Gathered at the Breakwater Yacht Club in Sag Harbor on Saturday evening for a 50th reunion of the graduating class of 1968, 26 alumni were anxious to see their old classmates and reminisce. But 1968 was a tumultuous year. Riots, civil rights protests, the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had placed a shadow over the nation, including the local youth in Sag Harbor.
Earl Haye, a senior and member of Pierson’s class of 1968 had listed his pet peeve in the yearbook as “The Vietnam War.” “I remember,” said Steve Peters, “when Earl listed that in the yearbook I thought it was really something. It showed how involved he was in what was going on in the world.” Haye, along with several other classmates, enlisted in the military services after graduation.
Gazing at a photo of the class of 1968’s senior trip to Washington D.C., Patricia (Tisha) Remkus Bouboulis said, “It was postponed several times because of the riots and the school board didn’t think it was safe. They finally let us go in May, but then baseball season started and those who were on the school team couldn’t go.” Paula Kruger and Earl Haye, however, were two of the students who did.
Acknowledging the events surrounding their trip, Kruger said that they still managed to enjoy it. She stated with a smile, “I think we had the most fun in the hotel. There was a prom party going on in the lobby and Earl and I crashed the party. We had a great time and no one knew!”
William Jones, who served as senior class president, recalled a vivid memory that was reiterated by many of his classmates. “It was our first day in junior high and we were all sitting in our homeroom when our teacher Mr. [Cliff] Utz walked in. He scared the bejesus out of us! He yelled at us and wrote his name on the board so hard that he broke the chalk. Within a week, there were rumors going around that he came from a reform school.”
Utz took center stage in many of the classmates’ memories. Vinnie Mazzeo spoke about Utz’s birthday paddle. “He had this wooden paddle, and male or female, on your birthday you had to bend over and you would get a whack on your bottom with his paddle, not hard, of course. But on his birthday, everyone in the class got to give Mr. Utz a whack with the paddle. So it was fair. He would also have us make bets with him on Fridays. He loved candy, especially Mounds bars. So we would bet as a class on a football game. If he won, we had to bring in a Mounds bar for him so he would wind up with 42 candy bars. If we won, he’d have to bring in a candy bar for each of us.”
Several other members of the class of 1968, including Paul Benfield, wanted to recognize their classmate, Robert Vacca, who was a star basketball player. According to Benfield, “Bob didn’t take a shot he couldn’t make. But he made them all. He was the first student to score 1000 points in three years. He was written up in all the newspapers. Newsday had his picture and story. He was really a star player.”
Not willing to take all the credit, Vacca stated, “We were a team. We played well together. We had Phil Carney, Bobby Karl, Earl Haye, and Paul Benfield as a point guard. We all did our part. Coach Ed Petrie is the one who turned things around. He started a Bittie League program when he came to Sag Harbor and we started playing organized basketball when we were young. Coach Petrie played for Seton Hall in 1959. He was just a great coach,” Vacca added.
When the conversation turned to the teachers who have had an influence upon each of their lives, Pam Lyons Hulse said, “I still remember when my 11th grade English teacher Helen Gregory looked at my writing and said, ‘You’re beating around the bush, just get to the point.’ I still keep that in mind when I write. I’m taking a memoir class through Southold Town and I always think about what Ms. Gregory said.”
Remkus Bouboulis said her English teacher, Tony Mangano, had a great influence upon her. “He taught us the different elements in poetry and how to diagram sentences and the different parts of speech. It helped me tremendously when I taught ESL students at BOCES Adult Education at night. Understanding the parts of speech makes it easier to break it down for someone who is trying to learn English.”
Walter Johnson admitted that he was always rather sloppy and kept his desk a mess. “My fifth-grade teacher, Bob Vishno, kept telling me to clean up my desk. I think he got really frustrated with me and he picked up my desk and dumped all
my books and papers out on my head. But when the desk swung open, it hit me in the head and
knocked me out for a moment. I’ll never forget that,” he said.
“It didn’t help though,” he said with a grin, “I’m still sloppy.”
Agreeing with Johnson’s propensity for sloppiness, Kruger and Denise Holder recalled when Johnson played a butler in their senior play. “We did The Girls in 509. It was a terrible play. But Walter was wearing a fake mustache and half of it came off when he was talking. We all had to turn our backs to the audience so they wouldn’t see us trying not to laugh. Walter just kept on talking like nothing was happening,” Kruger said. “Yes, it was really funny,” agreed Holder with a laugh. “The sad thing is, though, I don’t think anybody understood the play.”
High School Sweethearts
Holder revealed that she and Paul Benfield “started going steady in February of 1968” during their senior year. They married in 1972 and have two children, Addie and Lucie, and three granddaughters. They live in Oregon and traveled back to New York to attend the reunion and to see their classmates.
Bruce Beyer, who had the majority of contact information for all of his local classmates, is credited with making the reunion possible. “We had a committee and we started meeting in April trying to organize a reunion,” Tisha Remkus Bouboulis stated. “Bruce had almost everyone’s information so we started contacting everyone and planning the party. We were lucky enough to be able to contact some that weren’t local anymore like Gail Page. She lives in Maine and Denny Rozzi lives in Washington State, Denise Holder and Paul Benfield live in Oregon. They’re all here tonight.”
The memory-filled evening was topped off with the rock-n-roll tunes from the ‘60s played by HotWax. The band itself was celebrating its 40th anniversary, with one of the original members, Freddy Goodman, joining them for the occasion. Goodman was on piano, Beyer was on drums, Bucky Silipo was on bass, with Bruce McCarthy on guitar.
Pleased with the enthusiasm for a reunion, Beyer said, “We were a small school. But it wasn’t just a school. We were a big family. We were born here and grew up here. Our parents grew up here and went to school here. We had roots. My grandmother, Olivia Hildreth, was in the first graduating class in 1907.”