Class of ‘61 to celebrate 50th reunion

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Joan Sherman always thought she would attend her 50th high school reunion with husband and fellow Great Neck North High School alum Michael Sherman.

The two met in nursery school and even double dated at their senior prom.

“I didn’t go home with my date, I went home with him,” said Sherman, quickly adding that she and her future husband had each attended the prom with friends. “There was no question – we knew that first summer we were together forever.”

Their plans were cut short when, after 47 years of marriage, Michael passed on. Working through her grief, Sherman used Facebook to reconnect with old high school friends.

“After 50 years, it became very exciting,” Sherman said.

With the prospect of their 50th high school reunion “looming,” Sherman took the helm. Her plans will be fulfilled this weekend when the Great Neck North class of 1961 ascends on Great Neck for a fun-filled weekend of wining, dining, dancing, and reminiscing.

Also celebrating their 50th this weekend is the Great Neck South High School class of 1961, said Carol Jacobs Mendez, who started coordinating the last-minute gathering in January.

“I think a 50-year celebration of anything is huge,” Sherman said. “How many people get to celebrate a 50-year anniversary of anything? Marriages are cut short. A 50-year anniversary is special.”

The North High class of 1961 had 365 graduates. Sherman was able to locate about 80 percent. Of those, 140 people had planned to attend the reunion.

Notable Great Neck North graduates include the father of the DVD, Warren Lieberfarb; the late Richard Rosenblatt, a.k.a Ritchie Cordell, who wrote “Mony Mony,” and “I Think We’re Alone Now;” the late Richard Gruen, who gave Bill Gates and Paul Allen their first computer jobs when they were in high school; and the late Julia Phillips, who produced “Taxi Driver,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “The Sting,” which won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Phillips was the first woman to produce a film that won the best-picture Oscar.

Mendez started planning a Great Neck South reunion on the peninsula when it became clear the only reunion would be held in Florida.

“I said, “I would love to attend a reunion, but I think it should be back in Great Neck where our memories are,”” Mendez said. ” I did not get a very positive response back from them.”

Although another reunion will be held in Florida in November, Mendez said alumni are returning to Great Neck from as far away as Rome, Italy.

After a Friday night pizza party, North and South will have an opportunity to “meet and greet and share memories of junior high together,” Mendez said.

The class of 1961 was among the first to graduate from South High, having attended the newly built school from 10th through 12th grade.

Of the 250 students in her graduating class, 60 planned to attend the reunion.

“I think we’ve done pretty good since we started in January,” Mendez said. “We all shared a part of our lives together. It doesn’t matter how close we were at that time, but now to be able to come back and to connect with those memories and to laugh, for me that has been priceless.”

Perhaps the most famous South alum is Bruce Paltrow, a director/producer who died in 2002. Paltrow was also the husband of actress Blythe Danner and father of actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Also noteworthy are the 20 alumni who served in the U.S. military.

“Yeah, it’s great you became a movie star or producer, but in the grand scheme of things, I think these are the guys who deserve to be honored,” Mendez said. “Many of the classmates have suffered some really major losses and sadness in their lives, and have managed to pick up and move on with life. Those to me are the heroes. Those to me are the people who deserve recognition.”

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