Alumni meet for Penney High School 'mega-reunion'
By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Sat., Sep. 24, 2011
More than 400 George J. Penney High School alumni came together for the first time in decades during a ‘mega-reunion’ held at High Meadows Park in Granby on Sept. 18.
“It was a picture-perfect day – we had about 483 people, from all years. We had people come from California, Florida, Alaska and one from China,” said Russ Collins, chairman of the Penney High School Mega-Reunion Committee.
East Hartford once had two high schools – one was East Hartford High, and the other was George J. Penney High, named after a popular town official. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the two schools enjoyed a fierce sports rivalry.
As the baby boom began to taper off during the 1980s, the town made the decision to close one of the high schools. Penney High, which opened in 1965, was closed in 1985. Penney High School became East Hartford High School, and East Hartford High School became East Hartford Middle School.
Collins and several other alumni began working on the reunion last year, utilizing Facebook and other social networking efforts to contact classmates who had scattered across the state and the country over the years. “It was a great day – I've gotten over 100 e-mails from people telling how much they enjoyed it,” he said.
Among those who attended the event was U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-1st District), who was a young teacher at Penney High School before entering his political career. “I taught history and social science at Penney High School from 1973 to 1977,” said Larson, who is a 1967 graduate of East Hartford High School.
Larson said he saw many of his former students at the reunion. “What was terrific about it was that it spanned 20 years,” Larson said. “It was a great concept, and they did a great job.”
Lois Dingman was a special guest at the reunion. Dingman is the daughter of school namesake George Penney, a public works director for the town who died of a stroke at the age of 47. “It was wonderful day – the people, the weather, the food. It was perfect. It was just super,” Dingman said.
By chance, the Sept. 18 reunion was held on what would have been the 99th birthday of George Penney. Dingman said she appreciated that her father was also remembered during the reunion. “He was a wonderful and a great father,” she said.