Mahopac alumni reflect with students about everything from the “ache for the Lake” to “the year that changed history” with the Vietnam War, Woodstock and the landing on the moon
While Mahopac High School students were on the turf field for their Homecoming pep rally, the class of 1969 alumni were returning to campus to reminisce, come together with former classmates and create new memories. A time capsule reveal, a tour of the school district’s original school building Lakeview, boat rides on Mahopac Lake and a celebratory banquet were highlights of a weekend of reunion events organized by the 1969 classmates Tina Stokes and Leonard Shore.
While some have traveled far and some still call Mahopac home, members of the first class to graduate from the Mahopac High School building filled the hallways with big hugs and laughter. Linda Whalen, who now lives in Albany, said “although some things have changed in Mahopac, it still feels the same to me as it did in 1969.”
As the marching band could be heard coming in from the pep rally, Donna Jagger, who lives in New Jersey, recalled a favorite high school memory. “I was a cheerleader and loved the pep rallies before the big Homecoming football games. Each year, we would burn an effigy of the opponent in a bonfire on a neighbor’s lawn that was just across Lakeview.”
The Class of 1969 was the first to graduate from the “new” building. “It was exciting to be in the new high school, but I still think of Lakeview when remembering my years as a student,” said Rene Head Mohnani who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Much like today, Mahopac Lake was an integral part of social life fifty years ago. “I have a lot of fun memories of being at the Lake. I still ache for the Lake and get back whenever I can,” said Judy Brady Witherspoon who now lives in the Chesapeake area in Virginia. Her uncle was the late Art Brady who owned A.C. Brady Store, a general store and fuel oil business on Myrtle Ave. in Mahopac Falls, which was originally founded by his grandfather and father in 1912.
A highlight of the reunion was the reveal of the Class of 1969 time capsule. This copper metal box was dug up during the high school renovation 12 years ago and had remained in a safe until last Friday evening. Class of 1969 alumni, high school students, teachers and administration filled the auditorium for a reflection exchange before the time capsule opening.
Mahopac (MOST) student government students fueled the discussion by asking alumni questions such as, “What made your time at Mahopac unique?” This fostered moving responses as memories of Vietnam and Woodstock were shared.
“Vietnam had a big impact on us. Some young men who graduated before us were drafted and I remember one coming back with half a leg,” Russell Plaeger recalled. “Billy Todd was lost to Vietnam,” another alumnus added.
“And Woodstock changed everything,” Witherspoon added. She said on the heels of Woodstock she believed the Women’s Liberation Movement really could be felt across the country. “I was in college in the South during this time, and we went from never leaving our dorm without wearing gloves, pearls and dresses to wearing jeans all in one year,” she added.
The conversation also included watching Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the Moon, on black-and-white televisions and what they were doing when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. “I never saw a teacher cry except for that day,” Plaeger recalled.
The reflection appropriately concluded with advice from Class of 1969 to Mahopac High School students, including:
- “Be curious. Ask questions. Never stop learning.”
- “Use your resources wisely. Mahopac High School has a host of counselors, teachers and opportunities for help and guidance. Take advantage of the help and use it to make your high school experience the best it can be.”
- “Get involved. Be part of clubs, plays, sports or music groups. It helps mold you into your future self and gives you a much more rewarding high school experience.”
- “Turn to each other. Depend on each other. This builds relationships and skills that help over a lifetime.”
- “Chase your dreams. Find a profession you really like and really want. Then things really fall into place.”
- “Call your mother!”
The time capsule was opened by 50th reunion co-chairs Tina Stokes and Leonard Shore, and high school Principal Dr. Matthew Lawrence. There seemed to be minimal to no memory of the box’s contents before two issues of The Chieftan (student paper), an issue of the literary magazine, a course listing, a typed staff manual, a graduation program, an invitation from the Board of Education to dedicate the new high school building, and a few coins were revealed. “Everything is in pristine condition,” commented Shore.
“Hearing the Class of 1969 share memories instills what makes Mahopac a special place. It also shows us how as much things change the more things stay the same, like how to pronounce Mahopac,” said Anthony DiCarlo, superintendent of schools.
The time capsule and its contents will now live at the Town of Carmel Historical Society for public viewing.