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After 40 years, St. James 'Royal Pride' still shines

They sealed their royal blue and white colors into their school building when it closed 40 years ago. And the Class of 1969 of St. James High School in Grand Forks was determined to go out in a blaze of glory.

They sealed their royal blue and white colors into their school building when it closed 40 years ago. And the Class of 1969 of St. James High School in Grand Forks was determined to go out in a blaze of glory.

When they came back for their 40th reunion last weekend, they visited Wesley United Methodist Church -- in the building that used to be their school. The sting and the sadness of the school closing for economic reasons is part of their past. The old grads, now approaching 60, are philosophical about it.

Ben Parkos, who married classmate Debby Fearing, said at the reunion mixer at Joe Black's, "We were a tight-knit class and I think we benefited from our Catholic upbringing." Parkos works as an automobile body repairman and plays the drums on the side. He remem-bers fondly the athletics at St. James. He came away from them with the lifelong belief that when you stick together, you win.

The Class of 1969 was competitive in sports. Their basketball team lost to Red River High School in the finals of the state tournament. Their hockey team went down to the wire in the state tournament before losing to Central High School.

These are the things they talk about when they get together. And they talk of Royal Pride. Terri McDonald Ames, who came from Evansville, Ind., said, "We're different. St. James made us who we are." She has spearheaded class reunions from at 10-, 20-, 30- and 40-year marks. And she calls it a labor of love. Of the 95 members in the class, there were 67 re-sponses to the reunion invitation. About half of the class showed up. The majority live in Grand Forks. The rest are scattered across the country.

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Ed Gillig, who came from Billings, Mont., remembers the hilarity in the lunchroom at St. James and the sports. He was into wrestling, cross-country and track as well as hanging out at the Kegs and the A&W Root Beer drive-ins. And he said, "The Beatles were near the top of my list."

Because she lives in Grand Forks, Jennie Abar, who is married to classmate Mike Buckley, has kept up her friendship with others from St. James. "We get together now and then, and some of the undergrads show up. We pick up where we left off." That style of Royal Pride has lived on with George Whalen and his wife, the former Suzi Lynch, who both were members of the last St. James class and were married in 1973. Their three children are grown and gone and they have entered the empty nest phase of life. George has stayed close to education in the public schools and is principal of Lake Agassiz Elementary School.

He said the 40th reunion was relaxing. The classmates have reached the point in life where they no longer are trying to prove anything or impress anyone. The little cliques have vanished. "Now we can just be ourselves," he said.

Phil Meyer, who is principal of Sacred Heart High School in East Grand Forks, said he has dedicated his life to Catholic education because he treasures the memories of St. James High School. His allegiance goes way back to the days when St. Bernard's School preceded St. James. His father graduated from St. Bernard's in 1938.

That is part of the reason he has what he calls an "affinity" to the school. He is proud of the sports and the academics offered by St. James, and he insists to this day that the school was never "doddering." For him, the time at St. James High School was "magical" and the closing was "just tragic."

The leaders of the class live on in the hearts of St. James graduates. Al Bortke, a coach and principal, was always close to the class, even after moving to Bismarck. Sister Jacqueline O'Hara, who used to teach them French, came from Minneapolis to be at the 49th reunion dinner at the Grand Forks Country Club. So did Elizabeth Thornton, a former nun and teacher, also from Minneapolis. They attended mass together on Sunday before they parted ways.

When will they meet again? They say probably in 10 years -- here in Grand Forks.

And when they do, Marilyn Dobson Hastings vowed she will be here along with her hus-band, Mark Hastings, a classmate. She's a librarian and he's a railroad man. They live in St. Joseph, Mo. She can't help talking about the shock long ago when the school closed. "We were devastated. It was funding, of course; but our hearts were torn out ..."

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Then she said, "We still feel we were a very special class."

Reach Hagerty at (701) 772-1055 or send e-mail to mhagerty@gra.midco.net .

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