Saturday, June 1, 2019

You Can Go Home Again—50 Years Later, Keystone’s Class of ’69 is Thriving and Doing Fine!

How many of you attended your 10th high school reunion? How about your 25th? How about your 50th? Well, I haven’t been able to celebrate my 50th yet, but thanks to a very generous group from Keystone School’s Class of ’69, three of us (2 of us Class of ’68 and 1 from ’74) were offered guest passes into the wonderful world of some of the school’s most accomplished and most gracious graduates I can remember. And, I remember over 300 of you.

Keystone was founded in San Antonio in 1948 by two gentlemen, William B. Greet and John H. Eargle, Jr., originally as a program for students in grades 1–8, to strengthen and improve skills of those behind in learning—reading and comprehension, the school’s earliest academic focus. More on the beginnings from another of my projects coming in the near future, but suffice it to say that adding on a high school transformed Keystone into a competitive college-prep training ground.

Below: Class of '69 reunion organizers, Velma Nanka-Bruce, Carmen Tafolla, and Ciro Ramirez

Located in San Antonio, Texas, Keystone is a private K-12 nondenominational college-prep school and, in year 71 of its existence, continues to be well respected across the country. Many of San Antonio’s most well-adjusted scholars have flown through the hallways and down the iron steps into careers that have made them very happy. Make no mistake: it’s not a nerd school nor a site in the middle of the Monte Vista Historical District where brainiacs abound. Not one of the students even slightly resembled the characters portrayed in “The Big Bang Theory.”

I never knew that other folks in town might consider us a bit nerdy. We didn’t even know the word “nerd” back then. After all, when virtually everyone belongs to the Future Scientists of America, it is easy to assume that the place was filled with rocket scientists. Yes, we did have a few of those—actual rocket scientists, I mean—photographs on a delightful Class of ’69 slide show emphasized that very fact, but most of us weren’t. We were just interested in a lot of different things, all at the same time. Although one class member was teased as having an “epic fail” with his rocket, he turned out just fine in life, with a flourishing medical practice.

Right: Ciro Ramirez and George Farinacci.

Speaking of doctors, the private party room at the restaurant where the 50th anniversary took place was filled with those holding academic and medical doctorates (including dentistry), career educators, beloved parents who worked hard inside the home, nationally respected authors, ministers, church musicians, blues harmonica players, Nashville music insider for a major recording label, civil and nuclear engineers, patent holders, those who served in the military and those who protested injustice, those who wore POW/MIA bracelets and those who served in the Peace Corps. [Left: Judy Fitzgerald Tolbert and Carmen Tafolla.]

You know what was most impressive? It was the “other things” they had done outside their primary career work that blew me away. Starting and funding a nonprofit music organization to make sure students have access to music; spending time coordinating music for churches and special events, one who was able to play one of the most challenging complex church organs at age 16 and still plays on Sundays today (that’s the spare-time gig) after having been a world leader in AIDS research from the beginning. The hours that these grads have spent encouraging other young people to reach their dreams, mentoring and allowing others to shadow them to try on careers is spectacular.

Sharing their knowledge humbly and willingly—now THAT is the Keystone I remember. If you didn’t know them from high school, or know what they’d done in their careers so far, you couldn’t pick them out of any crowd. That was because they were relaxed and happy, many who were accompanied by their spouses who enjoyed watching “old home week,” and it seemed like just another lunch hour with family friends. In fact, it was just that, except for some in the room, it had been 50 years since they’d all seen each other. And, as everyone hugged each other “hello,” it was so easy to see that everyone in the room felt about 18 again. It was like time had been suspended for 50 years. [Left: Danny Downum and M/M George Farinacci.]

Most were world travelers at some points in their lives, having never said “no” to adventure, whether for work or for pleasure. The list of achievements overflowed today—in the Class of ’69 party room. And everyone was exactly equal with everyone else because they are all family. It’s just another Walton Family reunion, minus John-boy. That’s impressive. Respect, love, good-natured laughter, and warm memories served to undergird the appreciation for all who came together from across the country or state to share important time together.

[Right: Mary Newell Pape, Patrice Hensley, Carmen Tafolla.]

One of the most important things about Keystone graduates is that all are considered equal successes just because they survived Keystone. Oh, it wasn’t like Marine basic training school rigid, but the number of books you carried home with you each night for homework could be considered “hazardous” to balance.

