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F.C. High Alumni Reflect on School’s Growth After 75 Years

SOME OF THE EARLIEST alumni from Falls Church High School include (from left to right) Dolores Williams McCrae, Joyce Ann Robinson Williams and Benton DeGroot, who are all a part of the class of 1947. The 75th anniversary celebration this weekend is intended to create an official FCHS alumni network out of the already robust, yet informal, network. (Photo: Orrin Konheim)

Falls Church High School is expected to have its largest gathering of alumni to date this homecoming weekend as the school celebrates its 75 years of operation.

“I graduated in 1986 and I have a bunch of friends for our class who are gonna come today because it’s a special one,” said Jeanne Kelly, who also serves as the school’s director of student activities.

Falls Church High School has an informal, if active, alumni network. Since 2002, a yearly luncheon is hosted by Jeannette and Barry Hall (Class of 1953) for Falls Church alumni who graduated 50 years ago.

As the school is only 75 years old, people like ’77 alum Craig Day have kept in contact with the remaining 91-year-old members of the first class that graduated in 1945. Day, who is a former teacher and current coach, has been the point man for the 75th anniversary celebration.

“I love my school, that’s why I’m involved. I care about the school and the school’s history and…If you have pride in your school, and pride in its history, that means the kids currently will have pride and that will be a positive thing for the neighborhood,” said Day.

At the annual luncheon this past weekend, approximately eight graduates of the 1947 class were seated at a table and honored during the presentation.

“The people we see here today are not going to be here next year, necessarily,” said Class of ’47 alum Benton DeGroot when asked why he wanted to come.

The camaraderie that DeGroot and his childhood friends had was evident in various other peer groups that were seated by high school class.

“We’ve been friends for 65, 70 years,” said Class of 54 alumni Iver Steele of Betty Emery Trainer. When asked if they dated, Steele joked “She’s too rich for me” as the two exchanged a fist bump. The two met in a typing class and played hockey together.

Much like Falls Church today, the classmates came from a close-knit community where most not only knew each other but were also family friends. Still, without the reunions they wouldn’t keep in touch as much. In the days before the internet, they used phone trees to organize reunions and get togethers.

Through the luncheons that have been spearheaded by the Halls, the alumni network has raised approximately $92,000 in school grants and $45,000 in scholarships.

“It’s impressive that this groups is so vibrant and alive and active and giving back to the school,” said Principal Ben Nowalk. “Craig Day is just a great resource here. He’s a coach here and substitute teacher so he keeps me in the loop and I communicate with Jeannette and Barry about the scholarships.”

In the future, Day and others hope to institute a more comprehensive alumni network beyond the group run by the Halls.

The original Falls Church High School opened its doors in the Fall of 1945 to 522 students at the intersection of Cherry Street and Hillwood Avenue expanded from a now-defunct Jefferson High School. When Falls Church officially became a city in 1948, Falls Church High School continued to be the home of city students until George Mason High was completed four years later. As one of the first schools in the region, the original Falls Church High School has shed over the years to the districts of seven other area high schools.

Falls Church High School has occupied its current building since the fall 1960 and the school will be undergoing a renovation in fall 2021.

“When I was first interested in Falls Church High School, I asked a lot of questions…and pretty consistently across the board everyone I talked to said ‘It’s a small school with a huge heart,’” said Principal Nowak, now in his fifth year.

The school has been known for its diversity over the years and currently there are over 50 languages from over 50 countries represented at the high school. According to the U.S. News and World report, the total minority enrollment is 82 percent and 49 percent are economically disadvantaged.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we’re a fully accredited program [by Virginia Department of Education] and that’s for a population that’s [partially] learning English as a second language and on free lunches,” said Nowak.

Nowak also cited the school’s strong advanced placement and a growing Governor’s Academy for health and medical sciences.

Events for the homecoming game against Wakefield High School this Friday include a parade through the Broyhill Park neighborhood, a 6 p.m. tailgate with food, games and music, and a special alumni tent. Additionally, there will be a special presentation for the school’s 75th anniversary following the homecoming floats.

The following day there will be tours of the school and a dinner for alumni at the restaurant MP’s 11:11 dinner and lounge on Saturday night. A golf tournament concludes the 75th anniversary’s weekend of events on Sunday.