Tuesday, July 23, 2002
They began their lives in the Roaring Twenties, spent their youths in the Great Depression and graduated to a world at war.
They were the first class to graduate after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Of the 60 January grads and the 154 June grads of Campbell High School, more than 50 headed off to war. They were the Class of '42, and this year will be their 60th reunion.
"We were very patriotic, really gung-ho," recalled Bill Peyko, who could do little about his own patriotism, having graduated from Campbell High at the tender age of 15. (Now, his curling mustache gives the Vienna resident the appearance of Salvador Dali.)
"Some boys went in [to the service] before they graduated because they were 18," said Elmer Gayetsky of Campbell. He was only 17 when he graduated, and he had to wait a year to become an Air Force weather observer. Now, he sits at a table with four of his former classmates and me in Johnny's on Midlothian in Youngstown. He is tanned, bald on top, slim and wearing a jean shirt.
Virginia Wasko Gorsky, sitting across the table from Elmer, has spearheaded the class's reunions since 1947. She said, "We graduated with a sense that we had to start sacrificing. We had 60 boys in our class and 53 of them went into the service after graduation. All but six or seven made it back."
"We had several women in the WACS and WAVES, too," Bill said. "I'll tell you something else about our class of graduates -- I don't think one of us ended up in jail. Astonishing."
The bombing of Pearl Harbor was just a month before Elinor Rushen DiPiero and Eleanor Verba's January graduation from Campbell. "It hadn't sunk in," Elinor recalled.
"I do remember being concerned though," the other Eleanor said, "because I had two brothers."
Campbell's Class of '42 has had just three formal reunions: the fifth, 15th and 50th. After the last one, they met for four annual picnics, and about 20 graduates try to get together for a monthly luncheon, among them the five who came to talk to me over lunch. But the 60th reunion is to be another formal event. Why the 60th? I wondered.
"'Cause it's a pretty big number," Elinor answered. The number of surviving Class of '42 graduates is slowly dwindling. The January Class of '42 will remember 30 graduates in memoriam. A third of the June grads have passed on.
"We think around 55 will come, including spouses," Virginia said. "You don't know till you get there."
Said Bill, "At the 20th, we're bragging about how rich we are. Now we brag about our children's accomplishments. The thing is that the people are really basically the same. The funny people are still funny. ... The go-getters are still go-getters. Another funny thing is that you can pick right up after not seeing one another for years."
"And some didn't change at all," Elmer said.
"And there are some," Elinor said, "you look at and can't believe they are who they say they are."
Campbell's '42 grads, according to the reunion committee, became doctors, engineers, nurses and a physicist. They had policemen, firefighters and "a good percentage of guys who went to the mills," but many only while they attended college.
"Quite a few had the GI Bill," Virginia explained.
"We didn't have any politicians, I don't think," said Elmer, who was an electrical engineer for Wean United. Bill worked as a special education teacher at Chaney High at the end of his career.
Besides being married and rearing four children, Virginia taught fourth grade math and science in two parochial schools. Elinor attended Youngstown Business College and did office work. Eleanor worked at Strouss' houseware office for 42 years.
"It's as if the years in between didn't pass. You pick up from where you were in school," Virginia said. "Even when you see someone who has changed a lot, you still know them. There's something in every person you recognize."