Relaxing in lawn chairs in the grass near the main shelter at Philomath City Park early Saturday afternoon, John and Lucy Leach took in some sun, enjoyed lunch and shared a few memories about the Philomath High School they knew nearly three quarters of a century ago.
Across the way closer to the playground area, Sarah Buddingh, Hailey Davis and Madison Smallwood sat at a picnic table and represented a much more recent group of alums only five years out of high school.
The married couple from the Class of 1950 and the three young women from the Class of 2018 were among the 114-plus who were in attendance at this year’s Philomath High School All-Class Reunion.
“I think we’ve been to every one,” John Leach, 91, said when asked how many reunions he’s been able to attend.
Added Lucy Leach, also 91, “Yes, I think we have … we’ve tried to.”
Health issues have made it difficult for the couple to get to such events but they were on site and soaking up the environment at last weekend’s shindig, which included a potluck lunch, updates of lives since the last reunion and recollections of the old days.
“We’d skip whenever we thought it was time to go to Corvallis and see the girls,” John chuckled when asked about his high school days. “Then my Lucy, she’d come and see me and so I’d meet her out in front of the school and carry her books in every day.”
They attended classes in the old Philomath High building that would end up burning down a few years later in 1956. The gymnasium and accompanying athletic fields were situated where Marys Peak True Value and the parking lot now sit.
During the 1949-50 school year, both John and Lucy worked together on Philomath High’s student newspaper, which was called “Hi Times.” Both were involved in various activities — Lucy, whose maiden name is Shroyer, was a cheerleader.
The year that he graduated, John lived with his parents, Raymond and Anna Leach, and younger siblings on College Street. He worked in candy concessions and as an usher at the “moving picture theater.” Meanwhile, Lucy, the daughter of George and Helen Shroyer, lived west of Philomath with her parents, two younger brothers and an aging grandfather in 1950 — a sister one year older was just out of the house.
“As soon as I graduated, I went into the service, I went into the Navy,” John said, a period when the Korean War was beginning to rage. “I was in the South Pacific during the hydrogen bomb test” — a situation that he believes has led to serious health issues.
While in the service, Lucy and John drifted apart and married others before reconnecting years later. They’ve been married to each other now for 38 years and live on Powder House Road.
“She’s wonderful — she’s the best in the world,” John said while looking her way. “The memory ain’t so great but you do good.”
The reunion featured a handful of other PHS grads from the same time period. Norman Oleman, 92, graduated with the Class of 1948 and was in attendance along with his wife, Irene (Anderson) Oleman, who graduated in 1952.
Then there was the younger crowd, including those three 20-somethings — Buddingh, Davis and Smallwood — that were roaming the halls at Philomath High less than a half-dozen years ago.
Davis, who said she still feels like she’s 15, admitted it felt a little funny to be in attendance at a reunion that until a couple of years ago had “old-timers” attached to the event’s name.
“It’s pretty cool … it just makes me feel like I’m getting old already,” Davis said as all three laughed.
The event actually planted some ideas about the possibility of being involved in future reunions on some level.
“A bunch of people have been saying that we need to get our generation to start setting this up for our class,” Davis said. “I mean, we’re five years out of high school now so we’ve got to start thinking about a reunion for us here soon.”
The three PHS graduates are tight — they all graduated in 2018, they all earned degrees from Eastern Oregon University and they all have generational family ties to the local schools.
“All three of our grandmas are Philomath High graduates as well so we thought that we would all come out and make a day of it — and we all brought our grandmas,” Buddingh said.
Asked what stories she might share about high school if she becomes a grandma herself someday, Smallwood’s mind went to the PHS parking lot.
“It’s super minimal to most people but some of my favorite memories were when we’d take up an entire parking spot at lunch for our lawn chairs,” Smallwood said. “We’d just have lunch in the parking lot and play music and hang out in the sun when the weather was good. It was really nice.”