Roughly 150 Beatrice High School alumnus gathered over the weekend to catch up with old friends and watch some Nebraska Cornhuskers football.
Beatrice Public Schools were very different when the Class of 1959 and Class of 1969 graduated. Both went to high school at what is now Beatrice Middle School, which held grades 9-12, had pep clubs since there were no girls’ sports, took typing classes, and paddling was an accepted form on punishment.
“And we thought it was old then,” 1959 graduate Brenda Garcia said, referring to the building.
In their graduating year, Alaska and Hawaii received statehood and “The Twilight Zone” first aired on T.V., but as the graduates and their spouses gathered in the American Legion Veteran’s club, they mainly discussed the changes in Beatrice.
For fun, the students cruised up and down Court Street.
“Back then, you had souped-up cars,” Garcia said. “What kids drive now aren’t anything compared to what we drove. Our cars went faster, there was a lot of drag racing done."
Janice Waltke said that there was a lot of flooding that kept people from entering or leaving town, which affected school attendance.
“When you went across South Sixth Street, if you lived over there, you had to walk across a railroad trestle to get to school,” Judy Zabel said. “We walked the railroad trestle with water lapping at your feet.”
David Gleason recalled that the BHS basketball team won the state championship during their senior year.
“There was a blizzard that night, and our team had trouble getting to Lincoln to the state playoffs,” Gleason said. “They had to dress on the bus. I think they slid in the ditch.”
Gleason said they took the girl’s bus that was headed to view the game in order to make it on time.
Roughly 40 of the 150 graduates attended their 60th reunion.
Meanwhile, 125 Class of 1969 graduates were celebrating their 50th reunion watching the game nearby at the Red Barn Farm.
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There were roughly 260 students that graduated that year, making it one of the biggest classes in BHS history. In comparison, 2019 saw 159 graduates.
In 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Woodstock was in full swing and Manhattan saw the Stonewall Riots.
Verdella Vetrovsky recalled Robert Kennedy attending Beatrice during their class’ junior year. Kennedy was running for President at the time, and discussed the Vietnam War.
Vetrovsky and class president Keith Arterburn said the class of 1969 was, and still is, very close and full of school spirit.
“We feel a tremendous kinship, all of us,” Arterburn said. “Most of us in the class grew up here. Many of them we’ve gone to elementary school all the way through high school together… We don’t see each other all the time now. We sometimes communicate by email or phone calls, but we have a kinship, a bond among ourselves that maybe most of the classes don’t have. It’s pretty special.”
Arterburn said six of their teachers attended a class dinner they held Friday. While not in attendance, both classes sung the praises of Wilma Sawyer, the school’s librarian, homeroom, typing and business teacher. Sawyer recently turned 100 years old, and resides in Concordia, Kansas.
The graduate likely traveling the farthest distance to attend the reunion was Hans Pettersson, the foreign exchange student from Sweden.
Pettersson said he traveled with the American Field Service, which was organized after World War I
“They saw the terrible things that happened during the first world war, and they came to the conclusion that the best way to maybe not have it happen again was if people got to know each other,” Pettersson said. “That’s something I really felt triggered me wanting to come to the states…I think I hit the best spot in the states. It was a year that changed my future life.”
Pettersson said he was well received by the students and had a wonderful host family. He traveled back to Sweden after his year abroad with a newfound interest in track and field, and a desire to work with other cultures, which he did for many years through the Dow Chemical Company.
Vetrovsky said that the reunion was also a chance to raise more scholarship money for the Class of 1969 Scholarship Fund. Over the weekend, more than $10,000 dollars was raised to give to future Beatrice High School graduates.
When the weekend ended, the graduates returned to their corners of the world until their next 10 year celebration brings them all back together again.