Northwestern Class of 1970 holds delayed 50th reunion
BY HEATHER MARLÉNE ZADIG
For the Class of 1970 at Northwestern High School, students came of age during particularly turbulent years in American history.
From the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War, the roughly 750 classmates of the Hyattsville high school often experienced that challenging history uncomfortably close to home.
At a recent 50th reunion, delayed two years by the pandemic, Northwestern alumni shared memories of those events, like the historic, riotous anti-war demonstrations in early May of 1970 at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park.
There was so much tear gas deployed during the protests that Pat McGehrin, now living in Potomac, recalled being overcome while mowing his lawn in nearby University Park.
“I looked up and thought, ‘Why are my eyes burning?’” he said, hands over his face as if it had just happened.
John P. McFarland, who also lives in Potomac, remembered “actual blood in the streets” leftover from the National Guard’s violent crackdown. He and others also noted the earlier 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and subsequent riots in nearby Washington, D.C., as another formative experience.
For the most part, however, reunion guests at Martin’s Crosswinds, in Greenbelt, chose to focus on the good times.
To kick off the celebration, Craig Brown, the master of ceremonies, called everyone for a toast, concluding, “We will always be Wildcats. We will always be the Class of 1970. But most importantly, we will always be friends.”
Cindy Purvis Boccucci recalled her first job at the former Marché Florist on Route 1 with pride.
“Three generations of brides came into that shop for their wedding flowers,” she said. “It was the florist in town.”
Indeed, an advertisement for the iconic florist (now occupied by Pizzeria Paradiso and Art Works Now) could be found in a copy of the 1970 Northwestern yearbook on display.
Friends Charlie Johnson, of Mount Airy, and Clyde Lehman, of Bowie, reminisced about another long-shuttered business, reciting in sing-song unison an old commercial for something called Government Employee Mart.
“The GEM store!” Johnson explained. “It was like a BJ’s but only for government workers.”
When asked what had changed in the area in the last 50 years, reunion organizer Don Moore, of West Virginia, offered, “Families used to only have one car, and it was always parked in the driveway, so everyone played in the streets.” Now, he noted, “you can barely even get your car through.”
Sue Ann (Gallagher) Scafone felt that, despite changes, the spirit of the area had endured. “It was such a great place to grow up,” she said. “It still is.” Scafone added that she raised her kids here and still lives nearby in Beltsville.
Throughout the party, friends joked about skipping school to hang out at UMD, avoiding ex-spouses at the reunion, and that time Queen Elizabeth II came to tour a supermarket in Chillum when they were kids.
Though the celebration was generally merry, it was tinged with the absence of 107 former classmates honored in the “In Memoriam” slideshow Moore presented. “And that’s just the ones we know about,” Moore said later in the evening. When asked how many classmates, excluding guests, were in attendance, his response was subdued. “A hundred and eight.”
For some, the missing classmates made the reunion more bitter than sweet. “Most of my friends were up in that slideshow,” said Steven Vanilio, of Potomac. “That’s rough. Keep up with your friends,” he urged. “Call them.”
In spite of the upheaval of the late ‘60s — or perhaps because of it — the classmates seemed a remarkably close-knit group for a graduating class of more than 700 students, with several saying they met up annually, some even weekly, to maintain connections.
“Most classes only hold reunions every 10 years, but we’ve held one every five,” Scafone said.
Several hours into the event, the DJ finally managed to pull guests from their conversations to the dance floor. “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes drew a lively crowd. Couples slow-danced to “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson.
At the mention of 1970 as the year The Beatles broke up, Pat McGehrin at Table 13 nodded thoughtfully. “Sure,” he acknowledged. “But we preferred Motown.”
He raised his glass, then took a sip. “We’re alive, we’re 70, and we’re happy to be here.”