DHS class of 1969 plans 50th reunion
Nixon, Motown, Vietnam, The Rolling Stones and Lucky Strike cigarettes were words often heard in 1969, the year that Darien High School’s seniors were getting ready to graduate and begin a new chapter in their lives.
Now, 50 years later, the class is once again coming together for a reunion. The big bash will take place from Aug. 9 to 11 at a variety of venues including the Sugarbowl, Ridgefield Golf Course, Tokeneke Club, and Weed Beach. Details can be found at darienhigh69.com.
At a table in the Darien Library recently, the past five decades melted away as three graduates of the class of 1969 — John van den Heuvel, Josie Mullen and Ed Tyler — recalled memories of their younger selves and former classmates.
All three, who are now all 68, are Darien residents.
“We consider our class a special class,” said Mullen, a retired educator in Darien who was senior class officer and head cheerleader. “We were enthusiastic, driven, high achieving, and creative.”
The senior class helped organize three concerts at Darien High School: Richie Havens, Sam & Dave, and Blood, Sweat & Tears, who all performed in the school’s auditorium.
“There were a lot of musical groups who were just coming on the scene,” said Tyler, a house painter. “It was a big deal to secure an artist at the time.”
Each concert was “packed,” Tyler said.
“For Sam & Dave, people dressed up hip-hoppy and got into the whole Motown,” said van den Heuvel, a retired accountant.
“Motown was huge for everybody,” he added.
“I was singing and dancing,” van den Heuvel recalls of the night Sam & Dave performed. “Their big hit was ‘Hold On, I’m Coming.’”
When thinking back to the teachers who made the most impression on them, Van den Heuvel brought up Richard Hofsteder, who taught English.
“He pushed you,” Van den Heuvel said. “You wanted to do well.”
“You could never tell what was behind his glasses,” he added.
The motto of coach Isadore [Izzy] Battino, who taught gymnastics and physical education, was ‘Don’t cheat your body,’” he added.
“He was a short guy and he played banjo. He was funny, but intense,” according to Van den Heuvel.
Ed Higgins, who taught Contemporary Social Issues, was “challenging but very affable,” Mullen recalled.
On many Friday nights, canteen dances were held in the school cafeteria.
“They were well-chaperoned,” according to Van den Heuvel.
“It was a good place to let off steam,” Mullen said.
Students who planned on attending the dances were asked to fill out a data sheet with questions, and then were given a list of names of classmates who were most compatible to them.
“The computer tried to match you up with a suitable dance partner,” Van den Heuvel said.
Questions on the sheet included: How attractive are you? and how social are you?
“We hole-punched our answers with a lead pencil,” he said.
Senior Skip Day
In May, the class of ’69 had Senior Skip Day.
Word of it went around the school cafeteria and by telephone the day before the event.
“It was very impromptu to keep the authorities off balance,” van den Heuvel said.
About 250 seniors skipped school on Senior Skip Day, going to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in N.Y.
“We played music, softball, and drank beer,” Tyler recalled. “I liked Rheingold Extra Dry.”
As a part-time job during his senior year, Van den Heuvel cut grass and shoveled driveways.
Tyler worked at the former Darien Car Wash, which was located where the library now is. He also delivered fresh cut flowers for Jerry Nielson of Nielsen’s Florist & Garden Shop.
Teenagers were a lot more independent when traveling around town back then than they are today, according to Tyler.
“I would go to work and I’d get home by myself,” Tyler said. “No one came and picked me up. You walked everywhere. People [usually] had one car in their family.”
Family life, according to Mullen, “wasn’t so structured, nor as frenetic,” Mullen said. “Parents weren’t chaperones and helicoptering.”
Drugs, drinking, smoking
It was in 1969 that “the generation started dividing. Marijuana was filtering in and it was starting to make an impact on the youth,” Van den Heuvel said.
Those who smoked marijuana were called “fuelies” and “gasers,” Tyler said.
Since New York’s legal drinking age was 18 at the time, seniors would often make trips to bars in Port Chester, N.Y., which “is right over the line,” Tyler said.
Drinking also took place right in town. “Some guys would go to the old Darien Library location on Thursday nights to drink,” he added.
The advertising in those days encouraged smoking, Tyler said. “The cigarette ads were of Marlboro Man, Winston, and Lucky Strike. I smoked Camel.”
“The youth were feeling their oats by senior year,” Mullen said. “You experiment and you test.”
In the news
The year 1969 was “an intense time given time the world events and our age,” van den Heuvel said.
“Vietnam was a very contentious topic. The kids were all against it,” he added, recalling a classmate he heard got drafted “into the front lines.”
“There was so much between the war, the first man on the moon, Woodstock, and the assassinations,” van den Heuvel said. “Things were happening all around us.”