By Sean Barron
It usually follows that most high-school classmates lose contact with one another after graduation and college.
Sure, many gather for reunions and other important events, but in between, the lives of former students and those they spent years with in school rarely intersect.
Nevertheless, a local group is trying its best to create more intersections.
“We’re finally getting together after all these years,” said John Thomas, one of three founders of Youngstown Eastside Friends and Family, a group of current and former East Side residents who went to school together, grew up together or both.
The other two founders are Bob Walley and John Rudy. The three spoke about the group recently during its first summer picnic at the Maronite Center, 1555 S. Meridian Road.
Rudy said that he and Walley grew up a few houses apart, and that most members are graduates of Ursuline or North high schools.
The three also share a closeness that includes having been in Walley’s wedding and attending Rudy’s daughter’s baptism, they said.
The group, which has between 70 and 75 members, meets the third Saturday of each month at various area locations, noted Thomas of Canfield, a self-employed real-estate appraiser. Most members are in their 50s and 60s, he added.
An exception, however, is Helen Desimone of Cornersburg, who, at 94, is Friends and Family’s oldest member.
Desimone fondly recalled having lived 65 years on Oak Street and said she was grateful to see old neighbors at the picnic.
Accompanying Desimone was her daughter Roseann Cullen of Boardman, who grew up on Oak.
“You just can’t take the East Side out of people, no matter where they go,” said Cullen, as she recalled growing up during simpler times amid neighbors who looked out for one another.
Also in attendance was 82-year-old Martha Bucci, a lifelong East Sider who plans to join Friends and Family.
“God willing and I feel good, I’ll be going” to get-togethers, said Bucci, adding that she lived 54 years on Bennington Avenue.
Bucci, who worked 32 years as a caterer at Mount Carmel Church, said she has nothing but positive feelings toward her neighbors and neighborhood.
Many of the estimated 60 at the picnic shared recollections of everything from playing baseball together to engaging in minor neighborhood pranks. Others reminisced about neighbors, favorite teachers and school happenings.
The group’s first official meeting was in March, noted Rudy, who still lives on the East Side and works in St. Elizabeth Health Center’s maintenance department. The three founders talked to people they were in contact with, then the membership increased through word of mouth, he said.
“I couldn’t have asked to grow up with better people,” said Walley, who lives in Beaver Township.
For more information about Eastside Friends and Family, go to its website, www.eastsidekids.info or call Thomas at 330-507-5272.