Jean Barnes Mitchell did not drift away from her closest classmates at Merchantville High School, though friends often are naturally pulled away by the tides of change.
They were ninth graders who called themselves the Scarlet Tanagers. They first got together on April 17, 1944. And they had been planning a restaurant dinner for Thursday to mark their 70th anniversary.
"It was a group of kids that started a club," which first met at their families' homes, Mrs. Mitchell's husband, Jack, said.
"The girls all met and had lunch once a month," he said. "They are very tight."
But the 70th anniversary gathering has been postponed.
On Monday, April 14, Mrs. Mitchell, 84, of Pennsauken, an elementary school teacher in the township from 1951 to the mid-1990s, died of complications from a heart problem at Cooper University Hospital.
"Right now," said Fritzi Delaney, one of the original Tanagers, "we're going to have the funeral luncheon on Tuesday, then decide what to do" to mark the 70th.
The initial five friends met at Pennsauken Junior High, and the group added some more at Merchantville High.
"Usually about seven of us" have met for monthly lunch, Delaney said. "Now there are six."
The Tanager name was a random choice, "from the Boy Scout handbook."
On a wall at her home is a photo of 12 girls from a later high school year, by then meriting the name of the colorful songbird, Delaney said.
"We were all dressed up, with hats and gloves, going to the Earle Theater" in Center City. The attraction was the 1946 Rita Hayworth movie, Gilda, which, Delaney recalled, "was a very naughty film for its era."
Then there was the Lake House Gang.
In their junior and senior years at what is now the College of New Jersey, Mrs. Mitchell and Delaney lived on campus in a white Colonial house on Lake Sylva.
"There were nine girls originally" in the gang, she said. "We used to meet once every year," traveling to the likes of Nantucket and Savannah, Ga. "This might be the first year we skipped."
A lifelong resident of Pennsauken, Mrs. Mitchell graduated from Merchantville in 1947 and earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1951 at Trenton State College.
She spent half her teaching career at Carson Elementary School and half at Longfellow Elementary School, her husband said.
She was honored with a citation from the Governor's Teacher Recognition Program, given "to teachers who exhibit outstanding performance," its website states.
For the last five years, her husband said, she was a volunteer at the Pennsauken Free Library.
Besides her husband of 61 years, she is survived by sons Keith and Kyle; daughters Kim and Kathy Stella; and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 21, at Inglesby & Sons Funeral Home, 2426 Cove Rd., Pennsauken, and from 9 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 22, there before a 10 a.m. Funeral Mass at Mary Queen of All Saints Church, 4824 Camden Ave., Pennsauken. Burial will be in Arlington Cemetery, Pennsauken.
Condolences may be offered to the family at www.inglesbyfuneralhome.com.