For some “Old Lions” it’d been 50 years since they last gathered as classmates.
More than 530 Bradwell Institute graduates, teachers and administrators poured in from across the Southeast and as far as Pennsylvania on Saturday for a reunion at the Dorchester Village Civic Center in Midway. Some of them attended the school before it was moved from Washington Avenue in 1972.
It was a first for some of the classes, since many of that era never had reunions, according to Derrick Duke, organizer, class of 1963. The Statesboro resident and his wife, Patricia, came up with the idea after she suffered a brain aneurysm in March. Duke said there was an outpouring of support and prayers from classmates and others all over Liberty County, which they believe helped her recovery.
“The idea started off as ‘BI before you die,’” Duke said. “It then morphed into the Old Lions Reunion and grew to what we see today.”
He spread the word on Facebook and it grew, leading to the formation of a 12-person committee in July. A website was created.
Saturday, attendees were shuttled from the parking area to the center, which itself is an old school. They passed under a goalpost decorated in blue and gold, the old school colors. The Dorchester school bell marked the start of the reunion.
The main hall was also decked in BI blue and gold, and lined with tables packed with all types of food that attendees brought.
Many surprised faces could be seen as folks recognized those they hadn’t seen since they walked the halls of BI.
One of the oldest attendees, Margie Kozma, a Hinesville resident since her teens, graduated in 1942. She said she was thrilled at all the familiar faces, despite being the only member of her class there. She told about how she stayed in Hinesville, where she taught at Mother Goose Kindergarten for 30 years.
“All of my kindergarten students are here today,” she said. “They’re all old now, of course, but I was surprised to see how they’ve aged. It’s been wonderful. This is a really amazing event, it really is … A lot of hard work went into this event, and it was worth it.”
“I’d like to say that it feels like yesterday, but it doesn’t,” Dickie Welch, class of 1963, joked before leading the invocation.
Even Elvis was in the building — Randy “Elvis” Walker, that is. The Elvis impersonator kicked off the entertainment, rocking the crowd back to the 1950s. Other highlights included a mini pep rally led by some of the 1963 Lions cheerleaders, who still knew their old cheers.
Lions were called by graduating year to pose for photos with their classmates. In the evening, a moment of silence paid tribute to Lions who have died. Displays honored their memory. Also in “memory lane” were mementos from the school.
Lamar Guyton, an Army kid who moved to Hinesville in 1960 and graduated in 1965, said he made the trip from Cartersville after finding the event on Facebook.
“These are [memories] that are in the heart,” Guyton said. “It’s really a neat thing to be able to come back and celebrate this, with some that I haven’t seen in over 35 years … It’s quite exciting.”