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50 years _ such a short time

"This is a very sad time for me," Jeanne Hartinger says.

She is standing beside two men in their late 60s who are talking about World War II and the Great Depression. They're talking about it in that solemn, distant manner that those who lived then have sometimes, as if they're reading from a yellowed newspaper clipping.

Hartinger raises her hand to her face, her finger poised as if to wipe away a tear.

"See this?" she says, pointing. "I'm sad because every time I go to one of these reunions I get a damn pimple. Right here on my cheek. Just like in high school."

The world may change, but some things never do.

That adage, no doubt, will be proven tonight when the 67-year-old Hartinger and about 70 of her Jefferson High School classmates get together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation: May 28, 1942.

It was, as one graduate put it, "a time of uncertainty."

But earlier this week, five days before the reunion, plans had to be made certain.

Hartinger and 10 others from the Class of '42 _ acting as the 50-year reunion planning committee _ gathered at the party site at the Holiday Inn on Cypress Street, directly across, coincidentally, from the new Jefferson High School.

Among them was Tony Rocha, who will act as the reunion's master of ceremonies, Bob Reed, Rose Weekley, David Cavanaugh, Alice Ellis and Frank Gonzalez.

"We have five days till our big get-together," Gonzalez said as he led off the progress report. So far, he said, 118 people planned to attend; 68 of those were Class of '42 graduates.

He no sooner got started when Reed cracked a joke about the light glinting off Gonzalez's bald head.

Yeah, well there's a lot of light glinting around here, Gonzalez shot back.

One thing about the Class of '42, they're close.

"Very close," Weekley said. "I think part of it is that we were the first class to graduate from Jefferson. We did everything. We named the mascot. We named the annual. We named the newspaper. It really was our school."

Weekley and her classmates attended the old Jefferson High School, a three-story, square building on Highland Avenue. It was built in 1911 and served as Hillsborough High before becoming a middle school. In 1939 it was changed to Jefferson High. The Class of '42 was its first graduating class.

Now the building is called the Waters Memorial Center.

"I remember that building well," said Verta Cox, 85, a Jefferson High teacher during 1942 who now lives in St. Petersburg. "It had tongue-and-groove floorboards and when you walked down the hall it creaked and played musical halls."

Cox, who plans to attend the reunion, also remembers the students.

"They had a friendship, a loyalty and closeness not found today," she said. "Everyone knew what everyone else was doing, and the school was the center of their lives."

Back at the planning sessions, David Cavanaugh tried on a name tag. Everyone at the reunion will wear name tags to help memories. Some graduates, however, will be immediately recognizable. They've gone on to become semi-famous.

"Like Frank Ragano," Bob Reed said. "He's the attorney that defended Jimmy Hoffa. He was the only guy in high school that ever had a car _ the Ford with the little bubble in the back."

"Of course, no one's going to remember me," Cavanaugh said.

"Oh, get off it!" someone countered.

"Yes, they will," Hartinger reassured him. "Unless they got Alzheimer's. But I guess that's a possibility, huh?"

Memory, the graduates will tell you, makes the reunion.

What many of those on the planning committee remember most about high school days were the hard times after the Depression.

"But the funny thing was, we were all poor and didn't realize it," Cavanaugh said. "If you had a job back then you were looked up to. I was lucky enough to work in machine shops and jerk sodas for a while."

"Where'd you work?" Cavanaugh asked Reed.

"Super Test, next to Children's Home on Florida (Avenue)," Reed said. "I pumped gas. I remember working one Sunday morning and I had my school sweater hanging in the men's room. A woman pulls in for gas and had the radio on and I heard this guy announce that Japan just bombed Pearl Harbor. And that same day my sweater was stolen."

The war, indeed, played a major role in the students' senior year.

"We didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was," Cavanaugh recalled, later. "But it kind of slowly dawned on us, "Hey, we're 17 years old and at war.' "

Many of the young men in high school quit before graduating to fight, Cavanaugh said. He, however, finished school and then went into the Merchant Marine. He was in Okinawa, aboard a ship, when the war finally ended.

Some of Hartinger's fondest memories of high school aren't that fond at all.

"I was dork of the school," she said. "I was so unhappy and pimply-faced. And skinny. The only curves I had were Kleenex."

Although the 1942 yearbook, the Monticello, describes Hartinger under her picture as "sweet and demure," Hartinger acknowledges that wasn't the case in home economics class.

"All we'd do in that class is sit around and try on really dark red lipstick."