The year was 1952. The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, was released. Ronald Reagan married Nancy Davis, and Frank Sinatra married Ava Gardner. The Diary of Anne Frank was published. Tony Bennett was the most popular recording artist. And 142 teenagers from Weehawken heard the Pomp and Circumstance as the latest graduating class from Weehawken High School.
“After graduation, it was like we left forever,” said Don Rickert, one of those students who graduated from high school 50 years ago. “It’s like we dispersed and went all over the place. Some went into the service. Some went on their ways to college, to the rest of their lives.”
Last weekend, 67 of the members of the Weehawken Class of 1952 got together for their golden reunion. Some were returning to Weehawken for the first time since graduating. Others made the journey from points as far as California, Tennessee and Florida to get the chance to reminisce with friends from a half-century ago, while viewing the many changes Weehawken has endured over the last 50 years.
“I haven’t seen anyone since high school,” said Bill Wilke, who traveled from his home in Sarasota, Fla. to attend the reunion festivities, which were capped with a festive dinner at the Radisson Hotel in Secaucus. “It was hard for me to relate to those days, but when I saw Weehawken High School, a lot of memories came back. It was such a different time back then, but it was good to see the school again.”
The Class of 1952 took a bus tour of the town Saturday afternoon and visited the high school, which hasn’t really changed much in 50 years.
“It was so good to see that the high school was still standing and still strong,” said Wilke, who retired after 30 years as a general contractor in Florida. “I was very pleased to see it. Weehawken was always a great little town and we had a great graduating class.”
The Class of 1952 accomplished a lot. The soccer and baseball teams both captured NJSIAA Group II state championships. The tennis team won the North Hudson championship of the HCIAA. While the nation was in the middle of the Korean War, Weehawken High’s students reached for academic achievements before many of the graduates went off to serve in the military.
Back then, Rickert was enamored with the beauty of fellow classmate Joan White.
“We were in a music class,” classmate Sal Jodice recalled. “And after Don [Rickert] spotted Joan, who was simply a beautiful girl, he said, ‘Jodice, get up. I’m sitting here.’ So I let him sit there. He was bigger than me. I had to let him sit there.”
“That’s the truth,” Rickert said. “I had to sit next to her.”
Four years later, Rickert married Joan White. Some 48 years, four children and five grandchildren later, the sweethearts from the Class of ’52 came back for their reunion.
“It’s amazing, but we still actually like each other,” said Joan Rickert. “Even after all this time.”
Joan Rickert totally enjoyed the festivities.
“Although I haven’t seen so many of these people for so long, it’s like we never left,” she said. “I just keep going up to another person and hugging them.”
“It’s just been fantastic,” said Don Rickert, who recently retired as the assistant superintendent of schools in New Milford, N.J. and was a former football coach who mentored Ed Marinaro, who later became a famous actor from such TV series as Hill Street Blues and Sisters.
“Everyone is having such a good time,” Don Rickert said. “Just seeing everyone means so much. It’s really like we never left home.”
One graduate who never left home was Jodice, who still calls Weehawken home. Jodice was a long-time police lieutenant in town and retired a few years ago, but works part-time in the town’s crime prevention department. “It was a terrific time and everything ran so smoothly,” said Jodice, who served on the reunion’s committee. “You could see how much everyone was enjoying themselves. We had a good turnout, with people coming back from all over the country. I was lucky. I didn’t wander far from my roots. It was so good to see so many people. We had a great class.”
Jodice and Rickert were members of the state championship baseball team. Rickert also played on the soccer team.
“We hadn’t seen each other in 40 years,” Jodice said of some of his classmates. “Yet, it was like we seen each other the day before.”
There was only one downside to the reunion. Thirty members of the Class of 1952 have passed on. They were with the other 67 who attended in spirit.
“It was really a great weekend,” said Jodice, who has now been asked to help organize other upcoming 50th class reunions from Weehawken High. “Others are now asking us for help because ours worked out so well.”
“I didn’t realize how important it was going to be for me to come back,” Wilke said. “I’m so glad that I did.”