Sunday, April 10, 2022

Blest Be the Ties That Bind—The Gravitational Pull of Keystone School

For more than four decades, I’ve been one—of many—who enjoy keeping up with my classmates from Keystone School in San Antonio. Not just my high school classmates, but the activities and whereabouts from many students from classes spanning 1963–1985 have remained important to me all my life. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

High school reunions are nothing new, but for a small private school in San Antonio to have intense loyalty among several generations of students such that it borders on a feverish determination to remain connected is unique. For hours now, on the drive up and back today, I’ve thought about how it came to be that one school could mean so much to so many. It truly reminded me of the gravitational pull of Keystone, drawing so many of us near to it, bringing us back to home base over the course of our lives at different times. [Photo of Main Hall, Keystone School]

In the 1960s, gatherings were typically official holiday functions at the school. There were never blatant overtones of requests for financial support. In fact, it was the exact opposite message communicated by the leadership. They did lobby heavily for some graduates to return to the school to teach when academic studies were completed; they were purposeful and straightforward about that mission. Several graduates did just that, and the school added a broad general dimension to its growth, contributing to its primarily unspoken legacy then.

Later, reunions expanded offsite to favorite restaurants or classmates’ homes, but no matter where or how, for years we took time to meet. Individual class sizes averaged 20 students, but it was not unusual for only 10 or 11 to comprise the complete graduating class. For the next two decades, interest in reunions became more class-oriented for private gatherings. One local alum might include some 70s friends in the 60s-era gatherings but those were limited occasions.

There was no single precipitating cause for trying to reconstruct a schoolwide gathering, but time and opportunity intersected at the 10-year point past my high school graduation. It wasn’t easy to get the first reunion started, but we began in 1984. A dear friend and mentor, Tommye Brennan Howard ’63 (real name Patricia, but don’t ever call her that) and I renewed our friendship that had begun in 1962. She was my first call, and after a brief chat, we were off and running.[Photo of Tommye Brennan Howard]

In 1985 we had our first schoolwide grand reunion (since the 1960s school holiday coffee events in Keystone’s cafeteria). Ours became a two-day gathering at a local hotel ballroom, with dinner, dancing, and DJ, followed by a BBQ at the school campus the next day. The two of us spent our spare time over six months to find alums, recruit them for the weekend, and plan the event. We burned up AT&T Friends and Family calling plan with memories and reminiscences.

The school-based gathering welcomed our alumni parents and/or immediate children for a chance to visit. Some parents attended even if their children could not, having relocated out of town, because there was a great relationship throughout many classes that way. We were all as happy to see others’ parents as we would be their children.

As a five-year-old, fresh into first grade, I believe half my Keystone friends were ages 17 and older. I had a few of my own classmates of interest, but I was constantly pestering the second graders to tell me “what came after” addition and subtraction. Patiently they’d tell me about multiplication, assure me that Mrs. Kumin was wonderful and I'd love her class. I was having the time of my life with Mrs. Lucy Hines in first grade. I just wanted second grade to be as good and thus began my early days as a sleuth of sorts. Thanks to Carla Carter'73 and Marilyn Harper'73, they relieved my anxiety that I would not be disappointed in what came next. [Photos: Clockwise Mrs. Hines, Mrs. Kumin, Carla Carter, and Marilyn Harper.]

People my own age were nice but really not as interesting as the upper classmen. The high school seniors adopted me as their mascot aka "chief errand runner." When they were clear on one side of the school’s sprawling campus landscape near South Hall, in San Antonio’s Monte Vista Historic District, they wanted to get messages to their classmates who were exiting “North Hall” (the fancy term for the three story, plus basement, old adobe apartments) that featured ingress and egress via iron and concrete stairs that resembled more fire escapes than classroom pathways.

Willingly, I’d scamper “all the way over” to the other side of campus to deliver a message ala Wakefield Western Union to the classmate about the next meet-up time and location of the other seniors.

[Top: South Hall; Bottom: North Hall.]

As a first-grader as yet undiscovered food allergies kept me indoors from recess for several weeks…which found me in the school cafeteria at the same time when the Latin Club high schoolers practiced their Christmas carols for an upcoming holiday event, in Latin, of course. I loved how they sounded and paid close attention. Learning by immersion, I suppose.

In my sequestration from additional germs and temperature irritants, I picked up “Adeste Fideles” and several others and started singing them in Latin in church without the hymnal. My mother managed to keep her surprise to a minimum, just smiling and not making a big deal of it. Well, the Latin verses came right to mind so why not sing ‘em? Thank you Mrs. Sallie B. Johnson.

Conversations with various members of the class of 1963 were my favorite part of Keystone that first year. They were wise, they were kind, they smiled, and they were very, very tall. Most of all, they gave great hugs. I hugged back.

When you’re new in the world of school, and your parents had just divorced, and you were told that you couldn’t attend public school because you weren’t old enough yet to enroll…Keystone rescued me from an additional year of nice but boring kindergarten.

