Last updated: January 08. 2014 11:33PM - 1636 Views

Haley Van Cox of Ithaca, N.Y., and Megan Conklin of Denver reminisce about their student days at the former Sacred Heart Elementary School in Wilkes-Barre.
Haley Van Cox of Ithaca, N.Y., and Megan Conklin of Denver reminisce about their student days at the former Sacred Heart Elementary School in Wilkes-Barre.
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Prompted by photos of some decidedly dejected-looking girls, Megan Conklin remembered how sad she and her friends were to say goodbye to Sacred Heart Elementary School back in 1996, when they finished eighth grade.

“Look at us,” she told classmate Haley Van Cox. “My mom said you’d think it was a funeral instead of a graduation.”

Life has taken the class of 1996 on all sorts of journeys since that tear-stained graduation day in Wilkes-Barre. They’ve reached their early 30s, spread all over the country, started families and embarked on diverse careers.

But they’re still super-close, said Van Cox, now of Ithaca, N.Y., who was excited to host several of her classmates and their guests at the Kingston home of her parents, Dave and Debi Cox, for a recent grade-school reunion.

The gathering, which took place the day after Christmas, attracted about 30 adults who brought along 10 children and nibbled on appetizers including Van Cox’s father’s “Famous Dip.”

“How long has it been since we’ve seen each other?” Layla Smith Miller of Collegeville asked as she wrapped Conklin and Van Cox in big bear hugs.

When they finally pulled themselves apart, Conklin and Van Cox admired Miller’s tiny son, Liam, who was carried by his dad, Rob Miller.

So, why are members of some grade-school classes close enough to reunite when many high-school classes don’t even bother anymore?

Van Cox surmises it could be because she and her classmates spent so many formative years together — sharing experiences from first through eighth grade, as many parochial-school students did, while their public-school counterparts may have been together only through sixth grade.

Facebook makes it easier to stay in touch, too, said Tammy Bergold Wenger of Kingston, who reunited with about eight of her eighth-grade classmates from Holy Saviour Elementary School’s class of 1985 in November.

After the group went out to dinner organized by two men from the class, she said, she arranged for classmates to tour their old school building, which closed in the 1990s. The closure and consolidation of so many former elementary schools around the region might contribute to a strong feeling of nostalgia, Wenger said, as might the small classes many of those schools had.

Spend eight years in proximity with just 20 or 25 classmates, and you’ll likely learn when everyone’s birthday is and perhaps even the names of everyone’s brothers and sisters. You might even remember who was allergic to chocolate, who aspired to be a race-car driver and who was always getting into trouble with the teachers.

And, surely, everyone will remember such events as the 12th birthday party when the class heartthrob got locked in the bathroom during a game of spin the bottle.

What happened next? “My cousin and her boyfriend were chaperoning us, and they had to take the bathroom door off its hinges,” reminisced Conklin, who now lives in Colorado.

But even if you attended a large grade school, as did Conklin’s boyfriend, Chad Newmark, you can still be close to your classmates.

Newmark said he had hundreds of classmates in Willow Creek Elementary School in the Denver area, and he’s still friends with the group that continued on to middle school and high school together. He’d like to organize a reunion himself, he said.

For everyone or just his friends?

“Oh, for everyone,” he said.

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