According to Ralph Hammond, “In 1896, two students were Bedford’s first high school graduates.” A short time later “with only a tiny staff, and few students in the Union School (Yellow Building – now the Bedford Community Center), the town chose to educate students up to grade 8 and sent the older students to Concord or Lexington’s more comprehensive high schools. It was in 1958 that Bedford first had students graduate from its own then-Grade 1 through 12 fully comprehensive school system.”
It was 69 years ago in 1954 when construction on the original Bedford High School began. Although junior and senior high students started taking classes in the unfinished building in September 1955, the first class of BHS graduates got their diplomas in 1958, long before the school’s most recent graduates and their parents were even born.
Last Wednesday, 100 members of Bedford High School’s first six classes came together to share memories, laugh, and reconnect with friends – both old and new – for a very special reunion.
Hammond said he was very surprised how quickly the planning committee’s contacts grew.
“Everyone [they] linked up with others, and the list exceeded 100 people quite quickly. All seemed positive about holding a gathering in the spring,” he said.
Meeting at Middlesex Community College (which didn’t exist when these former students were in high school), these original students of Bedford High School gathered for lunch, speeches, and a chance to look over a lot of memorabilia.
Tables were distinctly set up for the six classes, each filled with interesting memories of the past, including old photos, yearbooks (The Missile), jackets, news clippings, graduation programs, and copies of the school newspaper (The Powder Horn). Hammond said he offered many of the items that were on the display to the Bedford Historical Society for future use.
It was Ralph Hammond (BHS ’63) who organized this event. He got the idea after attending a mini-reunion of the BHS Class of 1960. He proposed the multi-class reunion idea to BHS ’60 members Jim DiNitto and Bruce Blake, who enthusiastically supported the idea.
Hammond, who after graduating college spent his entire career in education in Bedford as a teacher and later as an elementary school principal, used an old school bell to get people’s attention during the reunion. Long-ago, this bell was used to let the Bedford elementary school kids know that recess was over, time to return to the classroom.
After enjoying a catered lunch, a representative from each of the six classes shared a wealth of memories and words of wisdom:
Craig Dorman, who represented the Class of 1958, said, “We had no track record, but were very pleased to find in college that we had very good teachers. We had a top-notch education.” He also pointed out how hard it was to put together sports teams with a class of only 38 students.
Peter McNeany said that the Class of 1959 was the first to spend all four of their high school years at BHS. Peter recalled those days of being 17 years old with “dreams and plans,” and now with “most of your life in the rearview mirror, we are older, wiser and much grayer.”
Jim DiNitto spoke for the Class of 1960. He said, “As we reflect on our time there, it is important to recognize the significance of our journey. We were pioneers, we navigated uncharted territory, and we established traditions that would endure for future generations of students.”
Also speaking were Jim McGovern for the Class of 1961, Ken Troup for the Class of 1962, and Ralph Hammond for the Class of 1963. Troup pointed out that the Class of 1962 had connections with the Class of 1963. Why? He said because many of the guys in the Class of 1962 dated girls in the Class of 1963.
McGovern later thanked Ralph Hammond, Jim DiNitto and Bruce Blake for “organizing such a great event. I personally [and] thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone there. It brought a tear or two and was such a great time. Well done! Please stay safe and healthy.”
After the speeches, Ralph used the vintage school bell to honor the members of each of the classes, both living and deceased. He acknowledged that about a third of the classmates had died either before graduation or later in life and “this sharing of moments of sadness needed to take place as well.”
Jim DiNitto and Bruce Blake had a special treat for Ralph Hammond. After reminiscing about Ralph losing a paper bag filled with important school paraphernalia, Jim said that just recently an old bag filled with school effects was found and was determined to be Ralph’s. Bruce and Jim returned each “discovered” item to Ralph. Among the items were his Howdy Doody lunch box, a Howe Two Spel book, Fifth Grade English written by Esther B. Kahn (the audience enjoyed the inside joke that accompanied the revealing of the book), and his mid-1950s version of a mobile phone – “two tin cans connected by a string.” The final item removed from the bag was a framed Certificate of Appreciation for all that Ralph has done. Ralph expressed his gratitude for getting all these missed items back, along with a special heart-felt thanks for the Certificate.
Ralph also thanked the Class of 1958 for a large banner welcoming the honored guests at MCC and for their contributions to ensure that everyone who wanted to attend the reunion could do so, regardless of financial concerns.
Another treat to be treasured – a class reunion book for each of the six classes, an idea of Midge Lehman Caloggero, Class of 1960, that came to fruition. Inside each edition are many stories from class members about their time at BHS as well as their special achievements since graduation.
When asked what he believes are the most important lessons from those early classes for the kids going through school today, Ralph said, “Keep in mind that BHS was a Grade 5-10 school building when all this began.” He added, “I was surprised how many BHS students became teachers themselves. From the stories being shared, the positive, professional relationships between students and staff together with a passion of discovery and learning certainly moved from one generation to the next. Reading through the biographies, now close to 100 received, children of many graduates became teachers as well. The BHS staff of the ’50s certainly launched a mission of care, kindness, and exploration impacting generations.”
Ralph was also surprised “by how many became clergy members. We had only three churches in town back then.”
Those who attended the reunion received paper versions of the booklets, but the hardcover version goes to print on July 1. Members of those classes who have not yet shared their memories and stories still have time; however, the last day to submit
The luncheon at MCC was followed by a nostalgic tour of BHS, led by Assistant Director of Facilities Ron Scaltreto, who later wrote of the guests, “They were a wonderful group. I learned quite a bit from them as well – What the high school was like before my time there. They were all great.”
The event ended with a gathering at The Great Wall and the American Legion.
Jim DiNitto and Ken Troup have designed a system to manage and share photos taken at the reunion. Those are available at https://photos.app.goo.gl/HpfR9spqF4CmxCK7A.