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1957 Pierson grads enjoy frequent reunions

Longtime friends — Catching up and reminiscing about old times are 1957 Pierson High School graduates, clockwise from left, Lorine Hansen, Judy Phelps, Carol Beeler, Louis Robinson, Carolyn Denton, Thomas Rees and Donald Thornton. They met Oct. 26 at the Pierson Family Restaurant. About half of the Class of 1957 meets every month or two, picking a different location each time. Rees’ daughter Debbie Raker and Hansen’s daughter Donna Greenlund also joined the group. Louis Robinson’s wife, Joan, who graduated

Longtime friends — Catching up and reminiscing about old times are 1957 Pierson High School graduates, clockwise from left, Lorine Hansen, Judy Phelps, Carol Beeler, Louis Robinson, Carolyn Denton, Thomas Rees and Donald Thornton. They met Oct. 26 at the Pierson Family Restaurant. About half of the Class of 1957 meets every month or two, picking a different location each time. Rees’ daughter Debbie Raker and Hansen’s daughter Donna Greenlund also joined the group. Louis Robinson’s wife, Joan, who graduated from Pierson High School in 1959, also regularly attends.

BEACON PHOTO/ERIKA WEBB

Carolyn Denton of DeLeon Springs graduated from Pierson High School in 1957. There were 16 students in her graduating class.

Sixty years later, more than half of the 12 still-living classmates meet on a regular basis. 

“At least seven or eight of us, every month or two, just sort of get together,” Denton said. “We’ve been doing that for a year or better.”

Denton and her best friend, Carol Beeler, were cheerleaders, and led the rooting for Pierson’s basketball and baseball teams.

“Seville was our arch rival,” Denton said, laughing. “And DeLand, too.”

Her continued high energy and zest for life make it easy to imagine Denton sparking school spirit. 

Denton travels frequently, bowls in a league, and keeps pace with five adult children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. 

Even though she recently injured her foot and is in a walking cast, she wasn’t about to miss the October Class of 1957 meetup, scheduled two days before her granddaughter’s wedding.

With fall in the air, Homecoming a few weeks in the rearview, and Halloween on the horizon, Pierson Family Restaurant seemed a fitting place to dine and dish about the past, present and future.

On the first chilly evening of the season, the group gathered in the cozy diner around a large table.

For two hours, there were no lapses in chatter and few conversations that weren’t punctuated by uproarious laughter.

“Old times,” several classmates said when asked what is discussed most often.

Denton has fond memories of camping at Salt Springs with her sisters and parents and Lorine Hansen and her sisters and parents. There were three girls in each family.

Denton grinned as she recalled classmate Judy Phelps’ mother putting up a tent in the front yard where “a bunch of girls” would spend the night.

Phelps recounted a story about her mother shopping for dresses at Betty Dreka’s in Downtown DeLand.

Growing up in Emporia — a few miles from Pierson’s town limits — Denton said she missed out on some of the mischief, mostly created by the boys, she added.

One of those “boys” is now Pierson Mayor James “Jimmy” Sowell.

Though unable to attend the October dinner, Sowell and his wife are among the regulars, Denton said. 

“The boys here get together and talk about some of the stuff they did,” she said. “It was mischievous, but not harmful, fun.”

And so it went over the chicken-and-gravy-over-rice special, roast beef and mashed potatoes, salads, sandwiches and more.  

“Sometimes we don’t even talk about our kids,” said Joan Robinson of DeLand.

Robinson is Denton’s sister. She graduated from Pierson High in 1959. But her husband, Louis Robinson, was in Denton’s class.

“Joan chased Louis until he slowed down,” Denton said, laughing heartily.

Seated on Denton’s left was Thomas Rees, who lives in Interlachen, about 54 miles northwest of Pierson. 

Distance doesn’t seem to bother the group members.

They choose restaurants from Palatka, Ormond Beach — where Donald Thornton lives — to  Sanford and points in between. 

Rees, who served in the U.S. Navy and worked communications in the White House basement during the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations, got the regular-reunion idea from the Pierson Lions Club’s “old timer” gatherings. 

His mother used to cut Phelps’ son’s hair. That son is now 56 years old.

Rees and Denton each experienced the death of a spouse within a short time of one another. 

Commiserating over those kinds of experiences, along with memories, is just one of many benefits the former classmates enjoy. 

Rees’ daughter Debbie Raker and Hansen’s daughter Donna Greenlund listened with rapt attention to the banter, which switched easily from the past to the present and the future.

Among future events is the big annual reunion, including all of the school’s alumni, which takes place every April at DeLeon Springs. Plans are in the works for 2018.

The eternally energetic Denton is in charge.

“We try to get as many people from the classes together as we can. We’re beginning to lose all the old people, so the old people are us,” she said, laughing some more. 

Away from the frenetic world outside of low-key Pierson’s boundaries, Greenlund appreciates what can be gleaned from her elders. She thoroughly enjoys the outings.

“I think it’s kinda cool,” she said. “It seems like the only way I ever see anybody is at the funeral home for visitation. It’s nice to see everyone alive.”

Leaving the warmth and cheer of the restaurant and driving into the deep quiet and descending darkness, attention pulls to the tall, thick pines silhouetted along the deserted highway. 

Through winds and fire and years they’ve stood, escaping the excavators of progress, as though duty-bound to frame the past and greet what’s yet to come.

— Erika Webb, erika@beacononlinenews.com 

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