Dozens of Kennewick High School graduates in their late 70s and early 80s gathered at a funeral home Friday night to pay respects to fellow classmates.
This wasn’t a funeral.
“It’s just a thrill to see everyone again,” said Mary Ellen Smithson of Kennewick, who was one of about 60 alumni at the 60th reunion of the Class of 1956.
This was the second time the class has met at Mueller’s Chapel of the Falls mortuary, which is owned by alumna Gail Mueller.
Several displays were set up with photos of Kennewick High School in a different era. Everyone gathered around the large dining hall to talk about past memories and experiences growing up in the Tri-Cities.
The idea of having reunions in a funeral home doesn’t bother the group much — classmates have known Mueller and her family as funeral home directors for years.
Many in the Class of ’56 have known each other since kindergarten.
“We were all used to Gail being the mortician’s daughter,” said Smithson, who was a cheerleader in high school with Mueller. “She and her brothers had to put up with a lot of jokes at school.”
Mueller said she has fond memories of kind times with a wonderful group of people.
“We just enjoyed life so much,” Mueller said.
It’s amazing. They’ve been absolutely warm, wonderful occasions.
Terence Day, Kennewick High School Class of 1956
Mueller first offered to be host at the funeral home for their 2011 reunion. Their first pick was a garden belonging to alumnus Tom Sanders, but it was too hot outside.
“It ended up being 108 out that day,” said Mary Kirkpatrick of Kennewick, who organized this and seven other class reunions.
They packed up their chicken buffet and moved into the air-conditioned recreation room at the mortuary. There were some terrible jokes and lots of laughter, but Kirkpatrick said she knew they had to return in order to “kick off” their 60th reunion.
Smithson said this year’s mortuary meet-up served as an “ice breaker” for the main lunch at the Tri-Cities Country Club today, followed by a wrap-up gathering at the Sports Page Bar on Sunday.
Though their sense of humor hasn’t departed, Kirkpatrick said their age is catching up with some of them — at least three in Washington had to cancel plans to attend.
Others went to great lengths to attend. Marjorie Shults Lawrence, who lives in Chester, Ill., was told she couldn’t fly out because of a heart attack she suffered on April 15.
She and her husband, Chuck, didn’t take no for an answer — they got in a pickup and drove about 2,000 miles to get here.
“I don’t care to fly anyhow,” Chuck Lawrence said.
“We took our time,” Marjorie said.
Others, like Terence Day of Pullman, didn’t have to drive as far.
He described the entire group as close-knit.
“It’s amazing,” Day said. “They’ve been absolutely warm, wonderful occasions.”