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Kids of '47 together again

More than 80 graduates from Plant High held a 55-year reunion in their old South Tampa stomping grounds.

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002

Remember when Bobby Driver went for a pass during the big football game between Plant and Hillsborough High School? The sun was in his eyes, he missed the catch, the ball hit him in the head and went sailing straight to the sky! Remember?

Remember when Charles Thrower and Lloyd Knox were climbing the big tree at the corner of Bay Street and South Boulevard and Charlie fell and broke his arm? And 12-year-old Lloyd drove Charlie all the way to Tampa General on his bicycle handlebars.

Remember parking at the Colonnade? You could drive up and order a burger and a vanilla Coke and you'd be served right in your car.

For the Plant High School class of 1947, memories swirl like so much hot fudge on a sundae, a sweet taste of times past.

Last weekend more than 80 graduates met for a two-day, 55-year reunion in their old South Tampa stomping grounds. Eyes twinkled as they talked about the glory days, their 70-something faces now creased with age yet unable to conceal excitement.

"Where's your hall pass?" one joked to another in the noisy, smiling crowd.

Conversation strayed to children and grandchildren but mostly talk was of fun times. High school cliques, once so important, had since dissolved.

They mingled at an introductory dinner at the Tampa Yacht Club, lunched at the Colonnade, one-time hangout of choice, and met for a finale of dinner and dancing at the Centre Club.

"We treasure our memories," said Tom MacDonald, 72.

"It's just great to see each other again."

Back then, only one junior high school and two elementary schools catered to South Tampa children. Most graduates have known each other since age 6, said Susan Sossamon Bulger, 72, member of the reunion organizing committee and retired elementary school teacher.

"I can't remember a time when I didn't know Lloyd," said Thrower, 74, a retired Tampa Electric Company employee. The boys grew up in same neighborhood and remained friends all through school.

Back in school Knox was nicknamed "sin killer."

"He didn't let us get away with anything," Thrower said fondly.

Now Knox is a United Methodist bishop.

Attendees donned name tags featuring class of 1947 yearbook photos. Bright pastels had replaced their square 1940s clothing. They had traded horned-rimmed glasses for thin wire ones.

"They were good kids," said Mary Snead, 94.

She's a retired Plant High School home economics and homeroom teacher. She remembers when these modern-day parents and grandparents were once just awkward teens.

"They all turned out wonderfully well," she said.

Snead's physician is a former student, John Hampton, who also treats three of his classmates.

"We've all seemed to stay close," said Hampton. Like many 1947 graduates, he left the area to attend college and join the military but returned to lay down roots. He opened his South Tampa practice less than a decade later and has lived here ever since.

In 1947, Tampa was a different city. South Tampa was less populated. Plant High School hadn't been integrated. World War II neared an end and many boys joined the military soon after graduation.

Former football player Bobby Driver grew up to become a civil engineer, while others became lawyers, writers, legislators and coaches.

Doris Miller Elliston recalls how much those career paths seemed to matter when the class reconvened in 1967, at a 20-year reunion.

This time, talk didn't center on careers.

"Everyone was trying to impress each other then, now we don't give a hoot," Elliston said.

Now, mostly retired, the group is free to just be friends, she said.

"It's great to see so many people come out for this event," said Ed Flum, class president and former captain of the football team.

Since August, a 20-member organizing committee has met once a month finalizing reunion details and contacting classmates and old friends. There were approximately 240 graduates in the class of 1947. Bulger estimates more than 50 have died and 40 could not be located.

Graduates trekked from as far as Georgia and Virginia, but many had remained in the Tampa Bay area.

The committee is toying with the idea of hosting an annual reunion rather than waiting for another five years to pass.

That would suit Rene Zacchini just fine.

"An event like this is important," said Zacchini, 72.

"You take stock in what was, what you are and who's left to share the future with."

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