Members of the East Alton-Wood River High School Class of 1969 claim they’re still crazy after all these years while they continue to set the example for EA-WR alumni.
The classmates gathered at their alma mater Oct. 3 to celebrate their 45th class reunion and left a lasting impression for future generations by donating a cast-iron bench in front of the Memorial Gymnasium.
“We took so much when we were young, so we decided as a class that we wanted to give back,” Sara Sladek said. “It started with putting a float in the Halloween parades and it grew from there. We have such talented people in our class with great skills.”
When the classmates decided to donate a bench to their former high school, they wanted it to be something special — not made of marble or stone, but something that could be constructed by their own hands. They decided on cast-iron, and members of the class divided themselves into crews responsible for different parts of the bench. The welding, cutting, painting and the casting of the bronze plaque that reads “‘Spirit’ Class of 1969” was all done by members of the alumni class. The classmates who had a part in the donation of the bench had their initials engraved into the legs and underside of the bench. The bench itself was designed by classmate Joe Debauch.
“Members of the Class (of 1969) approached me over a year ago with their idea to place a memorial bench somewhere on campus, with the obvious choice of placing it next to the commemorative brick display at the entrance to Memorial Gym,” EA-WR Superintendent Dr. John Pearson said. “The class wanted to leave a lasting presence at the school, with the bench being something tangible that students and visitors would see and use for decades to come. We were very glad to receive that donation.”
Keeping the school spirit alive is one way the class of 1969 leaves its mark through the streets of East Alton and Wood River, but having fun while giving back to the community is their driving force.
“We would really like it if other alumni classes would join us in some of the things we do,” Sue Hand of Wood River said. “We have so much fun together and it’s great to give back to our community.”
Those who attend the Wood River Halloween parade every year look forward to the over-the-top floats built by the EA-WR Class of ‘69. In 2013 the theme was “Yellow Submarine” in honor of the Beatles. It was quickly determined after last year’s parade that the “Wizard of Oz” would be the theme for 2014. The float was designed and the fabrication began in January with Dorothy’s house that flew into the air and rotated in a funnel cloud over a rainbow and a full cast of the characters from the land of Oz. The 2014 Class of 1969 “Wizard of Oz” float was awarded the top prize during the parade’s float competition.
“They have marked their presence in the community in many ways. As one example, they consistently have a Class of ‘69 Float in the Wood River Halloween Parade and have very clever themes and decorations,” Pearson said. “They are also one of the most fun-loving group of alumni I have ever been around — a group full of cut-ups and class clowns — and I mean that as a compliment.”
The 1969 alumni will tell you openly that they’re still crazy after all these years, but that’s what keeps the spirit going.
“I think we were the class that got away with almost anything,” Jeris Ford said, laughing. “But we were also the class that has had the most scholarships awarded and the highest grade-point average. I think that’s why they let us do just about anything; we were good students, too.”
Members of the Class of 1969 alumni involved in the bench donation and Halloween floats include David Bailey, Joe Debauch, Dave Bold, Peg and Mike Weber, Jeris Ford, Sue Hand, Jim Joseph, Mike Booten, Barb Milazzo, Vince Milazzo, John Milazzo, Shelby Dean, Lindell Ottwell, Greg Frieman, Ed Hoesktra, Nancy Ferguson, Linda Rogers, Dickie Evans, Mary Masterson, Gregg Sladek, Sara Sladek, Pat Droit, Steve Helfrick, Cindy Pulaski, Chuck Mellor Sr., and Bill and Sandy Dettmers.
Anyone who wants to make a donation to the EA-WR Foundation can contact the EAWR Foundation at 777 N. Wood River Ave., Wood River, IL 62095; or call (618) 254-3151, ext. 2502.