They became friends at an unlikely time in Camden’s history; Black and white students from segregated neighborhoods across the city came together to attend the Castle on the Hill.
Six decades later, a group that has dubbed itself “The Legacy,” Camden High School’s Class of 1960, will come together again Saturday to celebrate friendships, reminisce, and mourn those they have lost. The anniversary was delayed by the pandemic so it has become “the 60th plus one.”
“Everyone will be glad to see each other,” said Delia Ford Brown, the reunion chairman. “It will be good.”
The accomplished class includes professionals, athletes, and music legend Leon Huff, cofounder of Philadelphia International Records, and many others who went on to successful careers. The class had 404 members, and about 100 have died.
Huff, who has attended previous gatherings, is not expected this year, Brown said. A DJ will play Huff’s song “I Ain’t Jivin’, I’m Jammin” and music popular during their school days, including Motown hits, she said.
The class selected Huff as the best dressed male its senior year. He wore a suit, shirt, and tie to school every day, his classmates said. Huff grew up in Camden and developed a love for music from his mother who played the piano and organ for her church.
“He liked to be classy, and he was,” recalled Dolores Firth Bailey, 79, of Pemberton, who was homecoming queen.
For years, classmate Ron Venella has been organizing meetings for the group twice annually at the Pub in Pennsauken. Those gatherings were halted by the pandemic, so Saturday will be the first time the group has been together since 2020.
“We keep losing people. We want to try to have as many as we can,” said Venella, 79, of Mount Laurel, a retired research and development helicopter mechanic at Boeing.
During a meetup at the sprawling new Camden High School complex this week, the committee pored over a copy of their yearbook, “The Purple and Gold.” They chuckled at black-and-white photographs and recalled memories like the band parade down Broad Street.
“We don’t look like we’ve been out of school 60 years,” quipped A. Dolores Rozier, 79, of Camden. She eventually became a secretary at their alma mater. Most of the classmates are approaching 80.
They proudly pointed out graduates like Frank Stephens, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters; Charles “Buster” Williams, a bassist for Quincy Jones and Nancy Wilson; Thomas Ashley, a prominent lawyer in North Jersey; former city comptroller Richard Cinaglia; and Ronald “Itchy” Smith, a point guard who scored 1,276 points in three seasons and who, along with Sonny “Golden” Sunkett, led the basketball team to two straight state Group IV championships in 1959 and 1960. A street near Camden High will be named in Smith’s honor later this month.
“Everybody has a story,” said Brown, 79, of Deptford, who spent nearly 30 years in the district as a teacher and supervisor and retired as an administrator in 2005. “I’m proud I came from Camden.”
The ‘60 alums spent three years at the old Camden High, which was recently replaced with a $133 million state-of-the-art school constructed on the same site, as the Gothic school back then enrolled 10th through 12th graders. They say their years at “The High” played an important role in shaping their lives and careers.
Built in 1916, the original Camden High was one of the few places in the city where Blacks and whites mingled and became longtime friends. Students from all walks of life attended the school from around the 9-square-mile city.
“We all got along. It was beautiful,” said Brown.
Brown said academics were important, but athletics, especially the basketball team, was the glue that kept everyone together. The team, which once had a 47-game winning streak, was well known around New Jersey.
Ira Back, 78, of Cherry Hill, a retired lawyer, said his wrestling coach offered his teammates tickets to the basketball games — a hot commodity — if they won their matches.
There will be lots of stories and memories shared at the reunion from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Riverwinds Restaurant in West Deptford, Brown said. About 75 people, including attendees from as far away as California, are expected at the sold-out event.
“They were some of the best days of my life,” said Brown. “I loved Camden High.”
They will don sparkly “60″ glasses, sing their alma mater — “Hurrah, hurrah Camden High School. Hurrah for the purple and the gold!” — and hold a raffle fund-raiser for a scholarship for a Camden High graduate. They will light candles and Rozier will lead a tribute to the former classmates who have died.