Ain’t no mountain high enough to keep Tucker’s Class of 1970 from 50th reunion

Vivian Walker and Tim Fitzgerald attended the Junior-Senior prom at The Progressive Club, 1970.

Tucker, GA — Tucker High School Class of 1970 never got the 50th reunion they worked hard to plan in 2020. So they did what anyone who graduated high school during one of the most tumultuous times in United States history would do: They planned another one.

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going to stop them, according to Thomas Routson.

“Older people who have lived through all this history tend not to get so upset at stuff. We’ve been through Vietnam, the threat of nuclear war, a war in Iraqi, fear of terrorism and an economy that’s been up and down,” said Routson, who has attended every class reunion since 1975.

Routson and Nancy Verhine Downey are planning the reunion next weekend, June 11-12, with classmate Roberta Dodds Ingersoll.

What a time to be coming of age. Downey moved to Tucker in sixth grade, just before President John F. Kennedy was shot. She said she vividly remembers the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the moon landing, Woodstock, the Kent State massacre – all to the backdrop of The Beatles.

“The world was changing right before our very eyes. Looking back, I wish I’d paid more attention,” said Downey, who now splits her time between North Carolina and Florida. “Our class was on cusp of traditional. Ladies couldn’t wear slacks to school. We all wore dresses.”

High school sweethearts Nancy Verhine Downey and Keith Downey got married, 1973.

Back then, Tucker High School included grades eight to 12 but many students came up together through elementary school. Sock hops were held in the gym, school dances were held in the cafeteria. Downey recalled making her own blue velveteen suit in home economics class to wear to the winter dance at the top of Stone Mountain. Her date? Keith Downey, her now husband.

One hundred classmates representing 14 states, Washington, D.C. and Mexico are expected to attend the “50th plus 1” reunion. Out of the original 271 students, around 47 classmates have passed away.

Former principal James Hallford and his wife, LeeAnne, will be at the reunion. Hallford dedicated 40 years of his career to public education, starting as a classroom teacher and working his way to superintendent of DeKalb County School District. Stan McCallar, former math teacher and football coach, is also planning to attend.

At Stone Mountain’s Evergreen Marriott, events include a casual party with live music on Friday night and a dinner-dance on Saturday night. A memorabilia table, photograph slide show and superlative awards are planned, too. Tours of the high school are not allowed this year, but some attendees are planning to hit Main Street Tucker to relive old memories.

In the late 1960s, Tucker High School sat at the same spot it does now – the triangular intersection at LaVista, Chamblee Tucker and Fellowship Road.

The boys’ bathroom was a popular spot to smoke a cigarette, or light a cherry bomb firecracker and watch teachers come running to see what the noise was all about. If a guy was standing outside the bathroom and gave you a nod, that meant don’t go in, laughed Routson.

Students snuck off campus to eat “broasted chicken” at Fresco’s, one of the first fast food joints in Tucker. They watched after-school fist fights behind Fat (Armond) Goza’s gas station and decorated floats with crepe paper streamers to celebrate homecoming.

Senior class football players of the Tucker Tigers pose together, 1969.

On the weekends the class of 1970 swam in Lake Erin, raced muscle cars down Lawrenceville Highway and watched movies at Village Theatre in Briarcliff Village Shopping Center. I-285 was not yet paved, so Lenox Mall was a real haul, said Routson, who is writing a book about the class of 1970.

Routson said overall, the class of 1970 was a conservative group. Most of the guys were pro-military and pro-Vietnam. Not many were talking about burning draft cards or moving to Canada to avoid Vietnam.

“If we wanted to see the hippies, we’d go down to 14th Street,” he said about the long-haired, bell bottom jeans-wearing crowd. “I wanted to become part of that. I remember being sent to the principal’s office for reading [underground Atlanta newspaper] The Great Speckled Bird in class.”

Downey remembers double dates with classmate Debbie VanSant. Routson said his favorite escape was jamming in the basement of his buddy’s house. Both cannot wait to see former classmates and longtime friends, marvel over old photos and dance the night away to the music of their youth.

“We told everyone – pack comfortable shoes,” laughed Downey.

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