Naturally, it was a nostalgic evening. That’s what you get when you put a bunch of senior citizens in a space and encourage them to talk about how their lives have flown by.
But, as we reminded each other multiple times, at least we are still here to be nostalgic.
Over the years, I have written stories about at least a dozen individuals whom I wish were still alive to be at our annual reunions.
Last week I read over those stories again, just to recall the people who inspired them.
There is my dad, of course; Donald James Busek, Wakeman High School Class of 1941. He’s been gone more than 20 years now but sure loved the Alumni gatherings back in the day.
Bertie Keith was in my dad’s class (WHS ’41) but lived several years longer. I knew him as postmaster in Wakeman for my entire youth and then some. He was quirky and fun and just the kind of guy who would have made our alumni event even better.
Helen Brucker used to live almost across the street from the Wakeman School. She’s gone now, too, after spending her entire working life as a teacher in that building. I wrote about her because she was everything good that a teacher could be: fun, encouraging, motivating and interested in all her students. Maybe my best, and certainly my favorite, teacher.
Larry Brucker (Townsend-Wakeman, Class of 1961) was her nephew. He was all about beautiful, fast cars. My story about him told how, in the years shortly after he graduated, he used to turn onto River Street in front of the school and light up the tires on his Corvette-engine powered 1940 Ford. Almost everyone on the east side of the school building would rise up out of their classroom seats to watch it happen.
Boyd Martin (T-W,‘61) liked to build and race cars, too. Last spring, I wrote about the time he drove me from Wakeman to Norwalk in his 1954 Oldsmobile, only slowing to 90 when we passed through the intersections at East Townsend and 601. Of course Boyd died just about a year ago and was thus unavailable for Saturday’s alumni gathering, except in wistful stories.
Jim Swinehart (T-W,‘62) was Boyd’s best friend. He’s gone now, too. But anyone who knew him cannot help but smile when they recall his mischievous, infectious laugh.
Tony Aiello was a coach at our school for six years, 1956-1962. He coached Jim and Boyd and a couple hundred others in football and baseball. He was my freshman basketball coach, and I know he would have been a center of attention had he been alive and in attendance Saturday.
Mr. Aiello coached John Speer, too — one of our school’s all-time great athletes (and my classmate). Hard to believe that he’s been gone nearly 30 years now—longer than any of the departed I have mentioned thus far. My story about him at the time detailed John’s battle with perhaps the most unfair malady of all for a great athlete: ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Three of my other classmates (WR Class of 1965) have been the subject of my stories after their passing, as well. And I remembered them all as I interacted with the living alumni Saturday night.
Ernie Wiles was just a great guy and grew up to become the very symbol of what one man could do for a volunteer fire department. They loved him in North Fairfield, and we missed him at our gathering.
Connie Carpenter was so smart she could have done almost anything. She spent most of her working life at Norwalk Furniture as the customer service person who knew the answer to whatever question you had. When cancer got her a few years ago, it diminished us all.
And I could not believe it when Carol Zimmerman, my high school girlfriend, passed last year. She stole the show at the Alumni Reunion in 2015 with an impromptu monologue. Sample line: “For the longest time I wanted to be a widow. But in the end I had to settle for divorce.” How can you not miss a girl like that?
Saturday was the 60th post-graduation year for the Class of 1959. Karen Kraus’s class. And nobody symbolized life in our little town and school like her. She was president of the Alumni organization for several years. She knew everybody and everything about them and their families. Then, on the last day of her apparently-healthy life, she simply did not show up for a lunch date with friends. And thus, like all the others in this story, we missed her very much Saturday night.
Of course, as you can see from this wordy recollection, when you live a memorable life, you stay alive for others long after you are gone.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.