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50 years of memories at Francis Lewis

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When Francis Lewis High School opened its doors in 1960, John F. Kennedy had yet to win the presidential election, the Vietnam and cold wars were raging and Queens students began to attend an institution that has become one of the most popular, and crowded, schools in the city.

The Fresh Meadows school celebrates its 50th anniversary May 14 through May 16, and former students said they will remember a time in their lives that for many was marked by protests against the Vietnam War and trips to Jahn’s in Bayside to gorge on ice cream.

Graduates said while the school has always seemed crowded — there are now about 4,500 students in a building meant to hold 2,400 — they remember their alma mater fondly and said it helped to propel many of them to successful and memorable lives.

“It was always crowded, and sometimes my lunch was at 10 in the morning, but none of us cared,” said Paula Lieberman-Glicklich, a 1967 graduate who is helping to organize the event. “We loved Francis Lewis. I went to college, grad school and psychoanalytic training, but I most of all loved the learning community at Francis Lewis and the lifelong friends I made there.”

The 50th anniversary celebration will begin May 14 with a faculty reunion dance and dinner at 7 p.m. at the New York LaGuardia Marriott in East Elmhurst. The school will host a number of events for different graduating classes May 15, and the opening ceremony will kick off at 10 a.m. Francis Lewis is at 58-20 Utopia Pkwy. in Fresh Meadows.

Francis Lewis Principal Emeritus Jeffrey Scherr said attendees will be able to meet up with others from their graduating classes at specific times during the day.

Individuals who were part of the graduating classes from 1963-79 are invited to meet at the school at 11 a.m., while those in the 1980-94 classes can gather at 12:30 p.m. and former students who attended the school through 2009 will meet at 2 p.m. Individuals do not have to attend these specific times and can spend the entire day at the school, Scherr emphasized.

Event organizers said there will be a variety of events offered throughout Saturday.

“There will be music from the students, a carnival for the children and a barbecue,” said Lieberman-Glicklich, who grew up in Fresh Meadows and now lives in Riverdale in the Bronx.

There will also be a battle of the bands competition and performances by the Francis Lewis High School marching band, orchestra, Nu Gamma Psi step team and dance troupe. The cast of the school’s rendition of “The Wedding Singer” will also show off their singing and dancing skills.

Since the school launched in 1960, it has become one of the most selective high schools in the city and consistently draws more applications than most of the others, according to school and city officials. Last year, for example, it received 13,000 applications for a little more than 1,000 seats.

“The anniversary is meant to celebrate the school as part of the community and how far the school has come to be one of the top rated high schools in the city and the most sought-after school in the city in terms of applicatio­ns,” Scherr said.

Scherr said he hopes the event will help to solidify a unified alumni group.

“What’s been missing is a strong alumni link, and that link is critical for the kind of support we need, both financially and for our students. We’d like our current students to be able to use alumni as resources for moving into careers.”

Alumni have scattered to all corners of the globe and worked in fields that range from acting to professional sports. One graduate conducted pyrotechnics for the Grateful Dead, Winters said. Winters said her class was especially proud the school’s first black president was from their class: Winifred Mayo.

“We had a collegiate group at Francis Lewis,” said Winters, who lives in Roslyn Heights, L.I. “There were the kids with the penny loafers and the stitched crew sweaters who bought brands like Villager and Crazy Horse, you had the hippie group, there were the guys with the pompadour hair cuts, but we were all friends. There was none of the bullying that I read about in schools today.”

Winters, who engaged in many marches and protests against the Vietnam War during her time at Francis Lewis, remembers well what she and her friends would do for fun after — or sometimes during — school.

“We’d go to Jahn’s and everyone would chip in a quarter for what was called the kitchen sink,” Winters said. “It was $6.25 and a conglomeration of practically every flavor ice cream the shop had — chocolate, vanilla, maple walnut, butterscotch. “There used to be a diner called the Greasy Spoon, and we’d cut classes and go there.”

For more information about the anniversary weekend, visit francislewishs.org.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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