Timeless friendships

Vik­ings for life: The Class of 1960 at North­east High School gath­ers on pre­de­ter­mined Tues­day nights to keep the bonds alive. There are cur­rently 16 reg­u­lars who at­tend the monthly re­union. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

A stranger ob­serving them in the back room of the Coun­try Club Diner on a re­cent even­ing might won­der: Was this a fam­ily gath­er­ing? A neigh­bor­hood party? An of­fice party?

Ac­tu­ally, none of the above.

The gath­er­ing is a monthly event that re­unites mem­bers of the Class of 1960 at North­east High School — now dec­ades bey­ond those days. The group gath­ers on pre-de­term­ined Tues­day nights to keep the bonds alive.

Yes, it’s rare thing. And it grew out of a 25th class re­union at which this core group, iron­ic­ally not close friends back in those high school years, real­ized that des­pite that, they had bonds that are mar­row deep.

“These are the people we shared our high school years with, the people who knew us when,” ex­plained Mar­ilyn Sacks DeLe­on.

DeLe­on, a paralegal, is an avid mem­ber of the re­union group and one of its founders, along with four oth­er class­mates. The oth­er co-founders are An­die Blitz Klein, Nikki Kauff­man Rosen, Roz Bar­ish Mazur and the late Madge Rosen­berg.

“It doesn’t mat­ter that we wer­en’t all one big group — what mat­ters is that be­cause of the past we shared, we’re close now. We’re like fam­ily,” said DeLe­on, who is a stel­lar or­gan­izer.

Counter-in­tu­it­ive? Un­ex­pec­ted?


But even a few minutes in their pres­ence can con­vince any skep­tic that re­con­nect­ing over all these post-high school years has made this a kind of hon­or guard watch­ing out for one an­oth­er — caring, shar­ing, re­mem­ber­ing and most of all, keep­ing in touch.

“You have to have a really good reas­on for miss­ing a Tues­day night din­ner,” said Dave Bar­ish, a self-de­scribed cut-up in high school, and now the own­er of a fur­niture busi­ness who is a fiercely loy­al mem­ber of the monthly group.

“This is where you can be your­self — you don’t have to im­press any­one about how im­port­ant you are. These are the people who re­mem­ber the same things you do, and who cher­ish the same past.”

This group of about 16 loy­al­ists doesn’t need hol­i­days to get to­geth­er. Or birth­days.

Nor are spouses in­vited — by mu­tu­al con­sent. That might change the vibe, all agree. So hus­bands and wives stay home.

And in­vari­ably, re­min­is­cences bubble to the sur­face among these men and wo­men, now all in their early 70s.

Most of them are grand­par­ents, some of them are re­tired — but their memory banks are def­in­itely not re­tired. And all but one still live in the Great­er North­east. DeLe­on resides in Ply­mouth Meet­ing.

Among the places and things they still love to re­mem­ber:

• The Cottman Bowl­ing Al­ley

• The Max My­ers Play­ground

• HoJo’s (Howard John­son’s)

• The Hot Shoppes

• Lin­ton’s on Castor Av­en­ue

• Sea­shore sum­mers at Chelsea Beach, At­lantic City

• The Route 59 Track­less Trol­ley

• The Neigh­bor­hood Cen­ter where teen­age dances were held (once loc­ated at Bustleton and Magee)

As each land­mark place was men­tioned, there were de­lighted smiles of re­cog­ni­tion and re­min­is­cence. Those were won­der­ful years, the mem­bers of Class of 1960 at North­east High in­sist. Sim­pler times. And yes, happy times.

There were mostly one-car fam­il­ies. Wo­men typ­ic­ally stayed home and reared chil­dren. And at North­east High, des­pite class sizes that were in the hun­dreds, there was a fa­mili­ar­ity among most class­mates.

And those ties be­came bind­ing, wit­ness the Coun­try Club Diner’s happy din­ner group.

Art Lern­er, the new­est mem­ber of the group even after 10 years, feels “priv­ileged” to be in it. This Re­altor has felt a sense of re­new­al and de­light at re­con­nect­ing with his high school class­mates, and like them, re­calls won­der­ful times at North­east High, and happy that in a com­plic­ated world, there is the com­fort of old class­mates and friends to ease the jour­ney.

“We all had been giv­en a strong work eth­ic,” said Lern­er, who jokes that his “exit strategy” from work will be death. “Why would I re­tire when my work is what I love? Most of the men in this group do what I do — work hard — and still en­joy it.”

In this group, as in life it­self, there in­ev­it­ably have been struggles, pas­sages and some­times, heart­break.

Founder Madge Rosen­berg passed away sev­er­al years ago, and is missed.

And proud and loy­al mem­ber Car­ol Stein Soko­low, who lost her hus­band just after the re­cent meet­ing, spoke emo­tion­ally that night at the re­cent Coun­try Club get-to­geth­er about how the group had been there for her, and how deeply ap­pre­ci­ated that sup­port has been.

An­die Blitz Klein echoed that sen­ti­ment.

“To have re­con­nec­ted with these people is a gift I’m so for­tu­nate to have. It’s so com­fort­ing to know that around me are people who care. Shar­ing old memor­ies makes me feel 18 but get­ting older also makes me ap­pre­ci­ate the value of old friends.”

Yes, this crew has been chal­lenged by a world that now has faced as­sas­sin­a­tions, wars, 9-11 and school killings.

“It’s such a far cry from grow­ing up in North­east Philly, in row homes with one bath­room but lots of love,” says Dave Bar­ish. “The gen­er­a­tion after ours may think they had it bet­ter — they have all the tech­no­logy we nev­er dreamed of, and big­ger homes and bet­ter cars.

“But,” said Bar­ish, “what we had was something pre­cious. We had roots, we had won­der­ful times and sim­pler times. And we had — and have again — each oth­er!” ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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