Kevin Riordan: Just working stiffs celebrating the good life

Men from the Deptford High School Class of 1963 are reflected in a mirror while having their monthly breakfast at the Seven Star Diner on Route 41.
Men from the Deptford High School Class of 1963 are reflected in a mirror while having their monthly breakfast at the Seven Star Diner on Route 41. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 05, 2013

The guys grew up in and around Deptford Township in the 1950s and '60s, in hamlets, neighborhoods, and housing developments with names like Almonesson, Blackwood Terrace, and Oak Valley.

Some of them married their high school sweethearts; others joined the military; all learned trades or found jobs leading to careers that carried them into retirement.

They're pushing 70 now. Many have great-grandkids. And once a month, since 2008, a small group of these men from the Deptford High Class of 1963 have been sharing breakfast - with a supersize side of memories - at the Seven Star Diner on Route 41.

"We're not a stellar group of doctors or Ph.D.s," says George Wise, 68, a Haddon Heights jeweler who helped organize the group. "Just working stiffs who have lived a good life."

He invites me to take a seat as members of the gang arrive for their July gathering. They don't have a name ("a bunch of fat old guys," someone suggests), but they do enjoy the effortless camaraderie of grown-ups with a shared youth.

"Oh no. Look who's here!" one guy shouts, and the room erupts in laughter.

"You want to lead us all in prayer?" another guy quips. "He's totally off his meds!" someone yells.

Veterans of the Army, Navy, and Marines are in the house, and so are cops, construction workers, small businessmen, and factory hands. They are either Jersey natives or transplants who arrived from Philly with their parents as youngsters.

"I grew up in Kensington, and at Stetson High you had to learn to either fight or run," says Bob Walz, 69, who worked at the former Sony plant in Pitman, where he lives. "At Deptford High, they were actually teaching us something."

"It was farmland," says Joe Polidoro, 68, who moved to Oak Valley from South Philly as a teenager. "There were no corners to hang on!"

Although some of the men knew one another in elementary school, or from youth sports, Deptford High was where everybody met up.

"Dan Louis was the first guy I met when I moved over here," Mike Hansen, 69, says of a tablemate. "He took me under his wing, and I've always been grateful for that."

The gang offers some Deptford High stories that make the place sound like American Bandstand - with a bit of Animal House thrown in.

"We tell the same old tales over and over," Wise says. "They get better every year."

There's one called "the mad bomber of Blackwood Terrace." Another details how Ed Fallon secretly placed a crawfish from a science lab into a ketchup container in the cafeteria.

A stunt for which "I got a week's suspension," says Fallon, 67, of Harrison Township.

"Deptford High was like American Graffiti," says Steve Moylan, 69, a retired Deptford Township police lieutenant. A Woodbury burger joint called the Steer-In "was where everyone hung out," he adds.

When not hanging out at Sunset Beach in Almonesson, that is. "It had a bowling alley, a dance hall, a swim club," recalls Bob McKnight, 69, of Logan Township. "I worked there all through high school, for a dollar an hour."

Nostalgia is often bittersweet, and sure enough, the conversations do touch on loss. Two of the men I chat with are widowers, and everyone seems to know a classmate who has passed away.

Also gone forever is the Deptford of a half-century ago. Except, of course, when the guys gather at the diner to remember - and celebrate - where they came from.

"I'd do it all again," Walz says.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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