It seemed like a natural for the summer of 2017: A 50th reunion of the first-ever graduating class of the Wyoming Area School District, a class of 270 students from the Wyoming, Exeter, West Wyoming and West Pittston districts.
But it’s not going to happen. Instead, there will be three reunions.
Members of the 1967 class who lived in Wyoming and Exeter boroughs are each having their own reunions. Members of the 1967 Wyoming Area class who lived in the West Pittston district, which included Harding and Falls, will have a reunion within the West Pittston Alumni Association’s all classes reunion. There are no plans for a West Wyoming ’67 reunion.
To understand why there is no full class reunion, go back to September 1966, when 17- and 18-year-old kids from Exeter, Wyoming and West Wyoming were thrown together with West Pittston kids in the West Pittston high school building to form the first Wyoming Area incoming senior class.
The mergers were mandated by General Assembly Act 299, passed on Aug. 8, 1963. The law called for the creation of county school boards, which in turn grouped the municipalities into merged districts. By 1970, 60 school districts in Luzerne County had been condensed to 11.
West Pittston was chosen as the high school because it was the biggest and best appointed of the four high school buildings with better labs, locker rooms, shop, band room and auditorium and, the perception was, better teachers and academics.
This sounds quaint now, but 50 years ago, most of those 1966-67 Wyoming Area senior kids had grown up together going to walkable neighborhood schools and knew few of their contemporaries in the other towns.
Here’s what Carl Wint, a class of 1967 alumnus from West Wyoming, the smallest and least wealthy of the four boroughs, said about the opening of the 1966 school year: “That summer I didn’t believe it was going to happen. But when the school year started there we were getting bused to the Montgomery School in West Pittston. In the beginning it was strange because we
had gone to a small school with mostly the same kids and all of a sudden we were at this big school and didn’t know anyone. And there was a personal touch missing. At West Wyoming, my parents were on a first name basis with almost all the teachers. I remember feeling left out when we found out the colors. Green for West Pittston and gold for Exeter. Wyoming and West Wyoming were like step-children.”
Wyoming’s colors were red and white and West Wyoming, blue and white.
There was apprehension in Exeter and Wyoming, too.
Tom Gilmore was from Wyoming.
“In a way, I was looking forward to it. On the other hand, there was fear of the unknown. I’d never been on a school bus. Nobody likes change,” Gilmore said. “And it was our senior year and the Wyoming kids, we were a close knit group. There was too much going on, too little time to get to know everyone.”
Bill Space, then from Exeter, had the same emotions.
“The biggest dynamic was nobody wanted it,” he said. “We wanted to graduate from Exeter, not Wyoming Area, whatever that was.”
Gail Galli Ambromovage, one of the organizers of the Exeter reunion, said something similar.
“The feeling of unity just wasn’t there,” according to Ambromovage. “One year wasn’t enough to create a sentimental bond. After all, in the three towns the kids had been together from K to 11 and everyone knew everyone.”
Tom Zenobi lives in the same West Pittston neighborhood where he grew up.
“For me it was rather interesting,” he said. “Meeting new people from different towns. There were a lot of characters and meeting new girls. What’s to complain about?”
Having said that, he gets why the town-based cliques survived. He was on the track team where he met kids from the other towns, but he still hung out with his old West Pittston buddies, as did the kids from the other towns.
Two things stand out in his memory, Zenobi said. One, the kids from the other towns — where the schools were more intimate, relaxed and less academically pressurized — found West Pittston teachers hard to take.
“I remember kids saying, ‘Wow are they strict,’” he recalled.
Another memory is how the sports teams helped bring kids together, despite the fact Wyoming Area teams could not accommodate all the kids who were on their hometown teams.
As Wint put it, “A lot of kids got left out of participating in extracurricular activities. At West Wyoming, almost the entire class played sports, were in the band or other activities. At Wyoming Area, a lot of kids got left out.”
Even so, there were over 200 kids involved ancillary to the football team — cheerleaders, majorettes, drill team and band — and that helped bring the students and their parents together.
The basketball team was a juggernaut in the North League. At home games in West Pittston, the gym rocked to the chant of “We want 100.” And the team accommodated, scoring triple digits multiple times.
The ’67 class did organize full reunions at five and 10 years, but turnout was so low they didn’t try again. Zenobi said in 1993 they tried a combined reunion of the ‘67 and ‘68 classes, and only 80 out of a pool of almost 600 showed up. Most of those were from West Pittston. Zenobi estimates only 10 of the 80 were from the Wyomings.
The organizers of the Wyoming and Exeter reunions say their 2017 reunions are really more like reunions of the 1966 junior classes of those schools, rather than the Wyoming Area ’67 class, and they don’t harbor any bad feelings or resentment toward their other 1967 Wyoming Area classmates.
The Exeter Junior Class of 1966 reunion is Sunday, Sept. 3, at Fox Hill. To make a reservation to attend or for information, search Exeter High School Junior Class 1966 (WA Grads 1967) on Facebook or call Rosemary Vacula Gitkos at 570-954-2121. There were about 75 students in the Exeter 1966 Junior class. Of those, 11 have died and 35 to 40 are expected to attend the reunion.
The Wyoming High School reunion is Saturday, Sept. 30, at Cafe 315. There were 51 people in the ’66 junior class. Seven are known to be deceased, including Tom Butler, the Wyoming Area 1967 class president. The count for the reunion is ongoing.
West Wyoming had 41 students in the 1966 junior class.
The West Pittston 1966 junior class had 130. As of last week, 33 members from that class are going to the West Pittston Alumni Association Reunion on Saturday, Sept. 23. For information on that reunion, call or email Ray Judge at 570-655-8527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.