By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
In 1958, the 354 students who graduated from Quincy High School that spring headed off into the world -- strong, bright-eyed and ready to face the challenges of life.
Today, 55 years later, 75 of them are gone. The rest are in their early 70s and realize they may be starting to reach the twilight of life's journey.
So this weekend it was time to celebrate.
The 1958 class gathered Saturday at the Town and Country Inn to cheer the memory of those who are gone and to cherish those still here.
At 6 p.m., just prior to dinner, classmates stood outside as a gentle rain splattered the hotel's east parking lot and watched as 80 white doves were released in a flurry of motion in memory of their deceased classmates.
Then the former students and their spouses went back inside and sang "I'll Fly Away" while one of their classmates, Nona Long, played the tune on her violin while perched above them on a staircase.
The group then posed for a class picture before sitting down to dinner and sharing a night full of memories from days gone by.
As with most high school reunions, Saturday's gathering was a mixture of happiness and sadness as classmates mourned those who are gone and hugged those who remain.
Long said she wanted to do something special to celebrate all the classmates who have died, so she organized the violin-led sing-along.
"I remember wonderful times with them, and I wanted to be able to laugh with them once more about the good times we've had. But I can't do that, so I do the next best thing," she said.
"What I can do -- what we can all do -- is seize this night, hug one another and have a wonderful time as the class of 1958."
The dove release was also a special way for classmates to remember not only their fellow students but also their beloved teachers and administrators, including the late R.S. Brockman, who was principal of QHS in 1958 when this group of students became the first class to graduate from what is now Baldwin Intermediate School.
"Everyone that we lost touched some of our lives in some way, so we thought that (the dove release) would signify we still have respect for them and remember them," said Dick Wentura, a member of the class.
Wentura's wife, Pat, was a key organizer of the reunion. She and her husband graduated together in 1958 and were married three years later.
"We started going together in the fifth grade," Pat Wentura said. She was a student at Emerson School back then, while Dick attended Berrian. One day Pat was selling fireworks at the corner of Fifth and State when Dick came along on his bicycle and spotted her. Sparks were ignited immediately -- and continue to smolder decades later.
The Wenturas had many of the same friends in high school, so they feel it's important to get together for class reunions every five years to catch up with everyone.
"We just feel that each day might be the last for one of us, so it's important while you still can to come here. And they do," Pat said.
Classmates traveled from as far away as Montana, California, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Tennessee for the weekend event, which actually started Friday night.
John Jackson came down from Park Ridge, a Chicago suburb, because "it's just fun to come back and see my old friends," he said.
Jackson and Dick Wentura have been friends for years, but they didn't realize until they were in high school that they were born 10 minutes apart in Quincy on Jan. 25, 1940.
Also going to great lengths to come for the reunion was Beth Prielipp, who was known as Beth Oberg in high school. She lives in Salina, Kan., and doesn't drive. Her husband wasn't able to drive her to Quincy this weekend for medical reasons, so Prielipp hired her regular taxi driver to drive her here using her own car.
Prielipp, a retired math teacher, said she felt it was important to come for this year's reunion because it might be her last. She also wanted to visit some other long-time friends who still live in town.
"I don't think I'll ever get back to Quincy again," she said. "This has been great."