The Salem High School class of 1944 met for their 75th reunion on Wednesday. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
Outside the dining room at Bentley’s in downtown Salem on a Wednesday afternoon, a group of nonagenarians posed for a photo.
Then, they began singing the Salem High School fight song from 1944.
Trudie Meier Gavette acts as leader, dancing back and forth as the group yells “rah-rah.”
Meier Gavette planned the reunion -- which marks 75 years since she and her friends graduated from what’s now called North Salem High School at the corner of 14th Street Northeast and D Street Northeast -- and drove from La Pine to attend. She said the Salem High School graduates usually get together at Denny’s every year but decided to go somewhere nice for the big anniversary.
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The 93-year-old was sporting a wide grin, styled gray hair and large white, round earrings to match a necklace that held her reading glasses.
“I’m what you call a ham, honey. I love to make people laugh,” Meier Gavette said.
Trudie Meier Gavette's high school photo. (Courtesy/ Shannon Priem)
Each year the group gets smaller. There were 368 kids in the graduating class. This year, 18 attended the reunion reminiscing about an era when a lot of their classmates went off to fight in World War II and their Japanese classmates were sent to internment camps.
Edward Jackman, 93, said he graduated on a Thursday and went to Navy boot camp on a Monday.
Jackman said he remembered how happy he was to be graduating at the time, and anxious to get into the Navy. He and a few of his classmates were all in boot camp together, he said.
At the reunion, he said his classmates are “still energetic enough to get to all of our get togethers. The sad part is seeing who isn’t here.”
Eddie Jackman's high school photo. (Courtesy/ Shannon Priem)
The annual gatherings are bittersweet.
Meier Gavette said when the classmates meet they’ll talk about what everyone has been up to. When Meier Gavette gets a returned envelope from one of her former peers, she asks: “Have you heard from her? What happened? Are they dead?”
When asked why she think the Salem class is so close – they’ve had a reunion each year for the last 55 years -- Meier Gavette said, “It’s because we kind of all grew up in the same type of environment. Most of us were from the farm.”
Meier Gavette said she grew up with her mom sewing her clothes and knitting her socks.
“Those of us that were farmers and were poor, you didn’t know you were poor. There wasn’t any competition,” she said.
Gayle Priem and Barbara Weddle Haskins met in the fifth grade and can remember skating and bicycling together.
Now, the 92-year-olds said they meet up once a month in Salem.
Priem said life was a lot easier back then and described herself as a “bobby soxer,” a term coined in the 1940s to describe teenage girls who got the nickname from their socks.
“It’s nice to have 18 of us still alive and kicking. Most of us are pretty portable,” Priem said.
Gayle Priem's high school photo. (ourtesy/Shannon Priem)
Weddle Haskins has a birthday coming up. Priem is quick to remind Weddle Haskins that she’s only three months older than her.
“We thought 50 years was a good cutoff time,” Weddle Haskins said. “We never dreamed it would last this long.”
Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.