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Class of '56 goes back to Bogie

A shared past and a future that includes renovation give Boca Ciega alumni much to talk about.

Published September 27, 2006

GULFPORT - In their senior class photo, they are 255 young men and women about to embark on journeys that would take them all over the world, to the highest levels of business, stints in the armed forces and lifelong teaching careers.

The year is 1956 and all of the girls are wearing dresses; many of the young men are wearing blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs and white T-shirts.

This weekend, more than 60 members of Boca Ciega High School's Class of 1956 met at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront to celebrate their 50th reunion.

Reunion organizers used alumni directories, the Internet and word-of-mouth to get in touch with former classmates. They sent out 220 letters and heard back from about 100 of the 1956 graduates, said Betty Lewis, who helped plan the reunion.

The weekend included a welcome cocktail party Friday evening and a dinner, dance and program Saturday night at the Hilton. Alumni got a special treat when Boca Ciega principal Paula Nelson - a 1979 graduate herself - led the group on a tour of the school Saturday morning.

"Everyplace we went into - the music building, the auditorium, the cafeteria - they came in and converged and wanted to hear me speak. They wanted to know what was going on at Bogie," Nelson said.

The school, at 924 58th St. S, opened in September 1953 and most of the first students came from Lealman and Disston junior high schools and St. Petersburg Senior High School. In the first year, the school housed only 10th through 12th grade; ninth-graders came the following year, Lewis said.

"We were the first group to go through all three years at the new school. Some of us were together all 12 grades, starting from Forest Hills or Gulfport Elementary School," Lewis said.

Built on palmetto scrubland, the campus has long been infamous for flooding during heavy rains. "We would take off our shoes to go to class and they would have towels ready for us by the door," Lewis said.

In 1980, drainage renovations began providing some relief to waterlogged students. In the early 1990s, the school underwent major renovation. A new music building was built and dedicated to longtime choir director Christine Baker. The gymnasium was remodeled and central air conditioning was installed.

In the fall of 1997, the school saw the addition of the Center for Wellness and Medical Professions magnet, which now serves 520 students, Nelson said.

The school will see more changes over the next two years. The first phase of construction of a new school will begin at the end of this academic year and will include demolition of four buildings, the auditorium and the cafeteria.

Lewis said the timing was bittersweet for her and her classmates. "(The Class of 2006) will be the last ones through before it's torn down," she said.

The alumni, who gathered before dinner for another group photo this weekend, want to bridge the 50-year gap that separates the two classes. They plan on donating leftover reunion funds to the school, to help financially needy seniors pay for caps and gowns and other fees that come with graduation, Lewis said.

And the group wants to have a plaque made to hang in the new building, "from us to them," Lewis said.

The making of Boca Ciega High

- Cost of 40-acre site: $29,481 plus $20,000 in site improvements.

- Cost of construction: $1,342,920.

- Groundbreaking: December 1952

- Dedication: January 1954

- Official opening: September 1953

- First principal: Richard L. Jones

Sources: A Tradition of Excellence Pinellas County Schools: 1912-1987; the Pinellas County Board of Public Instruction dedication program, January 1954.

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 19:27:42]

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