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Vickroy: Close-knit group preparing for Class of ’58 reunion

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Updated: September 9, 2013 3:00PM



It was a special time, a time for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches stuffed with potato chips, for sleepover party pedicure pranks and for grand adventures, one of which got them in trouble with Canadian border guards.

“We did everything together,” Phyllis Dobrez said. “We were just very good friends.”

And they still are.

When the St. Louis Academy Class of 1958 reunites next month, many of the women simply will pick up where they left in an ongoing conversation that they’ve enjoyed since they were in first grade. Yep, first grade.

Back then, the Roseland community building they called school housed both a coed elementary level and an all-girls high school.

Now in their 70s, Dobrez, of Matteson, and Eileen Tormey and Barbara Gerritsen, both of Tinley Park, still get together regularly for lunch and to talk about life.

Until recently, they were joined by Donna Clark and Angie DeVries, both of whom now live in Florida, and Maureen Kelly, who moved to Colorado.

The gang, as Dobrez calls them, will be together again for the Sept. 21 reunion of the South Side high school run by the Sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame.

“It’s funny, we all went to this French high school but hardly any of us was French. We’re mostly Italian,” Dobrez said.

A lot has happened since they graduated, but one thing that has remained constant is their friendship.

“I find it to be quite remarkable after all these years,” Tormey said during a recent luncheon of chicken salad sandwiches with Dobrez and Gerritsen at Gerritsen’s ranch-style home.

“People can’t believe it when I tell them I still get together with my friends from first grade,” Tormey said.

“It’s like a continuing conversation,” Dobrez explained. “We just pick up where we left off.”

They talk about hairstyles, politics, their health, their children and, of course, the good old days.

Gerristen is still stinging from the time her friends painted her toenails while she slept at an overnight party. “I absolutely hate when people touch my feet,” she said. “I woke up the next morning and my toes were purple. I just started screaming.”

The culprit remained a mystery until this very day when Tormey decided to come clean. “OK, I did it,” she said.

“I just knew it was you,” Gerritsen said, as the group roared with laughter.

There are other stories, as well. About a Mrs. Lambert who ran the lunchroom at the all-girls school.

“She was really tiny and she’d ring this big bell when it was time to eat,” Dobrez said.

By far, Gerritsen said, her sack lunches were the most controversial and, at times, off-putting. “I would bring homemade baked bean sandwiches, cold, on white bread, with ketchup and onions. And they all would tell me that they weren’t going to eat with me because it looked so horrible.”

Dobrez said, “Sometimes, someone would bring in a container of pepperoncini peppers and we’d place them in the center of the table and share them during lunch.”

Those were good times, different times, when all the kids in the neighborhood went to the same school, when everyone knew everyone and the universal introduction to a newcomer was, “What parish are you from?”

“It’s not like that anymore,” Tormey said. Kids change schools every couple of years, friends get separated, people move on.

The women chuckle when asked if they think the education was better back then.

“Well, there was a lot of brainwashing,” Dobrez said. “And the funny thing is, most of us good Catholics have been divorced and remarried. So I guess some of the education didn’t work.”

By far their grandest adventure as students involved another friend named Rosemary, whose family had moved to Michigan when the women were sophomores.

“Our parents let us take the bus out there to visit her,” Dobrez recalled.

You can probably guess the shenanigans that followed.

“We tried smoking while we were there. We figured out the whole sex angle,” Dobrez said.

They even made a run for the border.

When the group tried to cross into Canada at Windsor, the guard asked them basic questions. Among them, where were you born? The other girls answered Chicago, to the guard’s satisfaction. But when Rosemary and her brother said Blue Island, things came to a halt.

“We had to get out of the car and line up and explain that Blue Island was not some far-off island, that it was right next to Chicago,” Tormey said, laughing.

Later, they got a similar reception when they tried to board a Canadian Navy ship in port. “We were trying to talk to the sailors in French, but the admiral, or whoever he was, was having none of it.”

The memories make them laugh, and reflect on all that has happened, and all that has changed.

So far, 27 of the 88 members of the 1958 graduating class are confirmed to attend the get-together, which will be held at the Maplebrook Clubhouse in Matteson. Many have already passed on.

“I’m anxious to have our original six back together again,” Dobrez said. “At our age, you don’t know how many more reunions there will be.”



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