Wednesday, August 7, 2013
George Dewey High School Reunion
DAYTONA BEACH — Where do you hold high school reunions when the school you attended on a naval base in the Philippines became rundown not long after a volcanic eruption left it covered in ash?
Anywhere you want.
"Anybody who ever went to George Dewey, we invite," said Marlon Urbano, one of the organizers of Saturday afternoon's East Coast reunion, held in Daytona Beach.
George Dewey High School was a school of about 500 students located on U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay. In June 1991, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, located about 20 miles from the school, left the area covered in ash. After the Subic Bay base was reverted back to the control of the Philippine government, many military families returned to the U.S.
As far as many alumni know, their alma mater has been abandoned with overgrown grass around it.
"It saddens us that our school is in disarray," said Sarah Bass, 47, of Winston-Salem, N.C.
Those at the reunion, held at City Island Park, said there have been a few attempts to try and organize a reunion in the Philippines, but with most of them living in the U.S. it's easier to keep the reunions stateside. They said a large number of George Dewey attendees now live in California, but with some of them living in Florida, an East Coast reunion group was started. The first East Coast reunion was held in Jacksonville last year.
"Those of us who went to a school like that, there's a certain bond we have with each other," said 51-year-old Cheryl Cabbage Stanbro, one of the organizers.
Stanbro, who lives in Brandon, and a few others reflected on what it was like growing up in the Philippines.
For many military families, the economy allowed them to have their own maid and, oftentimes, their own seamstress.
Urbano, 52, of Jacksonville, remembers he could usually point to an item in an American clothing catalogue and the seamstress would recreate it.
Though the reunions are held stateside, the group recreates as much as they can from the place where they went to high school, including bringing traditional Filipino dishes. Available this year was lumpia, the Filipino version of egg rolls, pancit, a noodle dish with vegetables, and halo halo, a dessert made from a mixture of shaved ice, sweetened evaporated milk and sweet fruits and beans.
"Imagine (halo halo) was your treat on the beach," said 48-year-old Rowena Preszler, of Riverview, one of the organizers.
The group also tries to maintain a casual atmosphere reflective of the time they spent in the Philippines.
Urbano organized last year's reunion in Jacksonville and said the goal for this year, like last year, was to keep things as cheap as they could, making it easier for people from all over the East Coast to attend.
"A typical reunion has a banquet and you've got to pay all this money upfront," Urbano said. "We didn't want to do that."
Even alumni from Midwestern states made it to Daytona Beach for the reunion.
"You have something in common that most people don't understand," said 50-year-old Diane Pike of Madison, Wis.
Even if they didn't graduate the same year, the alumni said it's easy to make friends with each other after all these years because of the unique experience they share.
"It's a small world -- the military," Urbano said.