When Doris Backle Gianantonio got up in front of her 85 former classmates at Weehawken High School’s 50th reunion and announced, “My last wish before I die? I need a man!” she gave a whole new meaning to the word sexagenarian.
The reunion, held at the Chart House on Sunday, Oct. 16, was planned and coordinated entirely by Janet Hahne, class of ‘61.
She wanted to wear her majorette jacket to the event, but “it only covered about half of me,” she said; and so she settled with the jacket’s pin that read, ironically, “Weehawken High School Senior.”
Hahne began planning the event back in April of 2011. The Chart House required that she confirm at least 60 people by June, and so she began making between 25-30 phone calls a day. Her husband George, who had open heart surgery last January, declared her “nuts” for taking on such an extensive solo endeavor.
“I can still do cartwheels and splits. If my pants weren’t so tight, I’d show you right now.” –Diane Anderson Voloerman
Hail the reigning queen of Weehawken and her trusty undersecretary
When Weehawken turned 100 in 1969, high school cheerleader Diane Anderson Voloerman was voted “Queen of Weehawken.” Fortunately for her, due to a monarchical technicality, she has reigned for over 50 years.
She attributes her long-lived sovereignty to her high school athleticism and subsequent popularity with the student body. “All us girls were flag-twirlers and cheerleaders and drum majorettes back then,” she explained. “I can still do cartwheels and splits. If my pants weren’t so tight, I’d show you right now.”
Doris Gianantonio, drum majorette extraordinaire, rode on a float in the very same centennial parade Voloerman was in, right alongside former Weehawken Mayor Meister’s grandaughter, she said proudly.
The two women became fast friends in seventh grade. “It was close-knit, unlike today,” Gianantonio said. “We had the ice cream parlor to hang out in. You went up to the register and you had to figure out [the change] in your head. Kids today don’t have that.”
The two recalled how one year, on the school’s annual Student Day, Gianantonio was made secretary to Voloerman’s mayor. Together they made the executive decision to pull the fire alarm, forcing all the students to leave the school.
Carol Kursen Palmieri remembered that day. “We were smoking outside during that fire drill,” she said.
Weehawken High School’s “most eligible (former) bachelors”
Donald Forrest immediately distinguished himself from the group as something of a Cassanova-like troublemaker. He and his friend Bruce Bauer—both active in football, basketball, baseball and track, and friends now for over 55 years—were quite desirable dating prospects for the ladies in high school. “Every blonde and brunette dated these fellows,” Voloerman confirmed.
“I tried to be a player but I didn’t have the tools,” Forrest lamented, even though he admitted his dating history was a tad more extensive than average. “We had some good-looking cheerleaders,” he said.
“They were more famous than our teams,” Bauer chuckled, even though he was part of a generational athletic legacy himself. His father received Weehawken High’s “Most Athletic” award in 1931, Bauer received the same award in 1961, and his son received it (though from a different town) in 1984.
Forrest, who lost the title of “Most Athletic” to Bauer by a few points, claimed, “I played basketball so I could sit on the bench next to the cheerleaders.”
How did he attract their attention? He shared his three tenets for driving the ladies wild: “learn to dance, pay attention in school, and take shop classes.”
Clearly things have changed over the years, but there is one key difference between high school then and high school now, the two noted. “We didn’t have drugs,” Forrest said. “We smoked a little bit, but our coach didn’t like us to.”
“We were there years before marijuana became popular,” Bauer added. “That’s how old we are.”
From the spotlight to the Shades
“These are still dirty old guys,” Eddie Miller said of Bauer and Forrest. As for the rest of his classmates? “Half of them are alright, some should be in a mental institution,” he said.
Miller—known by some as “The Fonz” back in high school—has lived and worked in Weehawken all his life. His forearms bear the name of his wife of 46 years and his own name tattooed in Chinese, and on his upper arms are the names of his children and grandchildren.
He drove a tractor trailer for 32 years and has worked as custodian for the Webster School for the past 18. His has been “a tough life, but a good life,” he said.
Miller feels things were different back then, particularly for those who lived in the Shades like he did. “I tell you, we had nothing, but everybody stuck together,” he explained. “These days, my grandkids get everything they want.”
Miller’s parents both died young of heart attacks, and he was left to help raise his two sisters. Money was scare, he said, and he fought for everything that he had—a stark contrast to life in uptown Weehawken.
“There was a divide,” Miller stated, “But if I could do it over again, I would do it the same ten times a hundred.”
Despite the attendees’ varied high school experiences, most everyone agreed on one thing: the event was a success. Hahne was pleased that her classmates enjoyed themselves, and she left future generations with one crucial—if not censorable—piece of advice.
“I tell my grandchildren, when you’re in high school, you try hard to make everyone like you,” she said. “When you get older, you don’t give a s…[let’s just say ‘darn’].”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/a>