The Staples High School campus in the early 1970s had eight different buildings (black-and-white photos), linked by open-air walkways and courtyards. It has since been replaced by today’s three-story structure (above right), dedicated in 2005.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — The year was 1969. The Beatles released the Abbey Road album, protests against the war in Vietnam propelled the start of U.S. troop withdrawals, and the Woodstock music festival was held on a farm in central New York. 

That same year a half-century ago, a class of Westport 14- and 15-year-olds became ninth-graders, but in those days they went to the town’s three-year junior high schools rather than a four-year high school as they do now, The Class of ’73 did not start attending Staples High School until a year later as sophomores.

This year, beginning Friday, those Staples 1973 alumni will gather for their 50th reunion. It will be a weekend to catch up with high school classmates and reminisce about the early ’70s, their years at Staples and reflect on decades that have passed since then.

A collage of pages from the Staples Class of 1973 yearbook.

The reunion weekend starts Friday with golfing at Longshore Club Park, followed by “happy hour” get-togethers at Saugatuck mainstays, the Black Duck and Viva Zapata. On Saturday, classmates will gather at Compo Beach for the afternoon, and events conclude Sunday with a farewell cocktail party at the Fayerweather Yacht Club in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport.

The late 1960s and early ’70s in Westport were a time of change, reflecting the national trend of grassroots activism, such as the successful campaign that in 1969 blocked construction of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island off Westport’s coast.

Staples High School at the time was an unusual and special place, even during those raucous years, according to several members of the Class of 1973.

The Staples campus on North Avenue then consisted of eight separate buildings for various departments and uses, linked by open-air walkways and courtyards that required students — including 620 members of the Class of 1973 — to brave the weather as they moved from class to class, according to Alison Healy, chairwoman of the 50th class reunion, and now a realtor in Fairfield.

“It made for a lot of escapades going out into the weather … an architect form California designed it,” she said.

The class also entered Staples at the end of the late-‘60s era when high-profile rock bands had performed at the school, according to Healy, including Cream, the Doors, the Byrds and Taj Mahal.

“Staples was known as ‘Rock and Roll High School,’ ” she said. “It was very interesting times that we grew up in … We had freedom, we didn’t have the restrictions that we do today. We picked our classes, it was not run the way schools are today.”

Peter Ewen and Dionne Giglio, voted “cutest couple” in the Staples High School Class of 1973, had their photo taken in 2013 at the class’s 4oth reunion. 

Classmate Peter Ewen, another reunion committee member, agreed. “It was an open format,” he said. “Students could drive to school and leave campus for lunch.”

Among Ewen’s favorite memories of his years at Staples were the school theatrical productions, staged by a drama department that has earned an outstanding reputation over the years. “The talent was so great,” he said, and many Staples students involved in drama went on to careers in acting and related fields, he said, including David Marshall Grant, an actor and producer known for “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Stepford Wives.”

Ewen is a professional photographer who retired from a long career in the sales and marketing division of the Olympus Corp. and now lives in Pennsylvania. 

He recalls the time that actor and Westport resident Paul Newman visited his class at Coleytown Middle School. “We all had to put our little ties on for Mr. Newman,” he said.

During his years at Staples, Ewen remembers highlights like “the soccer team winning the state championship or at least making it way up there in the rankings,” as well as observance of Earth Day, and local interest in the Watergate scandal that led to 1973 impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon and his resignation the following year.

Ewen described his time at Staples as “an all-American high school experience … a feeling of being safe and well cared for … I loved every minute of it.”

For Susan Mraz-Mungavin, the atmosphere in Westport — where families settled for years while their children grew up — was important.

“I went to Bedford Elementary [now Town Hall] and Coleytown Junior High with a number of people who will be at the reunion,” she said. “We went to Beach School and were in Brownies and Girl Scouts together.” 

Mraz-Mungavin’s fondest memories of Staples are the array of art classes she was able to take and the Girls Glee Club directed by George Weigel.

“So many of us still have music, art and theater in our souls as a result of going to Staples and living in Westport,” she said. “Thoughts of singing ‘Sing We Noel’ and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ at the Candlelight Concert still warms my heart.”

Alison Healey compiled a list of significant events during the Class of 1973’s high school years:

  • U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam war.
  • Roe vs. Wade: U.S. Supreme Court overturned state bans on abortions.
  • Gas crisis.
  • Drinking age went from 21 to 18.
  • The voting age was lowered to 18.
  • The World Trade Center opened April 1973.
  • The Watergate scandal unfolded.

Long gone from Westport since the 1970s:

  • Bowling lanes.
  • Golf ball driving range.
  • Greens Farms ice skating rink.
  • Ye Olde Bridge Grill.
  • Players Tavern.
  • Big Top and Chubby Lane’s burger/fast-food joints.
  • Dairy Queen.
  • Westport Pizzeria (downtown)
  • Bill’s Smoke Shop.
  • Fine Arts movie theaters.
Staples High School’s Class of 1973 gathered for a 40th reunion portrait at Longshore Club Park. About 80 graduates are expected to attend the 50th reunion this weekend.

SHS Class of 1973 reunion events:

Friday, Oct. 6:

2 p.m., Golf at Longshore Club Park

4-6 p.m., Happy hour, the Black Duck and Viva Zapata in Saugatuck

Saturday, Oct. 7:

1-5  p.m. Compo Beach party

Sunday, Oct. 8:

 4-6 p.m., Farewell cocktail party, Fayerweather Yacht Club, Black Rock section of Bridgeport

For more information about the Staples High School Class of 1973 reunion, visit the reunion Facebook page, or call Alison Healy at 203-858-1656 or email aahealy@aol.com.

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Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.