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My Turn: Sewanhaka reunion elicits sweet memories

I recently attended my 50th high school reunion for Sewanhaka High School’s class of '69. What a great day! Sewanhaka High School covers parts of my Elmont (my hometown), Stewart Manor, New Hyde Park and Franklin Square. Class sizes were large back then: We were 720 students. About 120 came to the reunion.

Growing up in Elmont then was a happy time, a great environment of people. It seemed most of the students were middle-class sons and daughters of World War II veterans.

Sewanhaka’s building was — and still is — a beautiful structure. As a child I could see its tower and cupola from nearby Meacham Avenue. There was nothing like it! I also knew that someday I would attend this beautiful building. My mother would often say to us, with her Italian accent, “Some day, you go to Sewanhaka.”

Many of us '69 graduates showed up at Sewanhaka the Saturday morning of the reunion weekend for a tour of our alma mater. We were impressed by the recent renovations and additions to the high school. They included a new gymnasium, cafeteria, lobby and trophy display. Nevertheless, we couldn’t wait to proceed into the original building, which still is the majority of the high school.

Two of my friends and I went ahead of the tour to visit familiar sights. For instance, classrooms where we had Regents English, Math 10/Geometry, Physics (to this day, the hardest course I have taken). We entered the original cafeteria, now the library, and immediately began to laugh and tell stories. For instance, my mom would make sandwiches for me and my brother from dinner the night before. My friends would bargain with me to eat my homemade lunch. And I, gladly, would buy the cafeteria lunch! I can still taste the “mashed potatoes.”

Next, we went to the original gymnasium, now the junior high gym. Memories of dances and proms became vivid. We reminisced about former teachers and Friday night basketball games followed by pizza at Rex’s on Covert Avenue in Stewart Manor. We even had a “donkey basketball game,” in which actual donkeys were brought in for a game. The laughs continued.

The auditorium, which by today’s standards should be dedicated as a historic landmark, is still as beautiful as I remembered it to be. There was a group of students in the auditorium practicing for an event. Our tour guide introduced us as '69ers, at which point we received a standing ovation. How great was that? As I gazed upon these kids, I saw myself and my friends as we were back then. It’s hard to believe 50 years have gone by. What a great morning we spent with the people from our class.

That evening, we all united at the weekend’s official reunion dinner and dance. Stories were told and memories from 50 years ago were so vividly brought up, including the places where we hung out, like MilkMaid on Hempstead Turnpike (where you could make your own sundae or buy a hot dog). We recalled how we walked home from school down Meacham Avenue, experiencing the not-so-pleasant odors of the live poultry market only to come upon the sweet smell of the Italian bakery. Sapienza baked delicious bread daily.

There is something special about seeing people we grew up with. Many of us attended the same elementary school — Covert Avenue. We went way back. Life was simple: one car, one TV and a modest home. For one day, we all came together as a family to relive the moments of the past. I recall when I returned home that night, my face ached from smiling and laughing the entire day.

Anthony Sampogna,

Yaphank

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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