St. Joe’s last graduating class to celebrate 50-year reunion

By MARK OLIVER | City editor

On June 7, 1962, 54 seniors left their mark as members of the last graduating class at the old St. Joseph High School in Oil City.

This weekend, many of those classmates will come together to celebrate their 50-year reunion and reminisce about their beloved school and all the special times they had together.

About 30 of the 46 living class members and 50 people overall are planning to attend the weekend events, which will include an informal gathering Friday evening at The Quality Inn in Franklin and the formal reunion there Saturday. Classmates will then gather for a Mass Sunday afternoon at St. Joseph Church.

St. Joseph High School, a three-story Gothic building at the corner of Washington and Seeley avenues, was officially dedicated Oct. 19, 1930. It began as the wish of the Rev. Michael Edward Driscoll, the pastor at St. Joseph at the time. Driscoll’s vision was to build a Catholic high school in Oil City that would serve the entire growing Oil Region.

St. Joseph eventually flourished to the point that by the early 1960s a new facility was needed to accommodate the increase in attendance. Venango Christian High School was built on the West End of town, and the Class of 1962 made history as the final graduating class at St. Joseph before VC opened that fall.

50 Year Reunion Image

Class members Sherry Guyton Thomas, Susan English and Carolyn Quinn Curran got the ball rolling for the milestone reunion, and they chose Carol Edwards Dutcher to head things up.

Dutcher, who lives in Virginia, said she would plan and conduct the first meeting, which was held in August 2010. Dutcher said when the meeting ended “we had dates, possible places, times, events, activities and four committees, and I was the overall chair.”

The committee leaders (Sam Shialabba, John Edwards, English and Gretchen Owens Wagner) pretty much took it from there, said Dutcher, who conducted another big meeting in May.

“It all really went very smoothly,” Dutcher said. “We had very little issues and no major disagreements. Everyone went with the flow.”

Smaller meetings have been held without Dutcher, and final plans took shape at one of those sessions a few weeks ago at the Double Play restaurant. And it was quite evident at that gathering how much the class members are looking forward to their big weekend.

English and Kathy Condon Shreffler shared some newspapers clippings at the meeting that detailed the accomplishments of class members. The newspapers included editions of The Shamrock, which was a page put together by St. Joseph students that was published about once a month in The Derrick in those days.

The Shamrock highlighted school news and photos and also included student editorials and a “viewpoint” column where students took pro and con stands on various issues. The 1961-62 Shamrock staff won the Keller Plaque awarded by the St. Bonaventure University journalism department for first place in the “school page in a community newspaper” division.

A headline in the June 1, 1962, edition of The Derrick on the Shamrock page, published six days before graduation, proclaimed “Irish Close The Last Year Shadowed By The Spires…”, referring to the landmark twin spires of St. Joseph Church. A caption underneath a photo of the class members says “Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

A look through the newspaper articles and the school yearbook (The Spires) shows that Andrea Fitzgerald was the homecoming queen, Sherry Guyton and Harry Tipping were queen and king at the prom with the theme “Fantasy of the Sea”, Samuel Singer was the valedictorian, and Raymond Kissinger was the salutatorian.

The football team, coached by Stan Zagorski, went 2-2 in league play, and the basketball team, coached by Bill Eckert, had a 10-2 record in league play.

The principal was Sister M. Maureen.

Singer, Kissinger and Fitzgerald, who was the top female student, all spoke at the graduation ceremony. The Most Rev. Bishop Edward P. McManaman, who resided at St. Joseph in those days as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Erie, presided at the commencement and presented diplomas. The Rev. Homer DeWalt, the superintendent of schools in the Erie Catholic Diocese, gave the address.

The class produced two marriages — Andrea Fitzgerald and Dan Stubler and Mary Jo Weidle and Jim Camp. Both couples were married in the summer of 1967 at St. Joseph Church. Mary Jo Camp died in 2001, and Jim Camp has since remarried.

Dutcher, in an email correspondence, captured the feelings of the class and the tight bonds that have remained so strong after all these years.

“We had a really great time with the guys and girls….we dated some of the guys but they were all like brothers to us,” she said. “They looked out for us. I believe if we really needed help today and asked for it, most of them would do what they could to help.”

She also said “some of us girls have been friends since kindergarten. We now vacation or see each other at least once a year. Some of the South Side girls used to walk home after school. It seemed like a long walk (Susan English and I lived on Seventh Street), but we had a lot of fun coming down over the city steps on the North Side, walking across the bridge (it was mighty cold in the winter time) and up Central Avenue.”

And John Edwards said simply: “My memories of the time spent during my high school years at St. Joseph are all very special. We were a ‘special’ class.”

From The Derrick, August 2, 2012.