High school and college graduates regularly hold reunions, usually at five- or 10-year intervals, but it's a bit more unusual for former teachers and staff members to reunite.
Forty-one teachers and classified staff members from Gracey Elementary School in South Merced gathered Saturday night at a Merced restaurant, testimony to the lasting bonds formed at the school, which opened nearly 26 years ago.
Bev Wigley of Atwater, who spent 14 years teaching at Gracey School and 24 years with the Merced City School District, said the early days at Gracey were the best of her teaching career.
"The reunion was incredible," Wigley said, "just like we never missed a day. It (reunion) was too short. It (Gracey) was a wonderful place to work; we refer to the time as the 'glory days.' We were cutting-edge, and were a family."
The school at 945 West Ave. opened its doors in 1986, but classes were first held for a month in the Merced County Fairgrounds Commerce Building since campus construction wasn't complete. Sheets hung on a clothesline separated the classes at the fairgrounds.
Judy Doyle, now retired in Argyle, Iowa, couldn't make the reunion but said she has fond memories of her time as the school's founding principal.
"They were such a good group," Doyle said. "We really worked hard and played together. There was a marvelous group of students and parents. There were all sorts of firsts and it was phenomenal."
Gracey School is named after the late Leontine Gracey, who spent 16 years of her 31-year teaching career with the Merced district. She died in 1981 at age 54, said Sarah Lim, Merced County historian.
Retired librarian Anne Prather and library technician Nancy Baladad delivered books to Gracey students at the fairgrounds, using a little red wagon.
"We had a wonderful school," Prather said. "We owe it to Judy Doyle. She had a vision and she believed so much in us we thought we could fly. It was a great time. Everybody there believed in our goals and Judy's vision."
Prather retired last year after a 30-year career. She said starting at the fairgrounds was quite a challenge but Gracey staff members hold rich feelings about what they accomplished for the district and the students.
Retired teacher Ruth Fromson said teachers, administrators and other support staff shared memories of joyous times working together in pursuit of academic excellence.
"The genuine affection and admiration for each other was unmistakable," Fromson said. "The committee is hoping to have another reunion sometime in the future that would include family members."
Linda Taylor of Hilmar was the school's art teacher and worked there from 1988 until 2001 when she retired. She said many of the former Gracey staff members still live in the area but others came to the reunion from Napa, Manteca and Los Angeles areas.
"I love these people," Taylor said. "They are dear friends. It was a defining point in my life. Everybody filled in the gaps. There was a suggestion to see if we couldn't rent the Exhibit Building at the fairgrounds where it all started."
"People were very kind and supportive of each other," Taylor said. "People really cared. There was a uniqueness, a bond of friendship that went beyond professional contact that you don't see in any other kind of company."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.