Larry LaRue

Stadium High class of ‘40 reunion likely was the last

Madeline Paulsen West sent out 102 invitations for the 75th reunion of the Stadium High School Class of 1940.

Twenty-five came back with no forwarding address.

“We’re at an age where that’s the way it is,” West said. “For our 70th reunion, we had a mailing list of 157. Now, we’re down to 66.”

Of those, 22 RSVPed for the reunion, which was held Saturday at the Tacoma Yacht Club.

“I’ve attended every one of the reunions — I wouldn’t miss one,” said Betty Jane Erickson Smith, who is 93. “It’s the chance to visit, catch up on what we’ve all been doing.

“Of course, we wear name tags so we can recognize each other.”

Almost all came from Washington state, most from Pierce County, and three from Tacoma’s Tahoma Terrace, where West lives. Other alumni, she said, are scattered around the country.

“Some simply cannot travel far anymore, at least not alone,” West said. “One of our classmates is now living in Maine. Her daughter lived there and talked her into moving there, and she’s been sorry ever since.

“The daughter got a boyfriend and spent the winter in Arizona — and left her mother in Maine.”

Still, this weekend’s reunion attracted nearly two dozen classmates, plus a handful of grads from other Stadium classes, and 26 sons and daughters of class of ‘40 members who have died.

It even drew one class member who wasn’t too happy about being there.

“There are people who graduated from Stadium who thought it was the high point in their life,” said Walter Berg, who lives on Bainbridge Island. “I didn’t like the place. There was a snobbish clique of North Enders, and I was a South Ender.

“I had to work after school and didn’t participate in school activities. For me, high school was what I endured.”

Why attend the reunion, then?

“Out of courtesy to Madeline, who I didn’t know in school,” Berg said. “There’s not a lot of interesting things that happen there. I never did like Tacoma.”

Victor Graybar is another Class of 1940 alumnus who had an issue with the reunion. But his was strictly about golf.

“I’m in a group that plays at least once a week at Fircrest Golf Club, and I’m pretty caught up in the U.S. Open,” Graybar said last week. “I have two passes that my son is using, because I can’t really get around much on the Chambers Bay course.

“I want to watch it all on television, but maybe I’ll get away and go to the reunion for a little bit.”

When West set up the reunion last year, she picked a Saturday in June, the month the Class of ‘40 graduated.

“I had no idea the golf tournament was that weekend,” she said.

Still, plenty of classmates wanted to attend.

“We have three from California who were going to come, then two had mishaps so only one was able to come,” West said. “In state, we have classmates in Sumner, Poulsbo, Walla Walla ...”

Quite a few local women attend a monthly Golden Girls lunch, all of them Stadium alumni.

“The numbers of the older ones are fading, so younger girls are joining,” West said. “Our youngest is 45.”

Why the name Golden Girls?

“Our school colors were gold and blue,” West said.

Graybar said the reunion invitation was bittersweet.

“I enjoyed my time at Stadium, it was a good part of a good life,” he said. “But most of the guys I hung out with are in nursing homes or dead.”

Graybar, 93, lives alone in a University Place condominium, where he keeps a Japanese garden. Last week, he shot a 104 at Fircrest.

“Everyone in my group is at least 85, but none of us shoots our age,” he joked.

West relaxed the rules for the 75th reunion when a member of the Class of ‘45 contacted her.

“He went to war before graduating and never formally graduated with his class,” West said. “So he’d never been to a reunion of his own. He wanted to come to ours, and I said, ‘Sure.’ ”

The 75th reunion appears to have been the last for the Class of 1940. West, who has single-handedly arranged the last three, said the work has gotten to be too much — and the group is out of money.

“Most of my life, I’ve been right here in the Northwest, and any time I left, I always came back,” West said. “In the last 70 years, I’ve had four children, nine grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter.

“I’m in good health and have plenty to do. I had a great-great grandfather who lived to be 102. He set the bar high.”

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