Most folks have fond memories of their teen years and high school daze, but for some from this area, their graduation was one of a kind -literally.
Just ask Gerry Henning and his friends from the Class of 1963, they were unique. Meet the first Crestwood graduating class ever!
“We were the first senior class in Crestwood, there were 63 of us in the class of ’63,” Gerry reports with a chuckle. Speaking for himself, his brother Rich, Donna Wheeler Schwartz and 9 others, Gerry says, “We were in White Haven High School and the other high school was in Wright Township and they brought us all together when the school was ready. It was called the Central Luzerne County Joint High School.”
He said his classmates are working on a 50th Reunion in September and they hope to get some recognition from the school district and the larger community.
Donna has been one of the main organizers of the reunions over the years. She says she has tried to keep track of all 63 students and friends over the years. “I keep this yearbook and I have clippings for different people in it, marriages or when someone went into the service.” Sadly there are a few obituaries, too.
Donna and Gerry both admit that first year was a real transition for the kids, who hailed from Slocum, Dorrance, Nuangola, Rice, Wright, Fairview, Dennison and White Haven. “We were all in it together,” he adds, “There were some differences, of course, but we had to work them out.”
Donna concurs, “It was our senior year.” They had the issue of leaving their school and their town for that final year of school. “It was the first time we had ever been on a school bus,” she recalls fondly in retrospect, but in the beginning it was “scary; frightening –but it was also exciting. There were so many changes that year. There were only twelve of us from White Haven and we were divided into commercial and academic classes. We got to know each other through our interests like sports, I was a cheerleader, and in our classes.”
Gerry explains, “We all got together and we picked the name out of a hat -‘Crestwood.’ We picked out the red and white colors because White Haven’s color was red and Wright’s was white, and then we came up with the alma mater and the Comet mascot.”
Gerry said that the superintendent was Kenneth Hawk and the first principal was Leland Vandermark. A student favorite was teacher and Key Club advisor Donald Morgis. As Gerry looks back to those exciting days, he recalls more teachers and fun events. “We had a baseball and basketball team, and cheerleaders. The only place to go after a game was the old Desiderio’s Restaurant for pizza, nothing else was open that late.”
Henning noted with affection that the school was a lot smaller then, as was the community it served. “There weren’t that many places open along 309 fifty years ago, just a few stores. The school was just the section there closest to the parking lot, the classrooms, offices, the cafeteria; and the gym was only half the size it is now, and that’s where we held our graduation.
“I remember getting my diploma and throwing our hats,” Donna says with a laugh. It was bittersweet for her -leaving all of her new and old friends behind, while a bright future awaited. “I was looking forward to getting out of school because I already had a job with the First Nation Bank of Wilkes-Barre, so I was very excited.” Rightly so because the bank, which was located where PNC is now, hired her to start in March to start right after graduation.
“We were 63 young men and women then,” Gerry adds, “We’ve only lost a handful of the original 63. There are lots of us still around, Ron Swank, Carol Koons Munson and Bernie Perch –he went back and taught art at Crestwood for many years. We lost Len Levanda, but he did real well over there in Rice Township.”
The community owes those levelheaded teenagers like Donna and Gerry a debt for the great start they gave to Crestwood’s history and reputation. They left a great legacy, says Gerry Henning, who had three kids of his own graduate from Crestwood!
“I’m proud of it, I’m proud of what we did there and what the school and the area has become. We came from different schools and towns across this big area. We had some differences, but we worked them out and we became friends and we’ve stayed friends.”
Congratulations and Happy 50th to the Crestwood Class on 1963!