In honor of their 50th anniversary, alumni of St. Gerard School's class of 1968 are planning a special celebration in April, and have been trying to touch base with classmates in the area who would be interested in participating.
The reunion has been scheduled for 6-10 p.m., Saturday, April 28, at J's White Elephant, located at 1404 Abbott Road in Lackawanna. Last month, two of these alumni, Debbie Doster Miller and John O'Hara, spoke with the Western New York Catholic about their memories of the now-closed St. Gerard School. The parish closed in 2008, so the search for their old friends has taken them online and elsewhere.
As of December, those who are planning the reunion had found "quite a few" of their classmates on Facebook and have created a group, "St. Gerard's 50th Reunion, Class of 1968," but were searching for others who are not on social media. Many of their former classmates have also since passed away.
O'Hara said, "Besides getting in contact with 50 years coming up, we have had quite a few members of our class who have predeceased us. It would be nice to reconnect with everyone who's remaining." Miller and O'Hara first found each other on Facebook and then went from there.
"We are just trying to get a hold of these people so that we can come together. We've selected a date and a place to have the reunion, so now it's just a matter of getting everybody together," Miller said. "I remember going back (to St. Gerard) for a reunion, and I remember walking in the church and starting to cry, and I couldn't figure out why I was so emotional. I said, 'That's where your spiritual roots are.' I went there from first- through eighth-grade. I didn't go there for kindergarten."
Two separate classes graduated on June 21, 1968, each of which had about 35 children.
"There were two separate eighth grades, and we stayed together the whole time," Miller said. "During Lent, we would go to daily Mass, and back then, we made our confirmation in eighth grade, so we had all of our sacraments there."
O'Hara, who began attending St. Gerard School in the second half of his third-grade year, said some of his earliest and fondest memories at the school were of Grace Buckley, a teacher he called a "wonderful person who made me feel welcome in the parish community."
Miller has held planning meetings for the reunion at her own home in Tonawanda, but since both the church and school are closed, there is no St. Gerard bulletin in which to advertise. Although she is a parishioner of St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda, that bulletin would not reach all of her intended audience, which is why she has chosen to reach out to the community at large to see who else might be interested in attending the reunion.
Miller, who sang in the children's choir, remembered looking down from the loft and seeing how full the church was, with all of the classes lined up because of how many children were in each of the classes. "Msgr. (Eugene) Selbert was our pastor, and he was just a wonderful, wonderful man," she recalled. "He was so good to the kids. We had a mix of nuns and lay teachers. We know our two eighth-grade teachers have been deceased, but if we can find teachers, too, that would be great."
When asked what else she hopes to get out of the reunion, Miller said she wishes to be able to discuss many other memories, including their eighth-grade trip to Crystal Beach, for which students saved up money to spend the entire day there.
Tickets will be $30 per head with a cash bar. Each classmate may bring a significant other or spouse, although the rest of the details are still somewhat up in the air.
"We have a lot of interest, but the bottom line is the number of tickets that we will be able to sell," O'Hara added. "I still need contact from a lot of people."
For more information about the 50th anniversary reunion for St. Gerard School's class of 1968 or to RSVP for the event, contact Debbie Doster Miller at 716-835-3695 or firstname.lastname@example.org.