting, eventually planning the 60th reunion, which was held at The Summit Center April 25, 2015. It is apparently still too early to think about the 70th reunion, when class members will be 87-88 years old. Apparently, though, you never get too old to continue a tradition. “The class of ’58 or ’59 meets but it is just females,” said Davenport. “That’s discrimination,” Lamar said. “The class of ‘48 meets quarterly,” Davenport said. Lamar again: “There are only three of them. They meet in a phone booth.” Davenport said once a year, the men in the ’55 group provides bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for the group; that happens in the summer, after one of the alumnus’ tomato plants come in. Davenport bakes cookies for each meeting; Friday’s were very tasty Mississippi Mud cookies. They talked a bit about their old teachers, especially Mrs. Brooks, who taught them about the Cold War – in full swing at the time of their graduation – and took them to the Memphis stock exchange, which is no longer in existence. They even talked about the inconvenience of residential telephone party lines, the only phone service available more than 60 years ago, and what a hassle they were. They also talked about ailing members of their class, some of whom are “not doing well.” At least one recently fell down and is having trouble getting around. Others are suffering more serious, even potentially life-threatening ailments. One woman reported that one of their classmates moved into Traceway Manor and “immediately found her a man.” “Traceway, here I come,” declared Cherie Brown Harris. Many of the dozen in attendance laughed. At about the same time, Martha Jo Kelly Patterson knocked over her bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper: “I got excited. We’re widows.” “One of the things we decided,” said Patterson, “is that it was great growing up in the 1950s.” “This group cares about each other,” Lamar said. “That’s certainly an attribute of this group.” The gathering began to shrink after lunch, but not before Patterson asked, “Now, does anybody need a cat?” “NO!” came the reply in unison.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.