PHS Class of ‘68 holds reunion

By Janet Riley


Special to The News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — The Beatles were crooning “Hey, Jude,” Marvin Gaye was singing “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Janis Joplin was belting out “Piece of My Heart,” and Steppenwolf was revving us up with “Born to Be Wild.”

Flickering on the movie screens at the Smoot or Burwell or the Belpre or Mur Drive-Ins were “Planet of the Apes,” “Bullitt,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

On one hand it’s hard to admit that a half century has passed since some 740 seniors said goodbye to Parkersburg High School in June 1968 and began their adult lives.

On the other, as graduates make plans to attend the 50th Class Reunion on Sept. 14-15, the reality of our lives as grandparents and retirees is confronting us on Facebook and Twitter. PSHS opened in the fall of 1968, effectively splitting the senior class in half from some 1,300 who entered PHS together as sophomores.

PHS would never see 3,600 students again. In California they were having love-ins and wearing tie-dye. In London, Twiggy was wearing mini-skirts and kohl eyeliner. In Parkersburg the girls were still following the school dress code of skirts or dresses to the knees.

Administrators would sometimes ask girls to kneel in the hallway to make sure skirts reached the floor. In many of the Parhischan (Parkersburg High School Annual) photos, boys are sporting suits and ties. Senior girls posed in dark sweaters with a single pearl or a pearl necklace.

Madras shirts were popular. Discipline problem were rare, unless “the hoods” were caught smoking under the trees. We had lots of homework every night, and most of us wouldn’t dream of not coming to class prepared. If your teacher said “do it,” you didn’t question that.

Many weeknights would be spent at the Carnegie Library perusing the card catalog and checking out periodicals. We sat in cubicles reading the material and took notes on note cards, which then would be checked by English and history teachers for format. Term papers took weeks to prepare. Once the references were assembled, we prepared outlines and then typed the papers on manual or, if we were lucky, electric typewriters. Copies? No problem. We used carbon paper.

Our parents knew to pick us up at a certain time, or we could use the payphone for a dime. A lucky few (mostly boys) had their own cars. The 1957 Chevys and 1956 Fords were popular. Mustangs and GTOs came out in 1964 and Camaros in the fall of 1966, but few of those would be seen parked on the horseshoe in front of the school.

In retrospect, the ’60s are famous for the muscle cars and they were fast and loud and had shifters and a clutch. Cruising through Fat Boys meant the guys would rev their engines and “peel out” onto Murdoch Avenue. Occasionally, they would stop to order strawberry pie or a Fat Boy and fries through the speaker hanging on a post.

It was a big deal when a McDonald’s opened on Dudley Avenue near the high school. Hamburgers and fries were 15 cents each, Cokes were a dime and shakes were 22 cents. Cheeseburgers were 20 cents and Filet-of-Fish was a quarter. That was the menu. Big Macs and Super-Size hadn’t been invented yet.

The BBF downtown also opened while we were in high school. The first year that McDonald’s opened, we could leave campus for lunch. Until then, the popular junk food lunch was maple sticks and Mister Bee chips from Greiner’s Bakery. By our senior year, the cafeteria had revamped the lunch line and offered burgers and we were no longer allowed to leave campus.

The Big Red Band was boys only and since Title IX was a few years off, girls couldn’t participate in competitive sports. There were intramural sports clubs for girls and some played softball at the YMCA. The Sports Carnival was popular, and boys and girls did both participate. Thespians was huge, Masque and Gavel and Quill and Scroll were elite honors, and TKB (The Kool Boys) brought a lot of spirit. The A Cappella Choir sang in the Capitol Rotunda in D.C. that year. The Journal newspaper staff was award winning.

(Sports writer Jeff Nathan would be killed 18 months later when the plane carrying the Marshall University football team crashed.) Friday nights found everyone at Big Red football games and big crowds filled the field house for basketball. Some away football games meant attending by train or chartered buses.

Two state champion wrestlers (Pat Riggs and Gary Studenic) were crowned the senior year. Senior class officers were Barry Louden, president; Lyn Dotson, vice president; Dianna Wesson, secretary; and Peg Hall, treasurer. Student Council President was Pete Garrett, vice president was Betsy Gilmore, and secretary-treasurer was Karen Merrill.

The PHS principal was J.D. Fultineer. Extracurricular activities included dances, where B.J. Thomas once sang. Two Dick Clark-Caravans of Stars brought to town the Supremes, the Kinks, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Drifters, Tom Jones and other popular acts of the day.

Skating parties at the Coliseum downtown were popular when class members were in junior high and some still skated in high school.

Winter also meant ice skating on the City Park Pond or sometimes on the pond on Lakeview Drive. The City Park pool opened on Memorial Day and closed on Labor Day. Many of us flipped our towels onto the hot concrete among friends and got the courage to dive off the high dive. The water was COLD. Stick pretzels with mustard cost 2 cents at the concession stand. Our class had been eighth-graders when JFK was assassinated in 1963.

We had cried along with the nation as we stayed glued to our black and white TVs. In April of our senior year, MLK was assassinated, and a war in the faraway country of Viet Nam was being brought into our living rooms.

In early June 1968 we found ourselves reeling once again after learning that RFK had been assassinated. Many of us huddled in shocked groups in front of the Senior Doors, hardly able to handle the emotions.

Rain forced our graduation from the football field into the field house, which meant many of our family members had to leave without watching us receive our diplomas. But like all graduating classes, we bid PHS farewell and went our separate ways–off to college, the military, jobs and marriage–carrying fond memories and hope for the future.

We had no way of knowing that in less than a year, many of us would be back to attend the funerals of two of our classmates, Ron Goudy and Emmett “Jiggs” Griffin, who were killed in a car crash on the WV Turnpike.

As could be expected, our large senior class has been further depleted in the past 50 years. With sadness we will remember our missing classmates.

But we will also greet and hug each other, and see through the gray hair and expanding waistlines to those teens with whom we laughed and shared life once upon a time.

We are the class of ’68.