Clarke County High School graduates from the 1970’s gathered for a multi-class reunion at the Boyce Fire Hall in Boyce, Virginia on Saturday. Nearly 400 graduates exchanged hugs, tears and laughter with long lost friends and danced to the tunes of Clarke County’s own “Pariah”, a band revived from the 70’s for the event.
“I remember the class trip to New York City” laughed CCHS graduate Jennifer Johnson who now lives and works in Winchester. “We had a blast! We were all so excited to go to the “Big City”. A lot of kids had never been out of Clarke County before. Seeing everyone again here tonight is really great. Even though a lot of us still live within a 30-mile radius it’s odd that we don’t take the time to see each other more often. I think that it’s hard with everyone working. But we all still feel like neighbors.”
1978 graduate Sam Card said that it was wonderful to be together with so many former classmates. Card said that one of the great aspects of CCHS in the 70’s were the teachers who contributed so much knowledge and guidance to the students.
“I think of our English teacher Alice Loobe” Card shouted above the rock music being blasted through the fire hall by a warm-up band in preparation for Pariah’s debut performance. “I used to talk to her about my experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail and she introduced me to reading Shakespeare. She was a demanding but kind teacher who brought the best out of her students.”
In addition to reconnecting to long lost classmates and friends, for many of the reunion attendees the highlight of the event was the performance by Ron Baker’s band Pariah.
“How often does something this cool happen?” asked former graduate Sam Levi. Levi, who is now a plumber in Berryville, recounted memories of when Baker and his band made music at dances held in what was then known as the Legion Building but has since been converted to the Berryville Dollar Store. “One time we were all there and Ron’s amplifier broke. We all waited while he walked back to his brother’s house on Academy Street and picked up a different amplifier.”
“At the 30 year reunion we didn’t have entertainment so Ron Baker and another Pariah band member, Bill Rosenberry, decided that it would be fun to try and get the old band together in time for this reunion” said reunion organizer Hampton Thomas on Saturday.
Thomas said that he and his wife Susie took on the planning for the event while Baker and Rosenberry agreed to work on contacting Pariah’s former members to stage the band’s rebirth.
Although the death of Bill Rosenberry in early 2011 cast a pall on the planning, Baker still pushed ahead with the idea. Even though former band members Butch Price, Mike McClung and Jan White could not attend Pariah’s revival concert, Baker, who travelled from Tennessee for the reunion, was able to convince Wrennie Weir to make the trip from his home in Florida. Former Pariah member Bane Schill also joined his former band members to round out the musical trio.
Judging by the roar from the audience as Baker and Pariah took the stage the group may have to consider launching a nostalgia tour – at least through Clarke and Frederick counties.
“It’s really great to see them play again” said one reunion guest. “This brings back a lot of memories and memories are one thing that you can’t take away from a person.”
“There’s no way to describe how great this feels” said Pariah founder Ron Baker. “It’s like being in a brotherhood. It’s also a chance to show the younger kids that we can still get out there and do it.”
The 1970’s in Clarke County, like other places in the country, was a time of tremendous social change. Students and young people questioned many of the country’s traditions and authority structures with the goal of making the world a better place for future generations.
Many of Saturday’s reunion attendees recounted one memory of racial solidarity that still elicited pride nearly 40 years after it happened.
“Back in the 70’s was a little hard for our class of 1973 because that was the first time we ever had a black queen for the homecoming game and also a black band for the prom” said Berryville resident Dee Dee Liggins. “It happened because the black football players and the rest of us piled up in the office and the guys refused to play in the game until we got those things. That is only one story but to us it was great.”
Ronnie Huff, who today is an agricultural consultant in Berryville, was captain of the 1972 – 1973 football team.
“I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that we wouldn’t have played if the school hadn’t agreed to have a black band and black queen at the prom” Huff, who is white, said. “But we only had 25-30 players which was a pretty small team so we stuck together. It was a good group and we had no racial tension among us at all.”
Outside in the fire hall parking lot former graduates Bruce Tinsman and Ricky Thomas sat near each other and smoked cigarettes while recounting their former school days. Both quickly acknowledged being part of the request for adding a stronger African American component to the 1973 high school prom.
“It made me feel good to do” said Tinsman with a mischievious grin. “Back then my hair was so long that I had to move it in order to just sit down. We wanted to change the world. “
Nearby Ricky Thomas gave a laugh of agreement when he heard Tinsman’s description of long hair and new ideas.
“We were eighteen years old and it was our generation’s turn to be in charge” Thomas said. “We all felt like maybe that was our first chance to start changing things.”