Forged in the crucible of the ’60s

St. Margaret’s class of 1968 gets reacquainted

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The 1960s saw the faces of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It withstood the Cuban missile crisis, and won the moon race with Neil Armstrong as its champion. 

The ‘60s had it moments, and the young minds from the 1968 class of St. Margaret of Cortona School are the ones that remember it most. More than 40 graduates returned to the West 260th Street school recently for the 50th anniversary of their time in their old elementary school.

“I remember sitting in the classroom and our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Fitzgerald, was crying because of the assassination of JFK,” said Joe Gunn, a member of that class, and one of the organizers of the reunion. “Then we watched the assassination of the guy that killed JFK live. We watched him get shot right in the stomach. I was 9 years old, and it was Sunday.”

At the reunion, the diversity in professions was both impressive and wide-ranging. Graduates varied from firefighters, doctors, lawyers, service members, to people who work in media, corporate America and the government. 

Some are also now parents, grandparents, and even retired.

“It was nice hitting it off with old friends and catching up with them,” said Frankee Gaetano, another member of the class. “We had a real admiral there. It was nice to see that we made it and who had families and things like that. We were having a great time and the time we had with everyone just seemed too short.” 

To their surprise, their old third grade teacher, Sister Margaret, was even in attendance. 

Through monthly meetings, research and phone calls, Gunn, Gaetano, and several other alums discovered that out of the 98 graduates, 38 had died and 11 were untraceable. 

They didn’t waver, however, ultimately connecting with 74 classmates, and convincing a little more than half of them to make a trip back to the Bronx.

That was all thanks to old-fashioned detective work through the school, the St. Margaret of Cortona Church, as well as social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Google. In the end, they pulled off a 50-year reunion — a first for St. Margaret.

“Everybody did well,” said Mike Courtney, one of the classmates who helped in the search. “And that doesn’t always happen.”

Courtney had heard about high school and college reunions, but grade school reunions? They were rare. He credits St. Margaret for playing a role not only in his childhood, but in his adult life as well. But it wasn’t until he stood in front of St. Margaret’s church, reading a eulogy at his mother’s funeral, he started considering the idea.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get everyone together,” said Courtney, now a retired firefighter. “We just took the bull by the horns, and it all started there. It seemed like an impossibility, especially in the beginning. But the more impossible we thought it was, the more doable it became.”

Gunn’s reunion job was to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia through music. The ‘60s were an era of Motown, girl groups galore, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and folk rock. 

“I challenge anyone to put their music against ours,” Gunn dared. “We wanted people to say, ‘I haven’t heard that in forever,’ and open up something that hasn’t been opened in years.”

And when it came time to escape back in those days, kids like Gunn did it through television.

“We had ‘Bewitched,’ ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ and I think they were like that to take our attention away from all the bad things happening in the world,” Gunn said.

Graduates reminisced as they walked around the neighborhood and toured the school. 

They spoke about Vietnam, sports legends, and the education they had received at St. Margaret. It was there students learned a sense of community.

“We hope that the reunion pushes a continuation of friendships and I encourage other schools to do it, because it’s doable,” Gunn said. “You learn that you share each other’s success. St. Margaret was the foundation.”

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