Judith Resnick had the most physical Wilt Chamberlain story at the Overbrook High School class of 1953 reunion.
She was running down the stairs, late for class, when the towering basketball phenom stepped through a doorway and into her path. “And I went smack into his belly.”
Just about every person attending the 60-year reunion at Bala Golf Club on Oct. 20 had a tale about their connection to Chamberlain, who was a few classes behind them at the school in West Philadelphia.
They also had stories – plenty of stories — about their connections to one another. The class, Resnick and others said, was an especially close one with a large number of Jewish students from Wynnefield and Overbrook Park, which at that time were predominantly Jewish communities. Some said almost two-thirds of the class was Jewish; others said it was less than half.
The more than 80 people in attendance — out of a class of 340 — appeared vibrant some six decades after the Korean War ended and Perry Como became a heartthrob. The classmates moved throughout the room as early rock ’n’ roll played in the background and some women struck the hand-on-outside hip pose for photos. The organizers of the reunion said they had used Facebook and other social media to track down classmates.
Resnick, a Dresher resident, reconnected with a friend who she first met in middle school and hadn’t seen since attending Temple University more than 50 years ago. She had tried to find her but couldn’t recall her married name, Leona Saline.
“It was wonderful,” Resnick said. “I was thinking about her and when I came in” to the reunion “there was her picture,” on a name tag.
Resnick and Saline sat at a table with Sandra Schwartz and others from their group of friends in high school and the dynamic of a high school lunch table appeared intact.
“Everyone looks the same,” Schwartz said. “Some of them look better, honestly.”
Gail Ehrlich, also at the table, described her years in high school as a community-minded time.
“This was an era prior to the purpose of high school being to get into the best colleges, win awards,” said Ehrlich, who has spent her time since high school in Philadelphia and Switzerland and is a mother of three children. “This was an era of genuine friendships, caring about each other. It crossed races, it crossed religions.”
In addition to the Jewish students, there was also a significant number of Italian and African-American students at Overbrook. Phyllis Weinstock, the class president, said she and organizers tried to reach outside of the Jewish community for the event, and the reunion did appear to be something of a melting pot.
The Overbrook alums graduated just before the start of the civil rights movement, but several people claimed that their class was ahead of the times.
“I remember having a class party and when my neighbors saw black people walking in my house, they were astounded, because Wynnefield was primarily Jewish, but I was very fair about everyone being together,” said Weinstock, who now lives on the Main Line.
Weinstock could have been forgiven if she had not attended the reunion, let alone help organize it. In September, her son, Randy Weinstock, died from a heart attack while bicycling with his wife in Manayunk.
Weinstock had lost another son years earlier.
“There are still good times to be had,” she said, smiling. “Because life goes on and to maintain the memory of your loved ones, you have to be healthy and vibrant. I always felt a close connection with my class. Even throughout all the planning, we had really great times. Everyone’s older, doesn’t look the same; they have maladies, but there’s a way of looking at life differently.”
After people had settled into their seats and eaten, Weinstock addressed the class about how the world had changed since they graduated.
“We do things quickly, move places rapidly and achieve results swiftly,” with a way of life “that was beyond anything we in our younger years ever dreamed about,” said Weinstock.
She asked the class to observe a moment of silence for those who had died since graduation and then for people to share a little about themselves. She called first upon her “prom date, Mr. Jerome Muchnick.” In March, the Center City resident’s grandson, after surviving two tours as a Marine in Afghanistan, died in an explosion at an army depot in Nevada.
Before he spoke, Muchnick’s eyes welled when asked about him, but he remained upbeat.
“I have a wonderful wife. I have wonderful children and grandchildren,” Muchnick, who splits his time between a paper brokerage firm and charity work, told the attendees. “I count myself among the fortunate ones. Thank you all for coming. It’s just so nice to see you all.”