A reunion re-opens old wells

Published 8:28 pm Saturday, August 9, 2014

By Dennis Edwards

They say old friends are the best friends. Time and life’s infinite variations on tragedy and triumph have a way of proving that.

The greatest test of friendship may involve the natural flow of time through the stages of life. Friendships formed in the beginning that change and grow as we do may produce life’s best companions.


Email newsletter signup

East Suffolk High School’s Alumni Association pretty much demonstrated the power of such relationships last weekend. Roughly 170 graduates of every class from its first in 1940 to its last in 1965 gathered last weekend to celebrate each other and what their school did for them.

They let me hang around and watch them delight in each other almost as if they were back in class. Most remember when I was born. Many were taught by my mother. They could tell me more about me than even I know.

But what amazes me is their abiding comfort with each other, how they’ve navigated changing times while managing to stay connected for 49 to 74 years. They brought a quiet dignity and enthusiasm to a Galaxy of Jazz Scholarship Concert at Kings Fork Middle School.

These are men and women of academic excellence and professional distinction who went on to work, college and careers in government, politics and education. Among them: Thelma Toler, 55, who worked through several administrations at the White House; physicist James Parsons; and a host of educators like Dorothy Benn Armistead, who at 93 is part of East Suffolk High’s first graduating class. At the opposite end are young bucks like Ross Boone, 61, and the Rev. J.J. Ferguson, 61.

Marvin Boone, 56, says the secret of their longevity is simple: “We just stayed together.” Twenty-five of Boone’s classmates meet three times a year.

At the heart of these relationships is a common experience. Perhaps it has most to do with the tenor of their times. These men and women grew up through the worst of segregation — Jim Crow, the civil rights marches, peace and women’s rights movements, Vietnam and the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.

Maybe it’s the intensity of their times that defined them and bind them. It would make sense when you consider that many of our parents and grandparents were defined by World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. There were purposes to live and die for.

Sometimes I fear more recent generations are foundering for an identity, because they have fewer defining times to identify with. It is out of the struggles of our day that we are shaped, molded to a higher sense of self.

For the original Wolverines, there’s a sense of being bound by the inherent obstacles they had to overcome in their day. Within them there’s still a dogged determination to live up to a standard of excellence demanded by principals like William Lowell Turner, as well as teachers and parents long gone.

Come Sunday morning Ferguson used a reunion church service to shed a spiritual light on the meaning of this gathering. He lingered in the 26th chapter of Genesis to urge his contemporaries, as well as you and me, to do what Isaac did.

In response to opposition that sought to drive this patriarch and his family away, Israel’s great man of God reopened the wells originally dug by his father Abraham, wells that had been stopped by Philistine rivals. Ferguson issued a call to reopen old wells of academic excellence, personal responsibility, community pride and dignity.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dedwards247@comcast.net.