Milford High's Class of '44 gathers for 70-year reunion

Milford High School’s Class of 1944 was a close group of students for several reasons: They experienced the Depression, they pulled together during World War II, and they were a small class, only numbering 117.

This week 14 members of the Class of 1944 got together at Jeffrey’s Restaurant in Milford to celebrate their 70th anniversary high school reunion.

Jackie Musante, who organized the reunion, said she and her classmates were children of the Depression era when they entered Milford High School in 1940, most still wearing shoes that had holes in them and remembering the days when they wondered where their next meals would come from.

Their class was one of the first generations to see their mothers head off to work in factories to help support the war effort, and the boys in the class of ‘44 were among the first to flood college doors once they got out of the service because the GI Bill paid for their education.

“Those are the things that define us,” Musante said.

The group that gathered at Jeffrey’s Tuesday for a midday reunion are all around 90 years old. Many were driven by their children, who were amused at being assigned to sit at the “children’s table,” even though they are all well into adulthood themselves.

Members of the Class of 1944 spent time reminiscing.

Musante remembered that her class had airplane spotting lessons every Tuesday during second period, which was homeroom. Teachers used films to help them learn the differences between Japanese, German and American planes.

Students like Ed Kozlowski, who is one of Milford’s former mayors, actually volunteered as an air raid warden while he was in high school, and his job was to stand on top of the high school and spot planes. He was only 15 years old.

Seventeen boys from the Class of 1944 enlisted in the Armed Services before graduation, and they received their diplomas in absentia.

Kozlowski was one of them.

“I couldn’t wait to go,” Kozlowski said. “We lost a couple thousand people at Pearl Harbor, and everyone was so patriotic.”

Two young men from the class of 44 were killed in the line of duty before graduation: Bill Siemon and Henry Gost. They were not forgotten at their class reunion, where a commemorative board of the men who served in the war included their photographs.

Ruth Peters took a plane from Port St. Lucie, Florida to be at this week’s gathering. She said it was the small size of the class that made everyone so close; some are still close all these years later.

Jean Nielsen flew from San Diego to reunite with classmates.

Lenny Benefico came up from Naples, Fla. He jokingly said one of his favorite high school memories “was graduating on time.”

Benefico played baseball, basketball and football for Milford High School. He can still recall a particular play on the baseball diamond, even though he said he’d rather forget it.

“It was up in Seymour and Jimmy Cooper, the president of the class, was on third base. I was at bat, and I got the sign to bunt.”

The pitch came, but Benefico didn’t swing — he took the pitch, and Cooper, already getting the sign to go, came sliding into homeplate, and Benefico was still there.

“He was out, and he’s just looking up at me,” Benefico said.

Trevor Davis pitched for the Milford High School baseball team, and he had a good story too. No one believes him when he says he pitched one game where he gave up a triple and a home run and still pitched a no-hitter.

“How’s that possible?” he asked.

Well, both batters missed touching first base and neither was credited with a hit, Davis said.

Similar stories could be heard at the various tables Tuesday afternoon.

This year, the Class of 1944 reunion committee mailed 36 invitations to classmates and got 23 responses.

“Two responses came from classmates’ family notifying us of the recent death of our classmates: The Rev. Jack Murray and Ellen McTaggart Strempel,” according to a reunion write-up.

Musante said snail mail and phone calls did the trick for the 70th reunion. No Facebook or Twitter went into organizing this event.

Attending classmates were: Sharon Brotherton Perry, Lenny Benefico, Trevor Davis, Ed Kozlowski, Winnie Fladd Hamilton, Nancy Nurse Phelan, Barbara Cable Luffred, Jean Peters Stempel, Art Wargo, Valerie Hitt George, Pat Maiden Olenski, Ruth Heil Peters, Jean Tingley Nielsen and Jackie Whitehed Musante.