Here’s something you need to know about the Hartford High Class of ’78: They’re parade-float cutthroats.
This year’s Hartford High School Alumni Parade float theme was “Cartoons.” On Saturday, two hours before the parade started, in a garage down Hazen Street — off behind the Mascoma Bank — a few dozen members of the class milled around a long flatbed, getting ready. Their float’s centerpiece was a giant Scooby Doo with a moveable head and tail. It had been built over months and then set up earlier in the week. Now, amid a flood of banter and reminiscence, the class was getting dressed.
“Where’s the glue gun?”
“Who’s got the pins??!!”
“Hey, have we determined who’s driving the van?” (This would be the van painted to mimic The Mystery Machine).
“If anyone had told me I’d be running around in my tighty-whiteys on my 58th birthday, I’d have said you were full of it.”
This last was from Clint Potter, who runs a concrete business in White River Junction but was about to get wrapped as a mummy by three of his classmates. They took painstaking care to get him covered head to foot.
Clint Potter gets help with dressing from Jolene Minor (kneeling); Doug Dulac; and Kim Wood.
Which brings up another thing you should know about the Class of ’78: Even now, 40 years on, they’re as dead serious about looking out for one another as they are about blowing their float competition out of the water.
The competition part is baked into their class history. Their senior year, right before the school’s winter carnival, someone decided — they confess there was beer involved — that they should build a snow sculpture in the middle of the night. They carved out a spaceship, which won the sculpture competition and brought them fame and glory. Until spring, when the snow melted. That’s when the jumbled pile of beer cans they’d shoved into the sculpture as they worked showed up on the high school’s front lawn. Which brought them the principal on the PA, calling them out and telling them to go clean up their mess. Even so, they’ve put their all into showing up other classes ever since. Their Olympics float five years ago — Greeks, a bobsled ice sculpture, speedskaters, skiers, Mark Spitz — won. So did their Boston-Van Halen-Steve Miller-Aerosmith tribute to bands of the ‘70s in 2008.
Linda Foley, back from South Carolina; Cindy Crump, up from Jacksonville, FL; and Amy Roberts, from Wolfeboro, NH, make their way to the parade lineup. Crump's father is black, her mother white, and until 10th grade she constituted her class's racial diversity. "Growing up no one ever made me feel different," she says. "Though I was."
The looking-out-for-one-another part is a little more complicated. For most high-school classes, graduation is pretty much the end of their time together. They might gather for the occasional reunion, but since they weren’t all that close in high school, once they’re scattered everyone gets on with his or her own life. ’78 was a little different. In high school, says Jolene Minor, “Whether you were theater or choir or band, a grease monkey or a stoner or a jock or academic, we all hung together. We weren’t a real cliquey class.”
Even so, although they kept tabs on one another, for a couple of decades they didn’t get especially organized about sticking together outside of reunions. Until just shy of their 40th birthdays, when they lost two classmates. Angela Magrone and Lori Devins both died of viruses—one of a spleen ailment that went systemic, the other after a heart virus led to a rejected transplant. Lori, especially, had been the class’s driving force at reunions, and she left a hole.
“It hit the class really hard to lose two people back to back,” says Rhonda Littlefield, who’s picked up the class’s chief organizer role. “So we decided to throw ourselves a 40th birthday party.” The class showed up in force. With that under their belts, they decided they had to do a 50th. Now they’re planning their 60th.
Waiting for the parade to start. "This 11 o'clock thing is killing us," said Jim Packard (barely visible just to the left of the ghost).
And they stick together. When someone who’s moved away comes back into town for a visit, they get together. When someone’s sick, they send cards and call. “We tell each other ‘It’s okay, we’re here! What needs to be done?’” says Kim Wood. “If they’re local, do we need to take meals, or if money’s an issue, can we take up a collection?” When Karen Nolan, another class spark plug, was dying of cancer, women in the class took to trooping up to Bradford, VT every few weeks to take her out to lunch. When she could no longer leave the house, they brought lunch to her. At her memorial service, the reception was put together by her classmates. When a classmate’s parent dies—which happens with dismaying frequency these days—“you can pretty much count on someone from the class showing up at the funeral,” says Wood. “These are the people I’ve laughed the hardest with and cried the hardest tears with.” Sherry Brown, now a town mainstay in Bradford, puts it this way: “The way I feel about that sense of community in Bradford? This is the same: It’s a class community.”
At their 50th birthday party eight years ago, they developed a taste for Scooby Doo Snacks — not the actual snack, but the mixed drink (rum, melon liqueur, pineapple juice) — so when they began planning this year’s float back in January, there really wasn’t much question what it would be.
As things turned out, they won the float competition this year, too. The sentimental favorite might have been the Class of ’68, which was celebrating its 50th reunion. They all showed up wearing white “’68 is the new 50!!!” shirts, but their “float” was just a pickup with a banner of classmates who’ve passed away. “We were never into doing big things,” explained former Hartford Selectboard member Alex DeFelice, a member of the class. The Class of ’98, on the other hand, was full of youthful energy and may turn out to be a threat down the road. Their Ghostbusters float was a full-on production.
Meanwhile, as the parade wound around the familiar streets of White River Junction, the Class of ’78 danced and waved and shouted back and forth with onlookers and threw out Scooby Doo candy bags. As the float pulled up by the White River School at the end, Kim Wood looked around at her classmates. “That was the most fun part of today: being with these nuts,” she said. And then, almost under her breath, added, “Who I really probably couldn’t live without.”
More parade photos:
The Mystery Machine makes its way past the Tuckerbox.
The Class of... Well, it's pretty obvious.
And their "float."
The Class of '93 in their Flintstones best.
The Class of '98.... Watch out, '78!
Stratton, from Randolph, along with Gail Raymond Billings, Hartford High Class of '73. Briggs, the other member of Stratton's team, couldn't make it.