Editor's Note: In honor of the "Year That Changed The World," I've given my space to Deberah Porter this week. Enjoy the memories. —Harry Saltzgaver
As seniors, we had the time of our lives. Being cavalier about missing class, with only a few months before our freedom into the adult world, some of us would wander off during school time, especially throughout our senior year.
We called him Boston Blackie… (aka Mr. Dixon) the big, burly security man who stood at the open Park Avenue entrances of Woodrow Wilson High School also known as "The Arches." In the 1960s, Blackie kept an eye on the students' coming and goings, with the anxious graduation class of 1968 testing his patience. The campus was open then, no chain link fences or locked gates, so we‘d ditch class from various locations to avoid getting caught by Blackie.
We’d often go to Mrs. Chapman’s Donuts. The little shop on Seventh Street, with the big brown donut perched in the air, tempted us to eat warm donuts and drink black coffee. We felt so grown-up.
Our class excelled in academics and sports, and many students were members of various social and service clubs. Our teenage lives moved on in spite of the extraordinary events taking place around us — April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis, while we celebrated our Spring Break. On June 5, 1968, our excitement building just days before our graduation, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles. Of course, there was the Vietnam war raging, which divided the nation, and we lost the most military troops killed in “our year.”
Meanwhile, we had our own monumental decisions to make during all this turmoil. The reality of a new and different norm for each and every one of us was fast approaching. As young people, we had our own instabilities and complications to cope with. Knowing the time was near for us to join the rest of the world — grow up and show up — meant our carefree, teenage lives were coming to an end. Too soon our friends and classmates would leave home to serve in Vietnam, or go off to college, start a family, each of us taking an independent path.
The Friday night dances at the Canteen, going to football games, cruisin’ on Second Street and hanging out at the beach and other hot spots, would one day become hazy memories. The 970 graduating students would scatter to the four winds — leaving behind the safety of the hallowed halls of Wilson, and the watchful eye of Boston Blackie and all the other terrific teachers, coaches and counselors who helped to prepare us for life.
Together, we helped to make up the tapestry that was unique to the life and times of high school days and living in Long Beach in 1968. We lived smack-dab in the middle of this rich and tragic history together. For that, we will always be bound.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years since our graduation. To date, we have sadly lost 109 of our classmates, and we lost Boston Blackie, too. The remaining Class of ’68 will gather again this summer when we come home for our 50th Woodrow Wilson High School Reunion, aptly named “We Survived the Sixties,” Aug. 24 through 26.
The three-day spectacular event kicks off Friday, Aug. 24, with “The Magical Mystery Tour" at Buoy's, on the Belmont Veteran's Memorial Pier overlooking the ocean. Start the fun by joining us on the double-decker tour bus, cruisin’ around our old LB stomping grounds. The main event, Saturday, Aug. 25, "The Joint will be a Rockin,” will be at the Long Beach Yacht Club, featuring the Rolling Stones tribute band "Jumping Jack Flash," and a Rod Stewart performer. Sunday, Aug. 26, caps off the fun festivities with a Love-In-style “Woodstock” picnic, and campus tour at our old alma mater. Dress of the ’60s and ’70s is encouraged for Sunday.
To all our fellow classmates — Be there or be square, it’s going to be a “bitchen” time!
Deberah Porter is a member of the Wilson Class of ’68.