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Sweet Memories : Class of '35 Comes Home to Vast Change--and Surprise

October 31, 1985|ELIZABETH LU | Times Staff Writer

It took Bill Martin more than 50 years to ask Cathy Bercu for a date.

Then one thing led to another, as Martin put it, and last weekend the two former Alhambra High School students surprised nearly 185 of their former classmates by announcing their engagement at the class's 50th-year reunion.

It seemed fitting to Martin, who helped organize the reunion, that the announcement be made among classmates renewing old friendships.

They met in grammar school but were just friends, Bercu said. The two renewed their friendship only four years ago, after each had raised families and their spouses had died, Martin said.

Could That Be . . . ?

Last week when the class of 1935 held its first reunion, scores of other classmates, now in their late 60s, discovered the familiar faces of childhood friends hidden behind well-set smile lines and silvered hair. There were hesitant stares as classmates searched their memories for the name to match that oh-so-familiar face. Finally , a spark of recognition would bring laughter and hugs.

"He was a little skinny guy when I knew him, now look at him," said a jovial Paul Prince of San Gabriel, a retired ironworker and former deep-sea diver, as he pointed out his old buddy Charles Fantuzzi. Fantuzzi, a retired Los Angeles policeman, is now stocky and no longer the 140-pound beanpole his friend remembers.

"The ladies have changed more than the fellows have," said Thelma Hall Bescos, a former fashion model who now owns a butcher supply business in Alhambra. "But once you find a name and remember it, the features are still there. Everbody looks pretty great."

The three-day reunion seemed too short for catching up on news about old friends. One of the most talked about surprises was the engagement of Martin and Bercu.

In Different Crowds Then

Martin, the reunion chairman, started organizing the extravaganza nearly five years ago, recruiting more than 50 classmates--including Bercu--to help track down the 580 members of the class.

At Alhambra High School, Martin and Bercu had mixed with different crowds, each never dreaming of dating the other.

"He was much too attractive for me," said Bercu, whose beautiful and sophisticated face suggests that she was being modest. "He was blond and dressed very well, and I seemed to go more for the fellows that were good students. I didn't have a chance with him."

"She was just a nice girl," Martin said. "There never was any attraction or dislike either way."

The two went separate ways after graduating. He put himself through Whittier College, and she attended Pasadena Junior College. He worked as a salesman in Hawaii before moving to South Pasadena and she married and started a family in Alhambra. In the following years, preoccupied with work and family, they fell further out of touch.

Then a tragedy brought them together again. In 1981, Bercu and her husband Don, a Municipal Court judge in Alhambra, were in a car accident in which he was killed and she was severely injured. Martin, whose wife had died from cancer two years earlier, read about the accident and immediately went to her side.

"I kind of knew what it was like (to lose a loved one), so I just went to visit her because she was an old friend," Martin said.

Through the long, painful months in intensive care, Bercu, who still must walk with a cane, appreciated her old classmate's company and support. "I looked at my worst then, and I could hardly keep going, but he was regular about it," Bercu said. They plan to be married early next year.

"It was the icing on the cake," Vivian Pohl Le Font, a retired schoolteacher, said about the announcement at the reunion attended by classmates from as far as Massachusetts and Hawaii.

Those from out-of-state caught up on changes in the city from classmates who had stayed behind. Since their graduation, Alhambra has been transformed from a pastoral community of orange groves, chicken yards and a handful of local merchants to a rapidly expanding city with more than 200 businesses. The population has more than tripled, jumping from a little more than 20,000 in 1935 to 68,000 today.

While Alhambra High School was then the only high school in the area, serving students in Alhambra as well as those from surrounding San Gabriel and Monterey Park, the city now has four high schools.

The Alhambra High that class of 1935 remembers faced Main Street, with a patio where the "front porch" crowd, the pretty girls and the movers and shakers in clubs and student government, hung out. On the northwest corner of 3rd and Main streets, boys grabbed a quick smoke between classes, always on the alert for the vice principal.

Most Students Caucasian

Also vivid in class members' memory was Alhambra's rivalry with South Pasadena High. It got so bad that games between the schools were temporarily suspended, said Dick Johnson, a former Alhambra football player and UCLA engineering professor now living in Hawaii.

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