We were in the Hot Springs High School class before the one that became famous. Our class didn’t have a reunion at the White House, and we didn’t get invited to the one that did.
But we got together again over the past weekend for what I called our Medicare-Social Security reunion. It has been a little more than 50 years since the Class of 1963 walked across the stage of the HSHS field house to accept our diplomas, and a few years ago we discovered that we liked getting together so much we’d schedule reunions every five years.
That field house is condemned now, and all of us still living — about 230 out of a class of 265 — are around the age of 68, which means eligible for Medicare and Social Security. During the past five years many of us, including me, have retired from full-time work. I counted 89 who are fully or partially retired.
Our class has not produced a president of the United States, and the chances of that happening are now slim. In fact, I’m not sure we even have a politician among us, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But most of us knew Billy Clinton, who was a junior and one of the boys in the band when we graduated. A few members of our class helped him become governor and then president.
Nevertheless, many members of the Class of ’63 have been quite successful in important fields of endeavor. Among the class: two surgeons, a physician, a microbiologist, four architects, two building contractors, four engineers, a Navy commander, a major and a colonel in the Air Force, a Bronze Star recipient, a nuclear physicist, a circuit judge, several prominent business leaders, and a host of teachers and coaches.
After missing our 30-year reunion, I decided to get involved in the planning for whatever our class did in the future. I put my journalistic abilities to work trying to build a database for our class — to include contact information, family data, educational and military backgrounds, and career highlights. The contact information, of course, is critical to put on a reunion.
So I’ve had a chance to see how well my friends of many years have done and to appreciate what the good education we received in the Hot Springs school system did for us.
My choice for our class hero(ine) is Susan Ellis Goodrum, the daughter of a former Garland County sheriff who is battling cancer for the third time in seven years. She missed our banquet Saturday night because she was being honored for her work in helping other cancer victims.
And Susan, a retired teacher, is the perfect example for the message we heard Sunday morning. Because this was a special reunion, we extended it from the usual two days to four. We wrapped things up Sunday morning with a memorial service. The idea was to honor and remember the 36 classmates who are deceased. Susan was there and joked that she might be on the list next time.
With her spirit, faith and determination, I wouldn’t take that bet. But none of us knows for sure when our time will come, and the older you get, the better you understand your own mortality.
That’s why the memorial service message from Gwin (Sharp) Horton, one of our classmates, was so inspiring. An insurance agent and ordained minister who lives in Hot Springs, Gwin didn’t dwell on the past but focused on what we make of our time.
She used an analogy from a tombstone, which customarily includes a person’s date of birth and date of death, expressed as Jan. 1, 1945 — Oct. 1, 2013. It’s the dash we should be concerned about, she said, because that represents the time we have to make a difference.
Her message should hit home for the members of our class and, for that matter, it should have meaning for other classes on either side of 1963.
Many members of my class have retired, and it’s easy to think of retirement as going “out to pasture” — a time when you no longer have to be at a certain place at a certain time or complete specific tasks by a prescribed deadline. The temptation is to kick back and do nothing more than vegetate in front of the television set or just engage in long-neglected personal interests.
Every retired person should do some of that. It’s wonderful to be free from the stresses of the workaday world.
However, Gwin’s point is that we should also take advantage of the opportunity to get involved in something that helps other people while we still have the benefit of that “dash” period. That can be a charitable cause, a civic or service organization, community service, religious groups, professional or educational associations or foundations or just someone in need. The chance to make a difference remains.
Since retiring, I’ve tried to do a little more to help in several such causes since I now have more time. Susan’s effort is far more remarkable. Even while taking chemotherapy, she’s helping raise funds for a cancer support group to benefit others. May her “dash” — and that of others like her — be a long one.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.