Joel Tauber, left, Barbara Zuckerman Sachse, Ronny Smith, Judie Schuster Koploy, Judy Bloomfield and Joyce Prag, all graduates of Mumford High School's class of 1953. (Marney Rich Keenan / The Detroit News)
Sixty years ago, the high school senior girls wore cat-eye glasses, saddle shoes and small scarves double-knotted at the neck. The men wore high-waisted pleated pants, V-neck sweaters and Elvis pompadours. A typical yearbook pose had a couple impatiently checking their watches and standing outside out an enclosed phone booth while a girl wearing bobby socks and short-cropped bangs talked on a coin-operated dial phone that cost a nickel.
Last Saturday night, those same men and women, now pushing 80, arrived at the Birmingham Country Club for the 60th reunion of the Mumford High Class of ‘53. While gray and wrinkled and slowed by time, the original camaraderie and close bonds forged as the first-ever graduating class of the once brand-new Art Deco structure with the Pewabic-tiled drinking fountains was so evident, nobody seemed to need a name tag.
“We were unique because we were the first,” said Ronald “Ronny” Smith. “We didn‘t have to look up to anybody. We had the rule of the roost.”
Of the 415 in the original graduating class, close to 100 showed up, which is an awesome turnout as far as reunions go, especially considering that almost one-fifth of the class appeared on the “deceased” list discreetly posted on a wall outside the gala.
Smith, who ran a roofing business for 50 years, was lamenting the fact that he had to rely on a walker. So eager to greet a familiar face across the crowded room, he finally folded up his walker, leaned against it a table, saying: “The hell with it!”
“That’s the spirit,“ a man cheered him on. “Hey Mickey!” Smith exclaimed.
“I’m not Mickey. I’m Merwin.“
Quick to the draw, Smith said: “Well of course you are,” Smith said. “You’re Merwin Solomon. You haven’t changed a bit.’’
And so it went, as if six decades of life just evaporated the minute the spark of recognition took hold. As one person remarked: “I see everybody we were as kids. It’s amazing how personalities don’t change.”
Case in point: Judy Bloomfield and Myrna Glicker were there with on a double date with their husbands. The same group of four doubled dated at senior prom. “And now our kids are best friends,” she exclaimed. “Even our grandkids are best friends!“
Being the first meant they established traditions for the classes who would follow. Thus, they named the year book, “Capri,” the student newspaper: “The Mercury.” And the Mustangs were the chosen as the school’s mascot. The first class play that year was “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and since they didn’t have an auditorium, they put the play on in Pershing High’s auditorium.
“It’s true we didn’t have a gym or auditorium or pool, but we had each other, and we felt very special,” says Barbara Zuckerman Sachse.”
In 2003, Sachse was among the group of 18 or so Class of ’53 alums who decided to replicate their senior class trip fifty years later to Washington D.C. “It cost $59 in 1953,” she said. “It certainly cost much more the second time around, but we had a marvelous three and a half days.”
When the original Mumford structure was recently torn down to make way for $54 million renovation (the school reopened this fall) several alums went the ribbon cutting ceremony: “We gave the new school our blessing,” said Judie Shuster Koploy.”But I don’t know that there will ever be a class as tight knit as ours. I just love all these people. I really do.”
The first teachers to arrive at Mumford in 1949 also remember it as a special time. “It was as much a learning situation for us as teachers as it was for the students,“ said Joseph Soltesz, now 91. “They set a high standard all the way around.”
About the only person who could be forgiven for being late was Class of ‘53’s fearless senior class president Joel Tauber. Still dashing with his salt and pepper head of hair and Cary Grant glasses, Tauber was flattered by the many shout outs of “It’s our Prez!” He smiled saying: “Once a president, always a president, I guess.”
Tauber was also captain of both the basketball and the football team and went on to build a hugely successful career in the field of business and manufacturing: University of Michigan’s Joel D. Tauber Institute for Global Operations is named in honor of him.
Before he sat down to dinner with his former classmates, Tauber wanted to give credit due. “We were a diverse class of Jewish and African American students Being the first class of seniors and teachers, we all grew up together and that was totally unique. Those lessons from Mumford have carried me for a lifetime.”