Lee Benson
The South High School Class of '43 reunion committee, from left: Chick Lignell, Lorraine Johnson Self, Donna Carlson Enjaian, Ralph Jackson, Stan Kilbourne, Stan Schoenfeld.

SALT LAKE CITY

They’ve outlived a Great Depression, a World War, the hippie generation, the Iron Curtain and Osama bin Laden. They’ve even outlived their school.

But they haven’t outlived each other, and to celebrate, they’re getting together, again.

On Friday at 1 p.m. sharp at the Little America Hotel, the South High School Class of '43 will have a reunion. This will be their 75th.

No databank exists that keeps track of how many high schools have 75-year reunions, but the short answer has to be: not many.

For one thing, you have to live past 90. For another, you have to live past 90.

The members of the Class of '43 were born in 1925 and 1926. They were barely out of diapers when the stock market crashed in 1929. They were in elementary school when Hitler came to power in the 1930s. By the time they got to South High — a central city school that would close in 1988 but was in its prime in the 1940s — World War II was raging.

That was their time, and they look back on it with unalloyed fondness.

“The good old days? Oh boy, I’ll say,” said Chick Lignell a week ago when the Class of '43 reunion committee got together for a planning lunch.

How good were they? Lignell and his fellow committee members — Donna Carlson Enjaian, Lorraine Johnson Self, Ralph Jackson, Stan Schoenfeld and Stan Kilbourne — all chimed in to tick off the reasons: “nobody locked their houses” ... “people didn’t sue each other all the time” … “gas was 15 cents a gallon” … “you played kick the can until your mom or dad would come out on the porch and call you when it was time to come in.”

They remembered a line from a song that was written about the South High School of their youth: “Our parents took care of us and never let us know that we were poor.”

Ninety-one years later (or 92), that’s what they choose to remember.

There were 811 members of the Class of '43. That counted a number of boys who had already departed for the war by the time graduation rolled around the first week of June. Of the 811, about 125, or 15 percent, are still alive.

Lignell, a retired dentist who once suited up for the South High football team and these days wears the cheerful demeanor of one who is truly happy to be here, heads up the reunion committee. He admits he can’t recall the exact circumstances that got him the job.

“I don’t remember how it happened,” he smiles. “I used to be co-chair with Keith McLaren and then Keith died.”

The biggest perk of being in on the planning, all the committee members agreed, is being able to get together and riff about the old days even before the reunion proper when they’ll get to do it again.

Although no one used the word riff.

They have so much to talk about, so much in common. All the men on the reunion committee found themselves in the thick of World War II shortly after they graduated. Lignell, Kilbourne and Schoenfeld joined the Navy while Jackson — who gets around in a wheelchair these days, in sharp contrast to 75 years ago when he won the high jump and half-mile at the 1943 regional track championships — joined the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. The women on the committee, Donna and Lorraine, are lifelong buddies who were singing stars in high school, and still get pestered to sing.

Everyone is keeping their expectations low as far as turnout for the reunion is concerned.

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“We’re hoping for 20 class members, plus guests,” said Lignell. At the last reunion, the 70th, 34 class members attended. (To sign up or learn more details, call Lignell at 801-889-5764 or Kilbourne at 801-277-0456).

The reunion agenda calls for lunch — “nobody wants to drive at night” — followed by an invitation to every Class of '43 member who shows up to step up to the microphone.

“You can talk about anything but your illnesses,” said Lignell.

Otherwise, anything goes. That’s your inalienable right when you make it to your 75th high school reunion. And go ahead and take all the time you need.