Reuniting Niskayuna Class of 1964 came of age in turbulent times
By MARK MCGUIRE
NISKAYUNA –These are the original Baby Boomers, the ones born in ’46 and the shadow of World War II, who graduated high school on the eve of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the counterculture upheaval of the 1960s.
Their last calendar year of high school began with Bobby Vinton topping the charts, and ended with the Beatles No. 1. Medicare was being debated in Congress, and would become law shortly after their graduation — not that it was an overriding concern to kids just getting launched into adulthood,
It was a transformative time. It was so long ago. It was yesterday, at least to them.
The Niskayuna High School Class of 1964 will gather again in September, this time for its 50th reunion. The classmates are past retirement age, though some still work. Others are gone, or even long gone. College, raising children and careers are, for the most part, in rearview mirrors.
But when they reunite and the Beatles tribute band kicks it into gear, so will the illusion of them being kids again.
“It’s not easy to walk in and see these ‘old people,’ ” said Cindy Bard Ball of Niskayuna. “Then I close my eyes and I hear their voices, and I’m back in high school.”
The cliques, or any need to stack career or family accomplishments against former classmates, are long gone.
“The 10th- [or] 15th-year reunion, is, ‘Who is outdoing the other one?’ ” said Class of 1964 grad Paul Tracy of Schenectady. “This is 50 years . We’re way beyond that. We are just happy we’re still alive. No one is out to impress anyone else, or outdo anyone else.”
Like so much else, divisions fade with time.
“Reunions are very leveling,” said Mary Clarkeson Phillips of Delmar. “We are all much friendlier and more open. I like the people better now.”
It will be a time to recall friends past and gone, like Vernon Hovey III, for whom the local VFW post is named. The 1964 Niskayuna grad was one of three alumni killed in Vietnam, along with Robert S. Cragin Jr., Class of 1962, and Richard W. Starkey, Class of 1965.“Think of the years they missed,” Tracy said, recalling the time he drove Hovey to Albany Airport before he eventually left for Vietnam. “He should be with us. It seems like yesterday we were graduating.
” Where did all those years go?”
All can recall where they were when getting the news their senior year that President Kennedy got shot. Few at the time could sense the seismic cultural shifts to come. Some even went off to college unaware of pot.
“I went to college and smelled this stuff. I was like, ‘What is that?’ ” Ball said.
LeGrande Serras — “Chico” to classmates — would wow Niskayuna friends with his vocal version of the standard “Granada.” By the time he got to the University of Michigan, he was singing “Mustang Sally” and the like in a rock band. Change came that fast.
In 1964 …
- The average year income was $4,576.32.
- Gas cost 25 cents a gallon.
- The first Mustangs, Chevelles and GTOs rolled off assembly lines.
- A local payphone call cost a dime.
- A first-class stamp cost a nickel.
- A gallon of milk sold for $1.06.
- Three legendary musicals premiere in New York: “Hello Dolly,” “Funny Girl” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
- No. 1 song when Class of ’64 graduated: “Chapel of Love” by The Dixie Cups.
“I got a real rude awakening,” the recently retired owner of the Reel Seafood Co. said of the changes the second half of the ’60s would bring. “Niskayuna was a suburban, white, upper middle class community. We were probably shielded. It wasn’t until I got into college that I realized there was real turmoil. We were in the middle of demonstrations. There were tanks coming down the middle of the streets to break up demonstrations. Police were coming down the street.”
Fast forward through the decades. Serras, now of Clifton Park, was sitting in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport the Monday after Easter, having missed a connecting flight. He saw another man, an older guy, in the lounge. The man saw Serras, and after an hour came up to him.
And all of the sudden “Chico” realized he was talking to “The Guppy” — Jim Gulmi, “one of my closest friends in high school.” The two older guys were kids again, at least in their minds.
“You get with a couple of these guys and you start talking crap, and you forget what we are,” Serras said.
Organizers hope for 100 people to attend, which would be a phenomenal turnout from a class of 210.
“They might feel like it’s their last dance,” Ball said. “The 50th is very special.”
It’s the Class of 1964 that donated the stucco sign that still stands outside of Niskayuna High.
“That’s held up for 50 years ,” Tracy said, “and hopefully so have most of us.”