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July 20, 2006 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-07-20

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To Life!


Staff photos by Angie Baan

Leonard Milstone

of Lathrup Village

looks through

Central High

School Class of

'56 memorabilia.

Reunion Of

Central High Class of '56 gathering
recalls Oak Park carpools.


historian-- here are some historic


Bill Carroll
Special to the Jewish News


t was the mid-1950s, and
the flight of Jewish families
to the northern Detroit sub-
urbs had begun in earnest.
Oak Park, incorporated as a
city in 1945 with a population
of about 5,500, was welcom-
ing people warmly. Sammy
Lieberman's Avalon Delicatessen
opened at Coolidge and Nine
Mile roads, and a Dexter-
Davison Market opened later a
mile farther north. New homes
and synagogues were rising
But Oak Park High School
was just being built and could
not yet accept students. And
Mumford High School was filled
up with many Jewish pupils who
already had moved to northwest
Detroit. What high school would
new Oak Parkers attend?
"About 50 of us commuted
back to Central High School for
as many as three years, lead-
ing up to our senior year in
1956," said Leonard Milstone
of Lathrup Village. "It marked
the final transition of Central
students to Oak Park. The Class
of '56, which was about 80 per-
cent Jewish, was really the last



July 20 - 2006

big Jewish graduating class at
That class of 443 students will
hold its 50th reunion Saturday,
Sept. 16, at the DoubleTree Hotel
in Novi.
"About 300 are expected to
attend, including many of the
former Oak Parkers," reported
Milstone, 68, reunion chairman,
who has headed three of the
group's five reunions in 10-year
intervals since '56. Retired after
spending 25 years as an associate
director at the Jewish Federation
of Metropolitan Detroit, he has
practically made a new career
out of the reunion.
"These reunions are successful
mainly because of personal con-
tact," he explained. "I've talked
to almost every graduate again
this time, trying to convince
them to attend. I usually devote
two to three hours a day to this,
but sometimes eight hours a day.
There's also a committee of 25
volunteers helping with mailings,
and we spent $600 on a Web site.
"We had 380 people at the 40th
reunion, but, of course, the class
dwindles as the years go on. A
total of 43 of our classmates are
deceased, and we just weren't
able to locate 50 others. Many of
those attending are coming from

Florida and California — and
even one from China. That's the
furthest point."
One of the best-known grads
is Margo (DeBarr) Mayor of
New York, who was a Broadway
actress and dancer for many
years. In his research, Milstone
learned that two classmates are
in psychiatric hospitals, one was
killed robbing a party store in
Las Vegas, one is a blind psychol-
ogist, a single man and a woman
started living together after the
last reunion, and 15 graduates
never got married.

Network Of Carpools
Milstone's family was among the
"pioneers" who settled in Oak
Park in the early 1950s."Students
had a choice of attending Cooley
High or staying at Central, and
the Oak Park School District paid
the tuition. We formed networks
of car pools, and many of us
commuted to Central so we could
stay with all of our friends:' he
said. "We each took turns driving
at least once a week."
With Milstone in a 1956
Oldsmobile 98, the car pool
snaked south on Coolidge to
Eight Mile, east to Livernois,
south to Davison, east to
Linwood, then to Central at

he's collected.

Tuxedo and LaSalle.
"My father worked at the
Dodge Truck Plant, and he had
to find another way to get there
once a week while I took our
car to drive in the pool," recalled
Bob Naftaly of West Bloomfield,
another '56 graduate, whose fam-
ily moved to Oak Park in 1954.
"Remember, we didn't have two-
and three-car families in those
days like today.
"Things got further compli-
cated when some of us stayed
for after-school activities; I was
in the senior play, and we had to
rehearse a few days a week. But
it was a lot of fun, and we had
a wonderful time. All in all, we
received an excellent education at
Naftaly went on to become a
CPA, work in former Gov. James
Blanchard's administration,
head the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit and retire
as chief operating officer of Blue
Cross-Blue Shield of Detroit. His
brother, Jerry, is now Oak Park
mayor — and his mother still
lives in the city.
"It will be great to get re-
acquainted with my fellow
graduates because those of us
N' ho lived in Oak Park then didn't
get much of a chance to social-



ize with our classmates:' pointed
out Ron Horwitz of Farmington
Hills, reunion co-chairman."We
couldn't walk over to someone's
house after school to 'play.'
We had to get home in the .car
pools." Horwitz retired as dean
of Oakland University's business
administration school.
Not everyone in the class of '56
is excited about the reunion.
"One woman told me she'd
rather put the money into her
teeth," Milstone mused. "And
10 years ago, another woman
— attending her first reunion
— walked out in a huff and went
to her car. I caught up with her
and asked her what was wrong.
"She said: `No one has
changed; I still can't stand
them.— 7

The 50th reunion of the
Detroit Central High School
Class of 1956 will start at 6:30
p.m. Saturday, Sept.16, at
the DoubleTree Hotel, 27000
Sheraton Drive, Novi. Cost:
$80 per person, including buf-
fet dinner and Sunday brunch,
Information: (248) 559-4306 or
org .

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