Though it’s been 60 years since Langley High School’s class of 1957 graduated, bonds between classmates never diminished.
“We’re just like brothers and sisters,” Clinton resident Mary Sue Lile said.
Fourteen people from that long ago class attended a reunion on Wednesday at Hong Kong Gardens in Clinton, visiting with old friends from a time when the space race was just taking off and Elvis was still King. The class has held reunions incrementally over the years, including 25, 40, 50 and 55-year reunions.
Those present at the gathering made up nearly half of the 37 total graduates from 1957.
Lile was among eight of those who grew up on South Whidbey and was in the Langley school system since the first grade; back then grades 1-12 were all on the same campus. Times were far different back then, Lile said.
“Life was a whole lot slower. You had time for people.”
Time and distance separated the classmates as they moved off the island after graduation. Lile moved away for 20 years, but later returned to the Clinton area near French Road.
Jerry Kaufman, 78, of Burlington played football, basketball, baseball and was on the track and field team for the Falcons. He came to South Whidbey in 1954 and remembered it being very rural and “poor as hell.” Kaufman considers it a stark contrast to South Whidbey today.
“It’s an unbelievable difference,” Kaufman said. “The community was poor.”
“It’s a tourist attraction now,” he added, referring specifically to Langley being named one of the “Happiest Seaside Towns” in the country in Coastal Living Magazine.
He noted that despite the rural setting at the time, 50 percent of the boys earned college degrees. Kaufman gave credit to a longtime sports icon in the South Whidbey community for helping push them academically.
“I think Coach (Jim) Leierer had a lot to do with that,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman now lives in Burlington, where he has served as a commissioner for the Port of Skagit. He says he founded the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which draws about 300,000 people per year.
Kaufman said most of the class is still alive, though a few have died. He said it speaks volumes about the level of medical care people can access in today’s world. Kaufman also exercises regularly by playing basketball.
“It has to be,” Kaufman said. “I look in the mirror and I’m going, ‘Jesus, how’d you ever go that long?’
Louise Becker-Burton, the oldest person in her class at 79, was another student who went through the Langley school system from first grade to senior.
“It’s hard to realize it’s been 60 years since we graduated,” Becker-Burton said.
Asked how she perceives the time that’s passed, Becker-Burton said, “It went pretty fast.”
Things were different for young women in the 1950s at the high school, especially in sports, Becker-Burton said. Girls weren’t allowed to dribble the basketball as much as the boys, while they also couldn’t run down the full length of the court.
There was also no girls basketball team.
“During PE is when we could play,” Becker-Burton said. “My granddaughter played basketball. To see them run up and down the court, I always wondered why they figured we were too weak in order to run like that. Everything is so different now.”
Like others, she was sad to see Langley Middle School closed, but understood the reasoning for doing so.
“It’s sad to see that go, it really is,” Becker-Burton said. “We were in the fourth grade when they built the gym.”
“We sang the Alma Mater together as a remembrance of Langley High,” added Lile.