First Red Oak class split between high schools to reunite 45 years later

Henry Greene has never been keen on reliving his high school years, which perhaps explains why he’s attended only two class reunions since graduating from Deerfield High School in 1973.

Greene recalls spending his 20th reunion hanging out with classmates who grew up in west Highland Park and graduated from Red Oak School in 1969.

“That is where we really cemented our friendships,” said Greene, the force behind an upcoming September reunion of the Red Oak class of 1969.

The Red Oak grads were a distinct minority at Deerfield High School because they were the first eighth-graders from Red Oak given the choice of attending either Highland Park or Deerfield high school. About half the families went in each direction, while previously all Red Oak students matriculated to Deerfield High School.

Greene recalls feeling like “second cousins” at the Deerfield 20th reunion. The photographer began organizing attendees for group photos according to the middle school they attended. He didn’t have Red Oak School on the list. “I had to tap him on the shoulder to arrange the photo,” Greene recalled.

When Greene, who now lives in Lake Forest, started receiving correspondence about Deerfield’s 40th reunion last year, he decided to attend for one reason: To gauge interest in a 1969 Red Oak reunion.

“Most of us have not seen the people who went to the other high school in 45 years,” Greene noted.

The classmates who grew up in the tight-knit area of Highland Park west of Route 41 will turn 60 in another year and are about to pass from middle-age to senior-citizen status. “We’re not getting any younger,” Greene noted.

A 1969 Red Oak Reunion committee that includes Greene, Perry Ergang, Randi Seidmon Kohn and Steve Levin has been meeting for the past year. The group recently has been joined by Cheryl Sherman Ross and a “southern liaison,” Allen Weber, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla.

They’ve planned the reunion for 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at Bridie McKenna’s, 254 Green Bay Road, Highwood.

Kohn said she and Greene were often paired together for 7th grade dance class at Red Oak. “He didn’t like the class either, although he was the better dancer,” she recalled. Since she went on to Highland Park and he to Deerfield high school, Kohn hadn’t seen him since their Red Oak graduation — until the reunion committee started to meet.

“Our grade school peers are the ones who shaped our early lives, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn how our former friends and their families were,” she said. “We all lived in close proximity to each other.

I often thought about my friends who went to Deerfield,” Kohn added. She recalls feeling rather overwhelmed and intimidated entering the large Highland Park freshman class.

Greene theorizes that neighborhood friendships were more influential in those days because the neighborhood was the basis of anyone’s social circle.

“Back then, you did everything in your neighborhood,” said Greene, who grew up on Rosemary Road in Highland Park. “If you wanted to see a friend, you knocked on their door. If you wanted to play ball, you did it with people in your neighborhood and you had to do a lot of knocking on doors to get people to show up.”

Last year, Greene had occasion to reflect on his own connection to the west Highland Park neighborhood when his older brother Mayner died of congestive heart failure and asked that some of his ashes be distributed at the ballfields between West Ridge and Red Oak schools where they spent countless hours playing baseball and football.

“As I walked the fields and did the deed, I reflected on my own childhood memories and realized that life was short,” Greene said. “The people that I grew up with represented a big part of my personal history and I thought it would make sense to bring everyone together.”

Greene said there’s a natural bond among friends who’ve known each other since first or fifth grade that makes it easy to catch up after decades. Observed Greene, “You can pick up a conversation without missing a beat.”

Information on the reunion is at www.redoak1969.info.

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