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‘It’s Like We’re Still the Same Group’

July 15, 2018

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FITCHBURG -- Ellen DiGeronimo can describe her alma mater, the former B.F. Brown Junior High School, with fondness and very specific detail.

“In the center of the building were the stairs where you could see everyone every day. There was so much light coming in and you could say hello to everyone on your way to class,” she recalled.

Her treasured memories of the school made the fire that burned through much of the building two years ago all the more painful for DiGeronimo and her fellow alumni.

“We were in Maine on vacation when my daughter called to tell me. I couldn’t even respond,” she said.

The building still stands two years later. Stand on the sidewalk outside and you can glimpse the sky through some of the school’s smoke-stained windows due to the collapsed roof.

To hold the 65-year reunion for Fitchburg High School’s 1953 graduating class across the street from what remains of one of their beloved schools may seem like a sad idea, but it proved to be anything but.

The reunion, held at the Fitchburg Art Museum on Saturday, featured a presentation to graduates of the ongoing plans by NewVue Communities to restore B.F. Brown to its former glory by converting it into affordable housing. Renderings of the finished building were on display for alumni, as well as the plans for proposed renovations of other downtown anchors like Fitchburg City Hall and the Theater Block.

The presentation of each project drew applause from the crowd of current and former residents.

Alumnus Jim Ruberti, who now lives in Barnstable, said he was impressed by the city’s plans, referring to the renovation projects as a “resurgence” for Fitchburg.

“I hadn’t known about any of this... I’m pleased to see what has been done,” he said.

Ruberti was described in his senior class year book as having been the “popular class president” with a “terrific sense of humor,” while his vice president Joan McCann was listed as being “abounding in liveliness” and the “life of the party.”

“It’s like we’re still the same group of people. We’re a great group,” said McCann. “I still live in Fitchburg so I only regularly two or three of these people.”

Saturday’s event drew graduates from surrounding towns but also New Hampshire, Florida, and Cape Cod.

Though 244 students graduated in 1953, 117 have since passed away. Of the remaining 127, 43 were able to attend Saturday’s reunion.

DiGeronimo said there is a core group of local residents and graduates living out of state who attend every reunion, and some who were in attendance for the first time on Saturday.

The reunion ended with the 43 former classmates gathering together for a photo not unlike the class picture they all posed for nearly 70 years ago. Like the teenagers they once were, they poked at each other and laughed as the photographers tried to direct them how to stand.

The resulting photo may appear to show a group of octogenarians. Look closer and you’ll see what they really are: a very well-disguised bunch of 18-year-olds.

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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