--By Emily Royalty
TOWNSEND -- Fifty years ago, for the first time ever, the high school seniors of Townsend and Pepperell united as a single class beneath the roof of the then-brand-new North Middlesex Regional High School.
Prior to that, the two towns had been sports rivals. Five decades later, many of them still vividly recall first impressions of their new classmates, formerly bitter adversaries.
"I think we were all kind of apprehensive at first," said Paula Colby Miller of Townsend.
The apprehension didn't last long, however.
"After we melded, everything was great, it was a tremendous mixture... there wasn't any animosity or unpleasantness," said Jim Colburn, former Pepperell resident.
"We just kind of connected instantly and we became one," said Mary Boettcher, formerly of Pepperell.
In fact, said Boettcher of Miller, "We've remained close friends ever since."
Although come of the graduates stayed close throughout the years, that wasn't the case for everybody: When the students walked the graduation stage in 1962, it was the last time many of them would see each other-- that is until Saturday, Sept. 8, when they came in from across the country and meet once again in the VFW for North Middlesex High School's first ever 50th high school reunion.
The festivities began the night before, when several of the returned students toured the high school and dined at Bailey's Bar and Grill, formerly the location of a burger stand called Brownies.
"It's like we never were apart. (Dinner at Bailey's) wasn't like a class reunion, it was just friends getting together. We haven't seen each other, some of us for 50 years. But it was like it was back in high school," said Boettcher.
The weekend not only marked a milestone for the graduates and the school, it was also what could be the final time the group will be reunited.
"This is the last time we're probably ever going to do this," said the primary organizer of the event, Joanie Lynde.
Lynde said the most difficult part of organizing was locating everybody; out of 94 graduates, the remaining 84 were spread out across the country pursuing a variety of different careers. While several alumni were unable to attend, the group was nonetheless happy to be able to gather with as many classmates as possible.
"It's exciting, it's enjoyable to see that a lot of them are still alive, still kicking, still doing well. It's surprising how many look just like what I remember their mother and father looked like," said Colburn.
"It's so nice, and it's emotional. I think people make more of an effort to know people as they get older," said Miller.
And it wasn't just former students; Larry Wood, who had been the business teacher for the graduating class, made it out to see his former students. Lynde credited Wood for preparing her for the administrative world, which she entered right after high school.
"It feels great, it's very gratifying," said Wood, who taught for a total of 32 years between North Middlesex and Spaulding School.
In 1962, the union between the students from the two towns wasn't the only first to occur for the school that year. It was the first year either town had a full cafeteria, a large-scale gymnasium, a full-day schedule and what to some seemed to be unlimited extra-curricular activities.
"(Before our senior year) we had a minimal amount of hours for school, but we get to North Middlesex and we have a big cafeteria, a big gym, everything you can imagine -- extra-curricular shop, home ec, band, just everything. It was like being in a candy store," said Lynde. "Plus we had sports like field hockey that we'd never had before. The girl's basketball rules started to change that year and it was the first real football team for either town."
Not to mention that the Boston Celtics was the first team to ever dribble a ball in the new gym.
"Joe Sullivan, the basketball coach, had someone he knew in the Celtics' management. It wasn't the whole team but they put on a wonderful exhibition," said Lynde.
"That was pretty neat. It was impressive," said Jim McClellan, former Pepperell resident.
Students nowadays are much less likely to be see such milestones, and that's not all that's changed in school since the class's graduation. Social cliques, the former students said, are a fairly recent development and were virtually non-existent when they went to school; even coming together as former rivals, the students felt no division amongst one another, something that is much less commonplace with students today.
"It was totally different 50 years ago. We did fun things, silly things but we all did it together...We were more easy-going, we had fun, we played practical jokes. We had completely unique relationships. We just merged," said Boettcher. "I wish my kids could have experienced what we experienced."