October 03, 2007

Hundreds Expected At Pierson Centennial

Pierson High School's first graduating class of 1908 was more a trickle than a flood – just three students received diplomas. But in the century since, the school has turned out hundreds of graduates, many of whom stayed in the area, while others drifted further afield. But this weekend more than 800 alumni are expected to return for three days of celebrations in honor their school's centennial.

Organizing the anniversary bash has "been a riot; it's just been a ball," said George Simonson, Class of 1966, and head of the Pierson Centennial Committee. More than two years in the making, centennial events will include a bonfire at Long Beach, a gathering of all the alumni attendees for a fly-over picture, a homecoming parade and a ceremony to honor six educators and six athletes from the school.

The coordinating committee left no stone unturned in its effort to bring as many Pierson grads as possible back for the festivities. They set up a list of missing alumni on the centennial's website and didn't let the difficulty of tracking down female alumni with different married names keep them from getting the word out. They even tracked two male graduates who had taken their wives names when they married – "Isn't that a hoot?" Simonson said. "We've been getting calls [from alumni] off the wall," he added.

School spirit runs deep and well back into the last century. Amongst the attendees will be nonagenarians Alice Miller Ham and Ethel Bookstaver Charach, both in the class of 1925. "These people have been out of school for 80 years," Simonson said. "Isn't that great?" Of the 63 graduates over the age of 80 still living, 44 will be attending the centennial celebrations, including a luncheon for those 80 and older scheduled for Saturday at noon.

Pierson was constructed in large part by money donated by philanthropist Margaret Slocum Sage, a summer resident of Sag Harbor. The school was named in honor of the Piersons, Sage's mother's side of the family and natives of Sag Harbor. Sage also donated the money to construct the John Jermain Library, named after her grandfather, a major who fought in the Revolutionary War. Her summer home now houses the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum.

When Pierson first opened "the students walked from the Union School up to Pierson and went into the building and that was the first day," said Jack Youngs, Class of 1961 and one of the centennial's organizers. "That must have been quite the sight, seeing all the schoolchildren walk up Main Street to Madison Street and to the school." After the first graduating class of three, the school expanded quickly – statistically speaking. "It doubled. It went from three to six – not bad," Youngs said with a laugh.

Youngs collected many historical photographs showcasing Pierson's history, some of which are in the Centennial's handbook and many more of which will be on display at the school over the weekend. "Historically we received a lot of information from a lot of different people," he said. "We learned so much."

Amongst the memorabilia on display will be the 30 years of kindergarten pictures from Mrs. Edwards's class, a kindergarten teacher at the school who began teaching in the 1930s. "Her son had ever class picture that she taught through the years at Pierson," Youngs said.

Simonson sees the whole weekend as a display of appreciation for the educators, past and present, who worked at Pierson. "I think it's the highest compliment we can pay the teaching staff," he said. "My appreciation only grew after I got out of there."

In an ironic twist, the celebration of education will be curbed a bit by those who are pursing a shot at higher education. Because of a scheduling conflict with the SATs, the homecoming parade planned for Friday has been moved to Sunday at 10 a.m. The parade is "mostly kids from the school" and "it really throws them a heck of a curve," Simonson said.

All the other events will proceed as planned. On Saturday afternoon there will be a ceremony to honor six educators and six athletes from the school. The 1977-78 New York State boys' basketball championship team will also be recognized.

The largest get-together will come at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, when all alumni will gather on Pierson Hill for the biggest class picture in the school's history. In an homage to an aerial photo taken of the Class of 1934, all attendees will gather around the letters "PHS 100" written on the ground as a plane flies over to take another picture for the Pierson historical record. Technology gives this photo an advantage on the '34 photo: it will be so clear, a viewer will be able to see "who's picking their teeth," Simonson said.

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