It was a Friday, at 1:55 p.m.
The fire alarm went off at Bellport High School. And just as Chick Satterly and his classmates hurried down the stairs and reached the first floor, they saw a dark cloud of smoke barreling down the hallway toward them from the left, emanating from the walkway of the campus’ adjacent older building.
Seconds later, the group safely exited the school, but entered the chaos of firemen and community members struggling to tame the fire that engulfed a section of their school on March 8, 1963.
"Everyone in the community came together that day to put out the fire," said Satterly, 68, who still lives in Bellport. "Kids had to be rescued from the second floor of the older section of the school.”
The fire, in which 47 students were rescued by firefighters using an improvised tarpaulin chute after being trapped, is something Satterly will remember for the rest of his life. And he’ll surely bring it up in conversation at his high school class' 50-year reunion on Saturday.
"We created booklets for the class documenting the fire that happened four months before graduation," Satterly said. "The community never forgot that fire and neither did our class. It was a miracle no one died."
Satterly and his twin brother Nick will be among the 36 classmates attending the school's Class of 1963 50-year reunion at the Bellport Country Club Saturday night. Nearly 100 students graduated that year.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing what people look like," said Satterly, a 50-year member of the Bellport Fire Department and retired Verizon lineman. "I can't wait."
Organizers Marian Honnett-Hughes and Elliot Borden, who originally became friends competing in the school's debate club, decided two years ago they would organize a 50-year reunion after neither was made aware of the 20-year reunion party that was held.
"It seems like most of our class left the area, so you lose track of everyone," said Honnett-Hughes, 68, of Kamuela, Hawaii. "This will give us the opportunity to reconnect again."
Classmates and teachers attending are coming in from California, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia and across Long Island, according to Honnett-Hughes.
As a drama student in high school, Honnett-Hughes played the role of Emily in the school play "Our Town" and acted in "Bye Bye Birdie" at the Gateway Playhouse.
After high school, she studied drama at South Illinois University and traveled with the USO performing for troops in Panama and Cuba. Having lived in Hawaii since 1968, she had only been back to Bellport twice. She currently manages luxury condominiums with her husband of 30 years, Matt Hughes.
Borden was salutatorian of his class. He retired five years ago after working as a dentist for 33 years.
"It’s important to have these reunions to remember where you came from and who you are today," said Borden, 67, of Villanova, Pa. "And it’s good to reflect on your past."
Borden only returns to Bellport once every two years, but says the place hasn't changed.
"Nothing ever changes. It’s pretty much exactly what it looked like 50 years ago," he said. "It's still a sleepy little village. I remember walking barefoot down Bellport Lane to the bay. It'll always be home to me."
With the reunion fast approaching and both back in the area, Honnett-Hughes and her husband, along with Borden and his wife, Susan, sat down for a quiet dinner at Porters on the Lane Thursday night.
"I'm extremely excited for this," Honnett-Hughes said. "I've been waiting so long."