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Friday, September 27, 2019

Members of the AHS Class of 1959 recall fun times in semi-rural Annandale

The Annandale High School 60th reunion.
When Annandale was a semi-rural community in the 1950s, teens used to ride horses down the streets, enjoyed sock hops in the school gym, and in some cases, quit school to get married.

Those are some of the memories shared by Annandale High School alumni at an informal celebration of the Class of 1959’s 60th reunion at Carolyn Freeman’s home in Annandale Acres Sept. 21.

The Class of 1959 was the first complete class to graduate from AHS, which started with eighth graders when it opened in 1954.

Buckley’s babies  

Nikki Hunter McDonald, Carolyn’s sister, who now lives in Lynchburg, organized the reunion. She stayed in touch with several classmates over the years, as well as Annandale’s first principal, Ralph Buckley, who served for 16 years.

“We loved Mr. Buckley,” Nikki says. “He was very stern but kind and listened to both sides of the story.”

He referred to some of the eighth-grade girls as “Buckley’s babies,” Nikki says. “We thought that was really cool. He was just a wonderful man; he was like a father to us.”

Nikki hosted a surprise party for Mr. Buckley’s 92nd birthday, and after he died, in 2010, helped distribute some of his ashes under the AHS scoreboard.

Another “Buckley baby,” Marilyn Cox, credits Mr. Buckley with helping her husband, also an AHS graduate, get a scholarship to Virginia Tech. “If it wasn’t for Mr. Buckley, he wouldn’t have been able to go to college.”

Teen life

With no cell phones or Internet, kids had to entertain themselves, Nikki says. “We played double Dutch jump rope, pickup sticks, and lay on the ground looking up at the sky.”

Nancy Trollinger Sowers
School dances in the AHS gym, known as sock hops, were popular. Everyone had to take their shoes off to protect the floor.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the place to be was the Teen Spot, at the Annandale Swim and Tennis Club on Little River Turnpike, which had a jukebox and snack bar, says Nancy Trollinger Sowers.

Another fun activity for teens was driving to the Hot Shoppes in Shirlington, says Nancy, who went to AHS for the eighth grade after attending Annandale Elementary School on Columbia Pike. (That building now houses the ACCA Child Development Center.)

Nancy lived on Executive Avenue near a horse stable owned by the Powell family where Inova Fairfax Hospital is now. She recalls renting horses and riding them on the streets and jumping over sawhorses when the Holmes Run Acres community was being built.

One of the students on Nancy’s school bus was James Clapper, who later became director of national intelligence during the Obama Administration. “He was cute in high school,” she remembers, and Nikki says he came to the 50th reunion.

Bette Rae Turner
Former AHS cheerleader Bette Rae Turner (Sprow) lived in the Mill Creek neighborhood when it was still rural. She played in the creek, joined the boys for baseball and football games, and rode horses in the neighborhood before the beltway was built.

In high school, Bette Rae says, a typical date destination was the drive-in movie theater on Lee Highway in what is now the Mosaic District.

Her father, a former D.C. cop, was tough on the boys she was dating. When a boy came to pick her up, “he gave them the first degree, gave them a little lecture, and looked in the car to see if there were pillows and a blanket,” she says.

While most of her classmates graduated in 1959, Nikki got married in her junior year at age 16, and her husband convinced her to drop out. She earned a GED 50 years later, and Mr. Buckley arranged a graduation ceremony for her at Annandale High School.

Bette Rae also got married in her senior year, but stayed in school and graduated. Both hers and Nikki’s first marriages lasted about five years. Nikki met her third husband at the AHS 40th class reunion.

New adventures

One of Bette Rae’s grandsons, Falcon Heene, achieved worldwide fame as the “balloon boy.” He was thought to have been accidentally sent aloft in a homemade helium-filled gas balloon shaped like a flying saucer in Colorado in 2009, but was later found to be hiding in the attic. The incident was later deemed a hoax.

So many girls married in their teens, that Bonnie Kern, who lived on Braddock Road, said she felt like an “old maid,” because she didn’t marry until she was 21.

Bonnie, who was a majorette at AHS, says Mr. Buckley helped her graduate a year early so she could fulfill her dream of joining the Rockettes, the famous high-kicking dancers at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. She spent about five years as a Rockette, danced at the Stork Club, and performed on Broadway.

After returning to Virginia, Bonnie later portrayed Martha Washington and Abigail Adams in historical re-enactments.

As a child, Bonnie went to Burke Elementary School when it was a one-room schoolhouse. Her father was in the CIA but neither she her mother knew that until after his death.

Bonnie and Nikki remember living through the Cold War, when schoolchildren were required to hide under their school desks during duck-and-cover drills, as if that would protect them if the Russians dropped the bomb. “We were innocent; we believed everything,” Bonnie says.

Bonnie Kern and Nikki Hunter McDonald
Sexual harassment and teacher/student relationships weren’t considered a crime – or even inappropriate – in those days. Bonnie notes that a typing teacher was always rubbing girls’ backs and touching their breasts, especially one girl, whom he later married. “Back then you didn’t question that,” she says.

Bonnie’s mother worked at Tom Weston’s restaurant – on Columbia Pike where CafĂ© Fume is now – and Nikki’s mother worked next door at the Annandale Grill.

Before there were supermarkets, they shopped at the Roadside Market, where the Jiffy Lube is now and where the main attraction was the cute Willie Hummer. They got butter and eggs from the Clark farm on Columbia Pike.

Both of them went door-to-door to collect money for the Annandale Fire Department, as the one who collected the most got to be Miss Annandale in the AHS homecoming parade. They didn’t win but they did jump on a homecoming float at the school’s 50th anniversary.

“We always had fun,” Bonnie says.

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