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    Salem's world record-holding Class of 1944 gathers for 80th high school reunion

    By Capi Lynn, Salem Statesman Journal,


    The Salem High School Class of 1944 extended its world record for longest-running class reunion, gathering this past weekend at their favorite Denny's restaurant in southeast Salem.

    Six members attended their 80th reunion: five women and Bill Juza. The ladies wore red rose corsages and Juza a red rose boutonniere.

    Doris Ritchey Powers traveled the farthest from Happy Valley, where she lives. The others live in Salem.

    Reunion ringleaders Trudie Meier Gavette and Gayle Crozier Priem each brought memorabilia for a display table in the small banquet room, including a yearbook for their classmates to sign and a copy of the cookbook the class published several years ago as a fundraiser.

    Gladys Dalke Welty and Iris Wall were the other attendees representing Salem's graduating class of 368 students, all raised during the Great Depression and defined by World War II. Their commencement was held June 1, 1944, five days before D-Day. Nine boys didn't get to walk across the stage because they already had gone off to war.

    The classmates placed their orders with Denny's server Sheryl Cunningham like they have many times before. Management treated them to lunch.

    "We just wanted to make them feel special," restaurant manager Bobbi Avants said. "After 80 years, they deserve it."

    Denny's has been their go-to venue — where Cunningham has worked for 28 years and always requests to serve the Class of 1944 — other than a few special reunions.

    Their 70th was at their alma mater. The school's name was changed to North Salem High 10 years after they graduated and when South Salem High opened. Their 75th reunion was at the Salem Convention Center, with dinner at Bentley's.

    And last year, their 79th, was aboard the Willamette Queen sternwheeler, celebrating not just another year but recognition from Guinness World Records for the longest-running class reunion.

    The program for No. 80 started much the same as so many others, with Gavette taking time to remember five alums lost in the past year, including reunion regular Kathleen Hug Hughes, who died in April. She was 97.

    Gavette shared a poignant but funny tribute the Hughes family asked her to read to the group.

    The classmates later went around the table and introduced their children, and Gavette shared her annual poem. Priem surprised Gavette this year with a poem about Gavette's vow long ago to have a reunion each year.

    "And here we are, in year 2024!

    80 years have gone by since banner year '44

    When we were just kids

    And our world was at war.

    We've survived COVID-19,

    Other wars and political strife,

    Raised wonderful families

    And had a good life.

    We've lost many friends

    And loved ones so dear.

    Now you bring us full circle and declare,

    "I told you so!

    ... And I'll see you next year!"

    Capi Lynn is a senior reporter for the Statesman Journal. Send comments, questions and tips to her at, and follow her work on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook @CapiLynnSJ.

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