Paul M. Somers ’46

The Class of ’42 by Paul M. Somers ’46

I graduated from Leo High School on a warm Sunday afternoon in June of 1946. At the end of the festivities, I got into our luggage-laden 1939 Plymouth, and Dad, Mom, Jean and I drove to Champaign, where I was left to matriculate myself into the University of Illinois.

For the next 40 years, I did not see any of my Chicago classmates—grade school or high school. My Father joined the University of Illinois faculty in Champaign just seven months after my removal from Chicago. Thereafter, I visited the city only for business, Marshall Field’s or the All Nation Hobby Shop on North LaSalle Street—never the old neighborhood, even when there was an old neighborhood to visit.

During April of 1986, business took me to Chicago for an overnighter. I saw a notice in the morning paper that Leo’s Alumni Association was having its annual dinner that evening at The Martinique at 95th and Western. My day’s work wrapped up early enough for me to join the happy Hibernians. There were 20 of my classmates in attendance—that was 10 percent of the ’46 graduates. This stimulating evening reconnected me with some of the Chicago people in my life. I had such a grand time munching The Martinique’s meat and potatoes (they knew their Irish guests) and listening to tales of Chicago politics and the home life of my classmates that I made the dinner a regular item on my social calendar.

Only six members of my grade school class attended Leo (the rest were spread over 10 other high schools), and none of them appeared regularly at the annual banquet. Then, in 1940, George Murphy, older brother of my classmate Frank, recognized me. We visited, and I asked about Frank. He told me, “Frank is at a bank in Dwight.” Now, Dwight seemed almost as unlikely a place of employment for a South Side Irish Catholic as Champaign, but I tucked that datum into my memory bank.

A couple of months later, I was on my way to a railroad show in St. Charles and stopped for breakfast at the McDonald’s in Dwight. A group of Irish-looking senior citizens entered, accompanied by a jolly Monsignor. I figured I had the after-eight-o’clock- Mass crowd from St. Patrick’s. When they were served and seated, I asked if they were from Dwight. Alas, they were from East Peoria and off to Brookfield Zoo. They asked if they could help me (ever the evangelists!). I said, “No, I am looking for someone local who might know one of my grade school classmates; he works at the bank.”

A genial gourmet seated a few tables away volunteered, “I’m from Dwight. What’s your friend’s name?”

“Frank Murphy,” I replied.

“Frank doesn’t work at the bank,” he said a bit huffily. “He owns the bank. He and I are brother Rotarians.”

On the back of a business card, I wrote “Hi, Frank,” and gave it to my informant to deliver to Frank at the next Rotary luncheon.

Over the next 15 months, Frank and I met a number of times and, with eight other members of the class of ’42, organized and executed a fiftieth anniversary dinner for our grade school graduating class. They tell me that boys usually don’t organize reunions.

Of the 56 with Irish, Italian and Lithuanian ancestry who comprised our eighth grade class, nine were known dead, we were unable to locate nine, two were incapacitated, one Floridian and four West Coasters thought it was too far to travel and seven from the Chicago area thought it was a dumb idea. But, 24 of us had the grandest soiree in the history of Roman Catholicism!

Most were in the room at the Oak Lawn Hilton before the 6:30 scheduled start, and almost everyone was still there at 12:30, when the hotel personnel pointed out that the room had been reserved only through midnight!

As we talked with one another, we discovered that only a few members of the class had remained in touch with one another, but most, like I, had seen only one or two of the others once or twice during the half century. However, the evening began like it was only a few days since graduation. We all recognized Oct. 9, 1992, as a “magic moment,” the likes of which we will never see again, but we have stayed connected by mail and annual luncheons.

So, here I am of social security and 55-cent coffee- at-McDonald’s age, renewing auld acquaintance with grade school classmates and really enjoying the experience. Do you suppose friendship is like roller skating and bicycle riding—something you never forget?

By Paul M. Somers ’46

Paul M. Somers is a freelance writer living in Champaign, IL.

 As written in the Sr. Connection
View the 1946 Yearbook

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