Trudie Meier Gavette, left, and William Juza look at their high school yearbook at the Salem High School Class of 1944 77th reunion on Sept. 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Trudie Meier Gavette never doubted she’d make it to another high school reunion.

Even when the Covid pandemic prevented her classmates from meeting last fall, Meier Gavette said she knew they’d return to the south Salem Denny’s to celebrate Salem High School’s Class of 1944.

“We still look like we looked in our yearbook, don’t we?” Meier Gavette said to her five fellow classmates at their 77th high school reunion Thursday, drawing a laugh. “Just a little older. But the spirit, the spirit is still there.”

The 95-year-old, who wore a colorful purple suit to the gathering, is the ringleader of the longest-running class reunion in Salem history.

Their alma mater, now North Salem High School, was at the time the only high school in Salem when Meier Gavette and her fellow nonagenarians graduated five days before D-Day on June 1.

Wednesday’s gathering drew six members of the Class of 1944: Meier Gavette, who lives in Beaverton, William Juza, now in Eugene, and four others who have remained in Salem: Gayle Priem, Frank Rock, Gladys Dalke Welty and Iris Wall Runner.

From top left: Gayle Priem, Gladys Dalke Welty, Trudie Meier Gavette, William Juza, Iris Wall Runner and Frank Rock attend the Salem High School Class of 1944 77th reunion on Sept. 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

“Our hearts and souls are struggling to stick around. We think we’ve done pretty good to be here so far,” Priem said.

The group attended school when Salem was closer to a small town than a city, with many students coming from farming families. The city’s population was about 30,000 people in 1940. Many men in the graduating class entered military service just days after graduation, while several women joined the Cadet Nurse Corps.

At first, the group met for reunions every 10 years, then switched to every five after their 50th, said Shannon Priem, Gayle's daughter. In 2013, the year before their 70th reunion, the group began holding annual reunions. Several members also got together monthly for lunches.

Meier Gavette and Priem recently visited their alma mater to drop off years worth of scrapbooks and memorabilia, which Meier Gavette said the school intends to display.

The group spent their lunch Thursday reminiscing about high school days and previous reunions. Meier Gavette, who affectionately refers to her classmates as “you kids,” began an annual rendition of the school’s fight song.

She elbowed Juza, who was seated next to her eating a sandwich, in an effort to get him to join in.

“I don’t remember!” Juza objected, drawing a laugh from the group. A second effort, with Meizer Gavette conducting, was more successful.

Old yearbooks and high school photos on display at the Salem High School Class of 1944 77th reunion on Sept. 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Several brought their original 1944 yearbooks for attendees to sign. Spread across two tables were an array of photos from the group’s high school days, as well as programs from prior reunions - old enough to be historical documents in their own right.

“We were a less complicated generation. We were before frozen foods, credit cards, contact lenses, Frisbees and ‘the Pill,’” reads a reflection from the classes’ 50th reunion program in 1994.

Meier Gavette recalled how World War II rationing affected the school’s yearbook, which had to print on fewer pages because paper was scarce.

The gathering has shrunk every year as classmates either die or become unable to travel. The 75th reunion, held in 2019 at Bentley’s in Salem, drew 18 members out of a graduating class of 368.

Meier Gavette read notes from several classmates who weren’t able to attend but sent their best wishes and said they hoped to come next year. The group also passed around a card for a celebration of life for classmate Ray Tompkins, who served 36 years as a Salem firefighter and died in May.

The group has a running joke that they’ll keep gathering so long as even two people can make it. Meier Gavette implored the group to let her know if they or a classmate they’re in touch with moves so she can send notices to the right place.

“The stamps are now 60 cents apiece and I don’t have email!” she said.

Gayle Priem, right, talks with classmates at the Salem High School Class of 1944 77th reunion on Sept. 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Gladys Dalke Welty signs a yearbook at the Salem High School Class of 1944 77th reunion on Sept. 16, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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