More than 100 people who met old friends, danced to pop music, ate hot dogs and celebrated Amityville pride Saturday came together, in part, because of an idea that started among a small group of friends nearly 20 years ago.
Terry Edwards, president of The North Amityville Old School Association — which hosted the gathering in Belmont Lake State Park — said he had grown up in Amityville with fellow association members David Joyner, John Fields and the late Columbus Poole in the 1960s. For fun, they and other neighborhood youths often played basketball together at Bolden Mack Park on Great Neck Road.
“It was a very tightly-knit community back then,” Edwards said.
After they graduated in the 1970s, it became more difficult for everyone to stay in touch. They often reunited again only for funerals of loved ones. When Poole — who Fields fondly remembered as a “really nice guy who’d give you the shirt off his back” — died in 2002, Joyner and other friends began talking about gathering during happier occasions.
The most recent happy occasion was Saturday, the 16th annual Amityville Old School Reunion in West Babylon.
While their first reunion at Bellmore in 2004 drew 10 to 15 people, organizers kept hosting the event, watching attendance grow steadily each year. In recent years, more than 1,200 people have attended, from as far away as California.
“Every year, there’s a new story from people you haven’t seen in 20 years, 30 years. They have a story to tell,” Joyner said, remembering reconnecting with a former girlfriend at one reunion years ago and staying in contact ever since.
Madeline Quintyne-McConney, 66, an Amityville resident and the commissioner of Babylon’s Department of Human Services, said the gathering was not only a way for people to meet and reconnect with old friends, but also a way to celebrate Amityville's “rich history” positively.
“It’s become a staple in Amityville,” Quintyne-McConney said.
In past years, the gathering also featured a bereavement wall where people could honor loved ones they've lost.
Marilyn Fritz, 70, of Copiague, said her favorite moment was meeting one friend at a previous reunion whom she had not seen in 10 years. Fritz remembered crying tears of joy when the two reconnected.
“We can remember the people we lost, but it’s also a celebration of life,” Fritz said.