It became my home away from home, and for the rest of my life, I would find safety and security in any halls of learning, whether modest or grand. A feeling of calm would wash over me at the site of old (very old) wooden desks, deep rich paneling and exquisite crown molding that were built into the old mansions reconverted into our classrooms with minimal changes.

The old-timey radiators were the place to be near in the winter. My adventures would soon begin in the books in the lower school library, carry forward in my imagination, and ultimately emerge through my writing as I grew up. From countless biographies to "The Happy Hollisters," to "A Wrinkle in Time," my spare time hours were booked!

So, to stage that first reunion, it was only natural that Tommye would reach out to “her group” and I’d reach out to “my group.” The result was at least 300 students including spouses made it to one or the other reunion event. That was 1985.

Around 1994, Lizzie Newman Easterlin, my ’74 classmate, decided it was time for another reunion; this one featured mostly the 70s folks. Virtually singlehandedly, she organized another splendid weekend event and people came into SA from all over, another success. She put the call out, and whoosh, “If you build it, they will come” resulted.

Lizzie's husband at the time was new to us but he showed great enthusiasm and no signs of boredom or disinterest at (finally) meeting all the people he'd heard about for a few years. After meeting a certain group of "sciencers" as Coach Eargle called them, he walked away shaking his head, confiding to one fellow he knew well: "Don't any of you guys have regular jobs like mine? I heard 'If I tell you what I do, I'll have to kill you,' so many times." Of course they were joking...well most of them were...a few was. Let's just say their jobs required high security clearances and leave it at that.

A few years later, the reunions sort of stopped because no one was around to stage them and do the work to gather everyone. People were getting busier in their careers, families, and after some additional geographic relocations, it was harder to get a group together. Keystone officials over the years (after Coach Eargle passed away) sponsored this or that holiday gathering but no more did most of the graduates’ call San Antonio home anymore—we’d scattered to the four winds.

In the 1990s, a online group was formed, primarily of 70s/80s alumni, key 60s folks, and students who attended Keystone, even for a year or more, joined the list. It was at least a collective outreach to bring people together. Occasionally someone would start a discussion thread and others would chime in, maintaining light contact.

Other classmates found personal visits with some of their friends to be centralized to mini-reunions when they came into San Antonio. Some would come in for sporting events, e.g., a Spurs home game. A photo or two might be posted. Lives were busy and no matter what everyone was doing, we all expected to live forever. Howard Morrow organized a band, The Bad Assets, and we chose Bill Fischer's Shenanigan's Club as the site, and a musical reunion of classmates brought many of the 70s folks back in "Let's get the band back together" kind of reunion. Threat of a tornado kept some folks away but others appropriately ignored it and gathered. The Bad Assets would have another appearance at fellow group member Jay Hill's place. Jay, a classmate of Howard's who played a mean bass was kind enough to host one gathering where live music returned. Lizzie Newman and Gloria Muro Shaw (and Burton) attended, and Lisa Ransopher '75 sang with the band. The event had more talking than singing though...

Then, in 2011, a major event happened…our beloved English teacher, Jim Klaeveman, aka Ivie James Klaeveman, died. His obituary appeared in the Express-News and Lynda Tussay '73 shared it by creating a Facebook community page for Keystone alumni. We couldn’t believe he’d passed “so early,” as he seemed to be barely older than we were when he taught us.

Even as early as 11 years ago, we didn’t think we’d be losing someone we regarded so highly before we could even reach out to tell him what his teaching had meant to us. Keystonians weren’t like that anyway…there was no chorus of “To Sir with Love” being sung or anything like taking us "from crayons to perfume." In fact, we all still feel the pain of having our best word patterns and ideas smashed to bits because we were not specific, clear, concise, or logical in our presentation. He was the toughest taskmaster from whom we learned the most. We all had just been lulled into a sense of thinking the teachers we knew would always be there.

It wasn’t just me. It was so many of us finding time, when back in SA, to pop onto campus and see what had become of the “old place.” That practice began in the 1960s, and many of us “lifers” were delighted when we’d look up and see a fairly recent graduate back in town, coming to campus to visit with Mr. Greet, Prof, and Coach. Later, they would return to see Mr. Babel, Mrs. Oppenheimer, and Mr. Klaeveman, whose time at Keystone accounted for decade(s) of longevity. To remember and to be remembered was always a reward you could count on.

At least a decade ago, classmate Rick Meinig'75 would travel to San Antonio from Colorado and spend a week or two consistently in April, sometimes Easter week or Fiesta Week. During Rick's time here, many of us from the 70s and early 80s (and some spouses) would reconnect at events ranging from Spurs games to outdoor lunches at restaurants with patios. The pattern that began once soon became an annual tradition, which continues today for at least 25 of us plus or minus.

Next up: You never know what to expect at a Keystone reunion. Exciting things can happen! ...coming soon. [Note: All photos courtesy of DLW Yearbook Collection.]