65 years later, Hopkins grads unite

  • The Hopkins Class of 1952 gathered on Tuesday, to celebrate their 65th reunion at Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst. From left, Earl Fay of Pelham; his wife and 1952 class member, Nancy Sanders Fay; class members Amelia Matuszko of Hadley and June Pipczynski Suleski of Woodstock, Conn.; friend Irene Wheeler of Woodstock, Conn.; and class member Mary Fitzgibbon of Hadley. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Joyce Sanders of Venice, Fla., greets her husband’s former classmate, Richard Russell of Holyoke, during the 65th reunion of  the Hopkins Academy Class of 1952 at Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The Hopkins Class of 1952 gathered on Aug. 15, 2017, to celebrate their 65th reunion at Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst. From left, Peggy Russell of Holyoke; her husband and class member, Richard Russell; class member Norman Sanders, now of Venice, Fla.; and his wife, Joyce Sanders. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Joyce Sanders of Venice, Fla., displays a reproduction of old photos of Hopkins Academy and its class of 1952 during their 65th reunion on Aug. 15, 2017, at Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst. Sanders is the wife of class member Norman Sanders. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Thursday, August 24, 2017

HADLEY — Things were a whole lot different in 1952, when Norman Sanders graduated from Hopkins Academy; Harry Truman was president, the Korean War was in full swing and the Pioneer Valley looked little like it does now.

“A lot of the change is these big hotels and shopping malls between Hadley and Amherst,” he said. “And traffic — traffic is horrendous.”

He braved the traffic on Aug. 15, however, to celebrate the 65th reunion of the Hopkins Academy Class of 1952 with six former classmates, their partners and friends.

“It took me a while to figure out that it was 65 years,” June Pipczynski Suleski said of her surprise in learning the reunion would be this year. And she’s not the only one who was surprised. “Whoever I tell just don’t believe me.”

Sanders’ wife, Joyce, was a primary organizer of the get-together, helping to pull things together from Venice, Florida, more than 1,300 miles away.

“It’s very important for me, because of the love for my husband,” she said. Joyce has also organized a 50th, 55th and 60th reunion for the class, and has no doubt there will be a 70th reunion as well. “It motivates me to have Norman get together with his classmates.”

Memories floated around the table at Hickory Ridge Golf Club on Tuesday. For everyone present, including partners who did not attend Hopkins, the school and Hadley played a special part in their histories.

“We met when I was a junior in high school,” Nancy Sanders Fay, Norman’s twin sister, said looking at her husband, Earl, sitting next to her. A Hopkins basketball game was their first date, and they’ve now been married 64 years.

“We had a wooden building; we’d hang out the windows. We had one set of steps going up,” Barbara Searle Hendricks recalled. Born and raised in Hadley, she has a deep affinity for the town where she’s spent all her life, and where she said she has seen shopping centers take over farmland.

Her former classmate Richard Russell, however, still works on 20 acres of farmland, tending fields of tomatoes, broccoli, corn, radishes and other vegetables at the age of 83.

“He wants to say that,” his wife Peggy joked, “It’ll be 84 soon.”

Others also lamented the changing landscape, but not all of the past is gone.

“Some of the old homestead is still there,” Sanders said of his old home. “Of course it’s changed hands a couple of times.”

Sanders was a longtime plumber in the area, having taken over the family business from his father, Clarence, when he died in 1973. Despite leaving western Massachusetts for Florida in 1985, Sanders said he still sees his old customers when he comes back to visit.

After the handshakes and hugs, after the initial buzz of excitement, everyone settled into conversation about the past and new life updates, like how ripe the tomatoes are this year.

“We just got so many things to talk about,” Sanders said. “We don’t have any children, but most of the others have children, second marriages and these kinds of things.”

Of course, classmates have passed away, the inevitable consequence of time.

“Missing the ones that aren’t here,” was how Mary Fitzgibbon responded when asked how she felt about the reunion. Tuesday’s event was a good way to remember them, she added.

Others, when asked to describe the emotions they felt getting together with classmates 65 years later, were simply speechless.

“I just call it special, that’s all,” Amelia Fil Matuszko said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.