As the Big Bus rolled down the streets of Long Beach, its passengers used the time to reminisce and catch up with their lives.

Nearly 200 of the 325 students of St. Anthony High School’s Class of 1961 celebrated their 50th reunion during a Sept. 23-25 weekend that kicked off with a “Golf for Fun” tournament, followed by the Big Red Bus Party, touring through the city where most of them were born and raised and throughout the years have left to settle in nearby cities or in other states.

Hallmark events were a dinner and dance gala at the Long Beach Yacht Club and a mid-morning Mass. Retired Monterey Bishop Sylvester Ryan, also an alumnus (and former L.A. auxiliary bishop), presided, and St. Anthony’s pastor Father Jose Maga√±a concelebrated. 

“Everyone was really touched [during the Mass],” said alumna Patricia Metzger, chair of the reunion committee, “especially when the bishop read the names of our deceased classmates and when we sang the alma mater at the end of Mass.”

The purpose of the get-together was to give thanks to God for “surviving 50 years,” committee member Daniel Crooks told The Tidings. The retired computer programmer was the Web master of the Saints 61 Web site ( and in charge of finding some through Facebook.

But what most of the retired professionals emphasized was the impact Catholic education made in their lives.

Take John McReynolds, visiting from Utah with his wife. For 20 years he worked as a police officer in Boston, combating local gangs as part of a gang violence unit, where he rose through the ranks to sergeant detective.

After retiring in his mid-50s he went back to school, earning a master and a doctorate degree, but what he really wanted to do was to develop his acting and music skills. 

After moving to Utah, he has participated in several plays and commercials and in the last three years he has been playing the clarinet in public places, an instrument he learned to play at 11 years old. He was a member of St. Anthony’s band playing the tenor saxophone all four years.

“I felt very nostalgic last night when getting here,” he said. It was only his second visit to his hometown since he left with the Air Force a few years after graduation. 

Another visitor was John “Duke” Clarke, a Vietnam veteran who started his own business manufacturing company in Texas 45 years ago, retiring last year.

Both Clarke and McReynolds praised their academic education and the faith instilled in them at St. Anthony High. It kept them grounded, they said, while performing life-risking duties during their adult life.

Other alumni were not as fortunate. “A lot have passed away,” said alumna Judith Vanderford, staff accountant for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. Among them: star football and baseball player Jack Snow, who went on to All-America wide receiver honors at Notre Dame and a long pro career with the L.A. Rams, and died in 2006 of complications from a staph infection.

Some classmates died tragic deaths, “which left us sad, but also brought the group together,” Vanderford added.

As the Big Red Bus stopped at St. Cyprian School (site of St. Anthony’s football field), alumnus Tom Walsh reminisced about the days he captained the football team. “I’m one of the few who stayed in Long Beach,” he smiled, and he still actively supports the school; his children are also alumni.

“This was the place,” said Metzger about the field, reminiscing about the games that drew students from Catholic schools from all over Los Angeles County.

The alumni, most now in their late 60s, shared bits of the city history: how the man-made harbor erased part of the city’s beauty; the big changes in downtown; increasing house mortgages; and changing demographics.

Yet all felt a sense of joy as they recalled the old stories and learned the new ones. (Not everyone, for example, knew that Metzger and her older brother Don took a Greyhound bus every day to get to school from their home in Wilmington.) They all recalled two of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who administered the school, Sister Matthew and Sister Hostia.

Several couples were formed in those days as well, said Patty Wilkerson-Fischer, who married her high school sweetheart Edward Fischer. “Most of the seventh-grade girls looked up to eighth-grade boys,” smiled the outgoing mother of three and grandmother of two. 

“The school was a blessing for us,” she continued. “We built a real bond and great friendships. We grew in the faith and many great things came from that, people who were genuinely faithful like my brother [Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson] and Bishop Ryan. St. Anthony provided something special for each person.”

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