South Charlotte

50 years later they got back together

West Mecklenburg Class of 1961 recently celebrated their 50th reunion at the University Hilton.

Members say it may have taken most of 50 years, but they've all learned a valuable lesson.

"At this age, no one cares what you look like or how big you are. All they care about is being together," said Margie Steed, one of the graduates who still lives in Charlotte.

Her former classmate, Nancy Lakeman of Mint Hill, agreed.

"Even 20 years ago people were still in clicks, but now we're all on the same playing field. We don't need to impress. We're successful because we are still here," Lakeman said.

While they didn't have to worry about a World War like their parents experienced, the Cold War weighed heavy on their teenage minds as they went to school each day with the threat of nuclear war hanging over their heads.

They remember bomb drills where they would practice boarding a school bus that was supposed to deliver them to a safe location if Charlotte was attacked.

The draft was in full swing, and many of the male graduates ended up in the service, some having their college careers interrupted for Vietnam.

But most of the graduates managed to live good, productive lives, and many gathered back together to see folks they lost touch with 50 years ago.

Lakeman, head of the School Spirit Committee in high school, led the classmate location effort to find and inform all 238 members of the graduating class about the reunion.

Her committee got in touch with all but seven, but also discovered 37 of their classmates were deceased. Eighty six alumni, 64 spouses, and six teachers attended the event.

Twenty-three met their spouses in high school a half century ago and are still married.

One 1961 graduate endured a 13-hour flight to see her former classmates. Kari Ekset Berg, a foreign exchange student from Norway, flew back to Charlotte for the reunion. From 1960 to 1961 she stayed with Steed's family where they forged lifelong friendships.

"I had a wonderful time when I was here and I wanted to see my American family and friends. Margie taught me the American way of life," Berg said.

"I just taught her how to get in trouble," said Steed.

Also in attendance was Dr. Marty Garmon, a Texas physician who just completed treatment for prostate cancer. When Lakeman tracked him down in February to tell him of reunion plans, he was worried about his health. Since several of the guys on the reunion committee had experienced the same problem, Lakeman rallied them into action.

"I told them, 'Guys, you have to go into service now.' So they started calling him and sending him cards. I emailed our classmates in Texas and told them Marty was having some health issues. They contacted him as well," Lakeman said.

Though Garmon hadn't stayed in touch with any of his fellow high school graduates, he says their encouragement helped get him through the treatments.

"You could feel them there with me. Their support was just wonderful," said Garmon.

Lakeman says the reunion helped folks remember those long ago connections and helped them appreciate how much that happened in high school served to shape them into the adults they are 50 years later.

"The whole experience has made us realize how important we are to each another," Lakeman said. "It's wonderful to be where we are in life now. It's time for us to enjoy living and enjoy one another."