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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

It's been said that high school reunions are the sole domain of the thin and of the rich. Considering that they usually are only held on the round numbers that kick off decades, most people only get a crack at attending five or six in a lifetime.

If the scale or the bankbook is unaccommodating, it might be decades between folks catching up with that old gang of mine.

The organizers of this year's Niagara Homecoming festival are looking to up the odds for everyone who wants to reconnect with old memories and old friends by announcing a Niagara Falls High School "All Classes" alumni reunion to be held Saturday, June 25, at the venerable building that housed the former school on the corner of Portage Road and Pine Avenue.

"We thought why should people have to wait until their 20th or 30th year reunions?" said Niagara Rises, Inc. Chairwoman Colleen Kulikowski. "The idea is to bring together people from any and every class ever to have graduated from the old NFHS to celebrate what the school meant to the community and to their lives."

The old school, which was built in 1923-'24 and graduated its last class in 1999, is the current home of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC). The building also has an alumni museum that features displays from the various decades of the school's existence.

"We've had many classes incorporate the building into their reunion weekends," said NACC Executive Director Kathie Kudela. "It's funny, it doesn't take long for them to get transported back in time and talk about what teacher had class in what room and the clothes they wore and who was dating who."

Kudela, who seems to miraculously put in more hours than the week holds in her duties at the NACC, realizes that the Neoclassical revival style building has a responsibility to both today's artists and yesterday's students.

"The community has a strong bond with this building. Many people spent their formative years within these walls and when they step foot in here they again become the boys and girls they once were."

In fact, Niagara Falls High School was such a part of the fabric of the Cataract City that students who matriculated the halls simply referred to it as "high school." The sports teams, known as the "Power Cats" proudly wore the school colors of red and gray and represented the city in events all across Niagara County.

I graduated from the school in 1982 and count myself lucky for the privilege of having been educated within the walls of the building designed by prominent local architect Simon Larke.

Like many who have returned I spent several years away from Western New York and had the strange and wonderful experience on more than one occasion of running into other alumni of "high school" thousands of miles away from here. Once the common connection was made, those people always turned into instant friends; the school serving as a reference check that precluded the need for any delay in the lowering of guards.

Another member of the class of '82 is Leslie Tarczynski. Leslie established a class page on Facebook and cites her fond memories of two teachers, Mr. Porto and Mrs. McCabe, as the impetus for doing so.

Leslie's not one for living life in reverse, but she did intimate that time has given her an appreciation for some of the close friends that she had back in her high school days. The class of 1982 looks forward to mingling with the other classes at the Homecoming reunion and another member, April Borgeson, sees it as a dress rehearsal for the 30th year reunion on tap for 2012.

"It's funny how your life goes in circles and people who were in your life come back around. Knowing that our 30th is nearing I've been seeking out some old faces and reconnecting with them. It will be even better to see them in person and reminisce."

That's the beauty of any reunion and it is what should make an "All Classes" get-together special. The stories that flow around that room -- ones that connect World War II with the Gulf War, school dances with all-night raves, the Greatest Generation with Gen X -- will be an eclectic mix of everything that has shaped the recent history of Niagara Falls.

Some of the activities planned for the reunion include an all-day sock hop, a cocktail reception, the "Beyond the Barrel" art exhibit, a multi-author book signing, various musical performances and a dinner theater.

"We want to make it fun and give people an opportunity to reconnect with things that were part of the environment when they were here," Kudela explained.

Kudela did stress that one part of the old high school experience for many ex-students -- cutting class by going out one of the large first-floor windows -- will not be part of the reunion, as the NACC has gone to great lengths to secure them for the safety of the artists and artwork that now take up residence inside of the repurposed building.

"Just about every class that has had a reunion here ends up with people talking about how they went in and out of those windows. Those memories will have to stay just that."

Joyce Pallaci-Gaglione is one of the oldest friends I have. We grew up together on Weston Avenue in the city's North End and attended the same schools from kindergarten through graduation. Recently, a St. Patrick's Day remembrance from another of our old classmates, Maryclare Erias, led to a spirited Facebook discussion that has quickly grown into a full-blown street reunion that will coincide with the NFHS "All Classes" alumni reunion.

"We were fortunate to grow up in neighborly environments. With our homes so close together, and with limited cable and video games, we spent the majority of our time building relationships with our neighbors and shared great times with our friends," explained Gaglione.

In discussing when the Weston Avenue reunion should take place it only made sense to incorporate it into the larger one for the high school that most of the old gang attended.

"We are looking forward to reconnecting and meeting everyone's families and joining in on the scheduled events of the weekend, which includes a tour of our old alma mater, Niagara Falls High School. It's the block party we never had," Gaglione said.

In fact, the Weston Avenue gang encourages and challenges other neighborhoods to do the same. With a full slate of activities on tap for the Homecoming weekend -- including a job fair, a gala featuring a 17-piece orchestra, Niagara walking tours, a Niagara Power baseball game and the Inaugural Main Street Music and Art Festival -- what better time for current residents and ex-pats alike to take a walk down memory lane?

Joyce summed it up best when she said, "Reconnect with your neighborhood friends and family, and be part of this great Reunion weekend. Keep the Spirit of Niagara Falls alive."

Also, all former LaSalle High School and Trott Vocational alums are invited to attend as well. The official tagline for the event is: This reunion is open to all alumni who attended NFHS and those who wish they had!

Visit niagararises.com to pre-register and reserve your space today!

I know that I speak for thousands of you when I say that the years I spent at the old Niagara Falls High School did a great job of preparing me for the years that have come since. The school was filled with teachers who cared and students that bled red and gray. I hope to see you at the reunion; the event will be "all class" all the way.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com April 5, 2011