Palm Crest Elementary Class of 1963 arrives

Palm Crest Elementary School principal Karen Hurley, left, standing in a current sixth grade class, gave a tour of the school to visiting members of the sixth grade Class of 1963 after a rally at the La Cañada Flintridge school on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. Ten members of the class of '63 showed up from as far as Eugene, Oregon, Raleigh North Carolina and Austria. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / September 27, 2013)

If ever there was a time warp in La Cañada, it was at Palm Crest Elementary School on Friday, when teachers and students who hadn't set foot on campus for a half-century mixed with curious elementary school kids and faculty at a spirit rally-turned-reunion.

A small group of former students, assembling in town to celebrate their 50th reunion as the school's first graduating class, convened with two former Palm Crest teachers at the school bright and early for a student pep assembly.

“We have some special guests who graduated from Palm Crest when they were in sixth-grade in 1963. That was 50 years ago,” Principal Karen Hurley told students seated on the basketball court, as young minds attempted to grasp the concept of a half-century. “They used to be one of you.”

After a rousing game of “Are You Smarter than a Palm Crest Panther?” in which the returnees answered grade-specific questions in a relay format to determine a winner, the assembly continued. Later, recess began and children played and ran as the group of about 10 reunion celebrants watched.

Robin Price, the lead organizer of the reunion festivities, came 400 miles from Novato to reconnect with her former classmates.

She said the group came together over the course of attending their La Cañada High School reunions. They were lumped into festivities with hundreds of LCHS alums and found themselves wanting to reminisce about earlier times, their days in elementary school.

“We have a really close class,” Price explained. “Whenever we went to these high school reunions, we always wished we could have our own group, so we could just talk.”

She and fellow alum Debbie Foss called the Palm Crest office and asked if they could take a tour during the reunion. Hurley suggested they come in September and attend the rally as well.

As the alumni waited for the tour to begin, small clusters of students approached them with inquiries about back in the day: “Who was your principal?” fifth-grader Alexa wanted to know.

“Was the playground different then? What did you have in it?” asked her classmate, McKenna.

The tour, led by Hurley, afforded the group more opportunities to pop in and interact with students. In one class, Mrs. Bilowitz's fifth-graders sang about all 50 states in a song. In another, the alumni chatted briefly about their memories of what the class used to look like, and of being called to the principal's office.

“It was a special place, absolutely — there was a great esprit de corps,” recalled former teacher Fenwick English, who often played music in his sixth-grade classes from 1962 to 1964 and led several hootenannies. “The faculty was pretty tight and got along well. It was a great place to work.”

There's just something about Palm Crest that keeps people coming back, Hurley said. Alumnus Nick Bell recently came back to build up the school's waiting area for an Eagle Scout project and enlisted the help of 44 community members, who together donated about $20,000 in goods and services to complete the beautification.

“I found it rather exciting they want to come back to their elementary school. Obviously, Palm Crest meant a lot to them,” Hurley said of the reunion participants. “I want to make sure I keep that feeling going, so kids can give back to the school and come back and participate.”

Tom Preston made the 6,000-mile trip from Salzburg, Austria, to La Cañada to celebrate the reunion. Being at Palm Crest and having English as a teacher were pivotal moments in his childhood, he says, and he formed a bond with students that hasn't dissipated with time.

“You realize, at various points in your life, there is an influence on you that is strong,” Preston said. “Even in high school, even if we weren't friends, it always went back to Palm Crest.”

-- Sara Cardine, s_cardine09@yahoo.com

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