Reunion planned for 1963-70 AJHS graduates


It was the week of May 24, 1963.

President John F. Kennedy turned 46. Singer Lesley Gore’s song “It’s My Party” tops the music charts. Television’s “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Defenders” win Emmy awards for best comedy and drama shows, respectively.

And 12 Apache Junction teenagers counted down the days until on May 24 they would become the first graduating class at Apache Junction High School.

Many of those graduates are planning to attend a 1963-70 high school reunion scheduled for Oct. 3 at the Best Western Gold Canyon Inn and Suites, 8333 E. Sunrise Sky Drive in Gold Canyon. Tickets are $35.

About 130 AJHS grads from those years are expected to attend the reunion. Of those, about 70 will also attend and be recognized during half-time at the school’s homecoming game Oct. 2, Suzanne Marshall Strong, class of 1967 and a reunion committee member, said during an interview. The reunion committee has reserved seven rows at the north end of the football stadium bleachers for the returning graduates, Janet McDade, class of 1968 and also a reunion committee member, said during an interview.

A pre-game, afternoon tailgate party was added to the Friday activities, according to an e-mail from Ms. McDade.

Committee members are: Ms. Strong, Ms. McDade, Gretchen Maynard, Jane Shrake Allen, Kathy Bell Myers, Ophelia Manriquez Mitchell, Jay Mitchell, Evelyn Linscott Kevin, Jim Hughes, Heather Williams Currier, Adelaide Pusch Webel, Norma Schlageck Kidwell, Fred Asbury, Connie Gray James and Mary Chestnut.

Because the early graduating classes were so small in number, the reunion committee decided to invite graduates from classes 1963-70, prompting them to create the theme Back to the ‘60s.

“Prior to 1963, high school students had to be bused to Florence. In 1963, first through 12th grades were housed at the current site of Superstition Mountain Elementary School, 550 S. Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction, with 12 students graduating. In the fall of 1963, Apache Junction High School opened its doors. And as we know, times have sure changed,” Ms. Strong said.

This is not the first combined reunion for the earlier alumni.

In 1978 the two classes of 1967 and 1968 combined forces to have a daylong party at Mesa Oasis Park, Mr. Mitchell, class of 1968, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
“A core of individuals from that event decided to create our first “Back to the ‘60s reunion” in 1985, inviting all graduates from 1963 through 1970. This span of eight years gave us a pool of about 190 individuals to invite. It was held at the Moose Lodge,” Mr. Mitchell said in his e-mail.

“Our next reunion was upscaled to the Gold Canyon Golf Resort in June 1990. A monsoon storm forced all activities to be cramped inside the Geronimo Room,” he continued. “In 1993 the high school celebrated its 30th year, with a reunion for all AJHS graduates. It included a dance at the school gym.”

The reunion returned to the Gold Canyon Golf Resort in 1998 for another Back to the ‘60s party. In 2005 and 2008, the alumni met at the Best Western Gold Canyon Inn and Suites, Mr. Mitchell said.

The alumni have gotten close over the decades and by serving on so many reunion committees, Ms. McDade said.

“We’re all one big happy family. We don’t say hi — we hug,” she said.

Event organizers hope to find the few graduates with whom they have lost touch so they can attend next month’s reunion, Ms. Strong said. She asks Independent readers to spread the word to anyone they know graduated in 1963-70.

Committee members at a planning meeting recalled some of their favorite memories of attending Apache Junction High School back in the ‘60s.

Ms. Allen, class of 1966, recalled riding her horse to school. Others enthusiastically told stories about the Roach Coach, the students’ nickname for the Gold Nugget foodmobile, a bus conversion that delivered lunch at the school.

“Everybody knew the Roach Coach because it was the only place people could get food because we didn’t have a cafeteria,” one committee member said.

After some deliberation and voices overlapping each other, the committee agreed the food was prepared and sold by the school’s home economics teacher, Dorothy Talbert, and her class, They served standard lunch fare such as hot dogs for about 15 cents and macaroni and cheese, the members said.

“It was a modified school bus and kids ate on picnic benches in our ‘outdoor cafeteria’,” Mr. Mitchell said at the meeting.

A question about the Roach Coach will appear in the trivia questions guests will be asked to answer at the reunion. Other activities include music from the 1960s by Marshall Music, which is operated by Ms. Strong’s nephew, Chris Marshall. Mr. Mitchell will serve as the event’s emcee.

The committee changed the menu from a sit-down dinner to finger food at the request of previous reunion guests, Ms. McDade said. People said they wanted to move around and talk and not be confined to a dinner table, she said.

There also will be puzzles and word searches. One of the prizes will be a poster of the prospector mural the Class of 1963 had painted on a wall at Superstition Mountain Elementary School as its class gift, Mr. Mitchell said.

Committee members were concerned about the fate of the original mural now that the elementary school was closed due to school district budget cuts.

Ms. Mitchell, class of 1970, is one of several committee members who said they wished Apache Junction High School would display more of the 1960s memorabilia.

“We’d like to recognize these students, who are 62-70 years of age now, but also tell our story of what it was like to go to a high school of about 200 students, where almost everyone played sports and everyone knew everybody,” Ms. Strong said in an e-mailed response to questions.

People who would like more information about the reunion or would like to purchase tickets can call Ms. Strong at 602-320-0947.

Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at wmiller@newszap.com

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