by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Recently I found a half dozen or so of my grandchildren all sitting on the same swing and, as I began to exhort them about the possible dangers of their action, they informed me that they had set a world record for having the most people on one swing. We live in a day when people seem to take great pleasure in “making history” by accomplishing something that has never been done before. So I made personal history in 1956. I graduated from high school! From Laconia High School, right here in New Hampshire. Let me tell you about that class of sixty years ago.
First, let me point out that in writing this I followed the advice of my Journalism teacher, William Morrison, by not starting a story with “the”. “a”, or “an”. Furthermore, I will endeavor to heed the instruction of English teacher, Richard Benshimol and “get away from get” by not using that word again in this account of the class of 1956. I probably wouldn’t remember that if Mr. Benshimol, also Class Sponsor, had not made us write down in a notebook his rules for the use of English . Moreover, because I still have my Chemistry notes, I can tell you that Howard Wagner guided us in beginning experiments he labeled water to wine, making rubber, a flash of light, colored fire, and spontaneous combustion. All of our teachers were very important in our learning process and thus really a part of our high school class.
Though the classes in different subjects were the most important part of our schooling, LHS offered many opportunities for extra-curricular activities for those meeting eligibility requirements, meaning they were available, but not required or guaranteed. I say not guaranteed because one year I decided I would try out for the Junior Varsity baseball team with the hope that the coach would notice some undeveloped potential that would land me on the team, but after a day or two of practice my name was not among those listed to return for further practice sessions. My extra-curricular activities were mostly limited to being a spectator while many of my classmates excelled in numerous activities. Though being a student from “out of town”, circumstances enabled me to attend many of the football and basketball games. Jim Casey and Dean Leighton were co-captains of the basketball team for the 1955-56 season coached by Mr. Watson.
Class officers for the LHS class of 1956 were President Richard Perley, Vice-President Lawrence Simoneau, Secretary Beverly Fay, and Treasurer Normand Lacasse. Representing the class on the Student Council were Charlie Clark, Helen King, Artie Perdikis, and Penny Pitou (yes, the Olympic skier). According to the school newspaper, The Lakonian, in its Feb. 29, 1956 issue, three members of the class of 1956 were among those qualifying to participate in the National Speech Tournament in Muskogee, Oklahoma. They were Norma Morin, William Bisson, and Wilburn Sims. The class was well represented by some Future Farmers of America members, including John Hodsdon in State Speaking Contests and Ralph Scribner (1956 FFA President) and Ray Hayes (Vice-President) who were awarded prizes for exhibits at the Eastern States Exhibition.
Memories that come back of Laconia High School include the bells ringing to announce the end and beginning of classes, the walks through the halls with the Traffic Squad making sure the proper procedures are kept, going through the tunnel to the cafeteria in the building used by the classes involved with industrial arts, and my mechanical drawing class in that building. I recall the occasional assemblies for the whole student body, a welcome break from a class during that time, the study halls in the cafeteria when lunch was not being served, and the gym or physical education classes, including the tumbling (gymnastics, I guess), along with the outdoor sessions of touch football and the one time I carried the ball on a kickoff and returned it for a number of yards though neglecting to follow the blockers ahead of me. I remember making new friends, even though I was probably the shyest guy in the class, so shy that I was even passed over in the superlatives of 1956 under the shyest members of the class. There was the fellow student who sat beside me in Mr. Crowther’s biology class who talked me into playing some kind of penny flipping game, a game which ended when I realized I was losing all my pennies to him. It has been only a few years since I’ve reconnected with the class and would like to acknowledge the recent leadership of Cecily Ballou, and current Reunion Committee members Bev Robinson, Joyce Olsen. Bruce Papps, Saralee Wheeler, Norm Lacasse, Paula Moore, Bev Francoeur, Charlotte Bagley, Mary Jones, and Bob King. Note: I’ve used last names as they were in 1956.
Being a sports enthusiast in high school also allowed one to appreciate the talents shown by the band, directed by Bernard Williams, and the cheerleaders, which during the 1955-6 year included two pairs of twins and winning First Place in the Manchester Union Cheerleading contest. I can almost hear the chants and cheers filling the gymnasium and the yell to “Go Sachems!”
School Superintendent Rhoden Eddy wrote in the 1956 Lakon (the yearbook) that “ The interest manifested in ‘school spirit’ by the Laconia High School student body this year stirs me deeply. My feelings are a warm mixture of gratification- of elation – of hope.” The Yearbook was dedicated to Principal Donald F. Piper who was called the “Dad” of the student body. I had great respect for Mr. Piper. In concluding his message to the class of 1956 Mr. Piper quoted the admonition to “Live among men as if God beheld you; speak to God as if men were listening.”
Class of 1956 President Richard L. Perley wrote, “These good things that we have and are now experiencing will lead us on to better and more interesting things, while the old ones are set aside to look back upon whenever we wish. ” The Class of 1956 is gathering together on Saturday, September 17th , setting aside that day to look back and remember.