"We were the first generation of kids in this area, from working-class families, who got a chance to go to college," adds Ken Middleton, a retired teacher who lives in Tuckerton, N.J. "We were part of the fallout of Sputnik."
Melton and Middleton are members of an informal committee organizing the gala, which will begin Friday and continue into the weekend. Previous reunions have drawn good crowds, and about 80 class members and their spouses are expected, from as near as Marlton and as far as Arizona.
"I haven't seen these people for 40 or 50 years," says Valerie L. Clark, hosting a recent committee meeting - itself a mini-reunion - at her Medford home.
She and her classmates are all in their late 60s; many have grandchildren and are retired. They grew up watching Dick Clark and "playing baseball in cow pastures," recalls Dave Thomas, a retired machinist who lives in Vincentown and speaks with an old-school South Jersey accent.
Their part of Burlington County began developing rapidly after World War II. By the late 1950s, Evesham, Medford, Medford Lakes, and other municipalities that had long sent their high schoolers to Moorestown, Mount Holly, and elsewhere built Lenape on Hartford Road in Medford.
"There was nothing there in terms of traditions or sports programs," recalls Medford native Jane Sutton, a retired clothing manufacturer who lives in Bristol. "The gym wasn't even finished, and we took PE in the cafeteria. We had dances in the cafeteria."
The newness presented opportunities as well as challenges.
"I had gone to a very traditional high school [Haddonfield], and it was very stuffy," says Joan Bottomley Menapace, an artist in Holicong, Bucks County, who grew up in Medford. "I got to Lenape, and I could be on the yearbook and in the play and in all these activities, instead of having to work my way in."
As she and her classmates continue to chat, the stories start to fly.
Like the one about Senior Week festivities on Long Beach Island that ended with students escaping from jail in Harvey Cedars and hitchhiking barefoot on Route 72.
Or a picturesque stunt involving an outhouse that was placed in the middle of an intersection.
Seems the swinging early '60s of Mad Men took a while to reach Burlington County.
"We had fun with alcohol," Melton recalls. "But there were no drugs."
Says Middleton: "I didn't know anyone who used drugs or drank hard liquor."
Since those more innocent times, Lenape has grown from a single, two-story building into a sprawling complex. "It's the size of a community college," Middleton says.
Their alma mater has since been joined by Seneca, Shawnee, and Cherokee, which form the Lenape Regional High School District. And the hamlets where the Class of '61 grew up are surrounded by a sea of commercial and residential development.
Among her classmates, however, "I don't see a lot of change," Clark says.
"Don't you feel like you're still young?" Richard Horan, a lifelong resident of Southampton, asks me.
But of course!
"Well," the retired machinist adds, "it's the same with all of us."
Some Class of '61 rituals endure as well.
Middleton asks Menapace, who describes herself as "kind of famous for dancing at reunions," whether she plans on doing the same at the 50th.
"I'll be able to dance," she tells him. "I'll dance with you."
Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the metro columnists' blog at http://www.philly.com/blinq