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'We just never fell apart': Tower City classmates celebrate 60-year reunion, likely their last

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Jerry Richman of Valley City, N.D., and Bill Pfau of Billings, Mont., visit with student John Gille in the hallway at the Maple Valley School in Tower City, N.D., on Sept. 10, 2018. Richman and Pfau will participate in a 60th school reunion. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum2 / 4
The 1958 Tower City High School graduating class will hold its 60th school reunion Sept. 14-15, 2018. Jerry Richman of Valley City, N.D., far left, Brian Wolf, superintendent of Maple Valley School District, second from left, and Bill Pfau of Billings, Mont., right, inspect photographs of graduates. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum3 / 4
Bill Pfau holds a warmup basketball jersey for the Clams of Tower City High School at Maple Valley Public School in Tower City, N.D., on Sept. 10, 2018. Pfau will take part in a 60th school reunion. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum4 / 4

TOWER CITY, N.D. — A walk through Maple Valley Public School here reveals a shiny new addition, including a bright lunchroom and new elementary wing.

It's still like going down memory lane, however, for Bill Pfau of Billings, Mont., and Jerry Richman of Valley City, both 1958 high school graduates of the former Tower City School.

The high school portion looks mostly the same, although the hallway "seems smaller for some reason," Richman said, laughing.

The men are among a dozen in their graduating class of 18 students to celebrate their 60th high school reunion on Friday, Sept. 14, and Saturday, Sept. 15.

"It went fast. You know, you don't feel that old," Pfau said.

Jerry Richman and Bill Pfau visit with library staff in Maple Valley Public School Sept. 10, 2018. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum

As time marches on, attendance at high school reunions can taper off, but that's not the case with this class.

Reunion organizer Jackie O'Neill of Oakdale, Minn., said their bond has remained strong. They've held reunions every five years since graduation.

"This is a unique class, from day one. We just never fell apart, 18 of us," O'Neill said.

The reunion is bittersweet, though, because it's likely their last. Some classmates are having difficulty getting around, Pfau said. Four classmates have died since graduation.

Maple Valley Superintendent Brian Wolf said the class sets an example for younger students.

"The great memories that they hold and how important the community is to them still, 60 years after they graduated," Wolf said.

Funny memories

The informal school tour brought back a flood of memories for Pfau and Richman, both 78.

A January 1952 fire destroyed the school and its new gymnasium only hours after the first basketball game was held there.

Students had to attend class in churches for months before a new school was built.

The discovery of an old basketball warmup jacket reminded the men of their unusual school nickname at the time. Sports teams there now go by the Raiders, but they were the Clams back then, and no one seems to know why.

Pfau admits the boys liked to pull pranks, including removing the school bell on Halloween so it couldn't be rung for classes the next morning. The superintendent and his wife had an apartment in the school at the time, and the bell sat outside their window.

"That bell was about 60 pounds and it was very tough to get out without making a noise," he said, chuckling.

There were school dances, games and the time spent doing things their parents probably wished they hadn't.

"We tore around just like the kids do now, maybe worse," Richman said.

No one locked their doors and no one took keys out of their vehicles. Kids left shotguns in their pickups or lockers, in case they had time to shoot gophers over lunchtime.

It was a great place to grow up, but a totally different time, Pfau said.

'Hard to fathom'

Pfau and Richman both credit a certain upbringing for the classmates staying close — most of them grew up on farms.

The careers they pursued were varied, including in the military, education, agriculture, business and nursing fields, but they shared a work ethic and desire to stay in touch.

A photo of the 1958 Tower City High School class rests on the floor of Maple Valley Public School. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum

Several teachers were influential, especially one named Ruby.

"In spite of her discipline, we loved her," O'Neill said.

The reunion begins Friday morning, when several 1958 graduates will share their experiences with Maple Valley students, in grades seven through 12.

That evening, a banquet will be held at a local cafe. On Saturday, after a mid-morning brunch, the graduates will have a formal tour of the school before gathering at a classmate's home.

Reliving their high school days as they approach their twilight years will no doubt be an emotional experience.

"It's just been fun," O'Neill said, her voice choked with emotion.

The milestone also leaves Richman wondering how 60 years could pass so quickly.

"That's a long time. It's hard to fathom," he said.