We left at 6:30 that morning and arrived at 11:00. We walked into the track meet, and I immediately started looking for friendly faces, aged 25 years or so. Ironically, the first one I found was Mrs. Gray, my English teacher and mentor, and Mr. Gray's wife. She was surrounded by family, and her face lit up when she saw me. "Don't tell me--Jim!" she exclaimed, and I nodded and hugged her. There were plenty of other former students there to see her, so I gave her some space and kept searching the crowd. Magi had Sera bundled up and huddled against her in a blanket. As more and more people started to arrive, recognition would wash over our faces and we would just start gushing. A couple people passed me a few times with a puzzled look on their faces, as if they wanted to say something but just couldn't place my face. I let them off the hook, though, as I was a lanky 200 pound (yes, 200 pounds is lanky when you're 6' 4")18-year old kid when they last saw me.
Old students and athletes of Mr. Gray's began to assemble, and my former next-door neighbor Kellie Amidon started warming up her cornet to play the Star-Spangled Banner. I kidded her that she used to play the trombone, and she responded that she kept trying to play bass clef when reading the music which she had taped down because of the winds. Nancy Markham had a prepared speech and was going over it while Paul Williams, my former basketball coach and recently-retired athletic director tried to get the public address system going. I stayed busy catching up with Denise Shively and Rhonda Cochrane.
Nancy (Markham) Klein
A break in the track meet was called, and people assembled around the home stands. Nancy gave a heartfelt speech, followed by a 21-gun salute by the Cadillac Area Honor Guard, given in respect to Mr. Gray's service during the Korean War. Taps was played and a flag was raised to half staff, then lowered and given to Mrs. Gray. Nancy had arranged for the flag to be flown over Washington, D.C. last year. A new flag was raised over the stone memorial and Mrs. Gray graciously thanked everyone in attendance, showing off her still-booming voice that always commanded attention in the classroom.
The Memorial Stone
On our way home, I pointed out the exit to the small town where the Grays lived (and where Mrs. Gray still lives) while they taught in Mesick. Magi expressed her admiration at the dedication it must have taken to drive 70 miles round trip to work every day for 22 years. I, for one, cannot thank them enough for the impact they both had on my life.
The Cadillac News covered the event here. They have exerpts from Nancy's wonderful speech.
I have created a Yahoo group for alumni of Mesick High School here. Stay in touch!