Funny reminiscences were shared from “back in the day,” as when Russian-born language teacher Sergei M. Apostolov attended a basketball game and said (in full accent), “I am a great athletic supporter,” which he was. The photo of “Roscoe” brought a laugh—he was the human skeleton head on history teacher Maj. Philip E. Babel’s desk, under which all students were to place their homework and/or tests when completed. The label on Roscoe’s head read: “I flunked history.” We tried not to.

Then there was when English teacher Jim Klaeveman said, “Class dismissed” that brought gales of laughter. Best photo of the set was a science teacher I’ll just refer to as Mr. O, who had drawn the ire of some female students early on in his teaching there because of some rather antiquated views of women’s abilities. He made the mistake of stating those views in his outside voice, and the women in the class got up and walked out. Not a frequent happenstance but one that was not met with opposition. At Keystone, you were encouraged to express your viewpoint as long as you did it respectfully. And how did Mr. O turn out, you ask? It was said that his outlook on life changed immeasurably after teaching Keystone’s students, and of course after he’d had his first date ever with a nice young lady (not a Keystonian). [Below: Wine bottled by "the most interesting man in our world."]

Another beautiful aspect of the school was that many of the teachers were still young enough in their credentialing to only be 5-10 years older than we were, unless they were 40 years older than we were. In fact, because Keystone was a nonprofit where it was month-to-month whether payroll could be met sometimes (I worked in the school office and the founders shared things with me because I asked questions of them), teacher salaries were not at all competitive in San Antonio.

Some of our teachers actually taught night classes at nearby San Antonio College, or St. Mary’s University, Incarnate Word, or Trinity to afford to be able to teach us. In fact, we often used the exact same college textbooks so they conveniently only needed one set of lesson plans.

As part of today’s events, special guests included Keystone’s headmaster, Dr. Billy Handmaker, and alumni coordinator, Hannah Hyde. Dr. Handmaker is exactly the headmaster to lead the school into the future as he described some of the school’s upcoming refurbishing of the present buildings (in full accordance with historical codes), and he referenced with such great ease and knowledge the various rooms, knowing where Coach Eargle’s office was, where Prof. and Mr. Greet lived, where the various locations of the Cobras student lounge was, and where the four-square courts were once. You’d have thought he’s been there for 20 years. That’s the blessing of having a headmaster who “gets” what Keystone was all about and is to become as it takes its natural course of changing to meet the demands of present-day students.

Best news also was hearing about the progress of scholarship funds available for lower-school students toward tuition, books and fee expenses. This will assure the continuation of the tremendous diversity in the student body. In reflecting today with a Class of ’69 member, we remembered that some students arrived at school being driven in late model luxury cars, others were in ten-year-old station wagons, and other students took the city bus to get to the same place.

Once inside the buildings, you couldn’t tell one student apart from another, because everyone at Keystone was family on equal footing, distinguished only by a point or two on a test score, or a place atop the Top 10 academic leader board in South Hall.. Reunion organizers presented Dr. Handmaker with a gift toward the scholarship fund from the Class of ’69. Alumni activities have been encouraged and supported substantially by the school, and it was noted that any Keystonian who wants to see the place again is most welcome to come by for a personal tour.

Following the slide show, alumni participated in a rousing game of “Who is it here who has…” questions, and for every question that was answered correctly, alums were to come up and get a brick (four different colors and sizes and would you believe that in the free choices, every alum picked out all four different types of bricks? Again, not a nerd in the batch!).

By the time the questions were done, tables were filled with bricks in front of the alumni, all rather evenly matched. Who won? That’s the beauty of the game. The winner was: The entire Class of 1969, because each one of them had encouraged, nurtured, contributed, served, given back, and furthered knowledge and inspired others to pursue their dreams both by their examples and by their actions.

As this 50 year reunion took place, it was noted by name that only one member of the class had passed away in that time. Reunion organizing committee Carmen Tafolla, Ciro Ramirez, and Velma Nanka-Bruce did an absolutely amazing job of locating as many graduates as they did. Response via the slide show (photos and life updates) was grand, and promises were made to meet again next year, because it was too much fun to wait five more years until the 55th.

For most, Keystone is a place that lives on in the hearts of those who experienced it. Time will never take away the memories of some of the very best years of their young lives, for they all went through those times—together. That’s just what family does.

It was a joy to be present today, among the upperclassmen who were my early role models, my heroes, and who showed me how to treat those students coming up in classes behind me—with love and patience. You all haven’t changed a bit, and you all will be “forever 18” to me.

Respectfully submitted,