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Central time: Members of Duluth Central Class of 1943 gather for 74th reunion

Marian Braff (left) and Betty Drinnin, members of the Duluth Central High School Class of 1943 and both in their early 90s, laugh while telling stories during lunch Monday at Black Woods Grill & Bar in Duluth. The group originally started out with 630 people; Monday's luncheon drew nine people. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Members of the Duluth Central High School Class of 1943 look over memorabilia and visit during the class's 74th reunion, held at Black Woods Grill & Bar in Duluth on Monday. Clockwise from left: Peggy Rich, Marian Braff, Betty Drinnin, Irene Waage, Bill Braun, Nancy Schwartz (her late husband was a graduate), Jean Tedlund (her husband is a graduate), Betty Weatherby and LaVerne Stone. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Betty Drinnin, who graduated from Duluth Central High School in 1943, looks over photos of former classmates in the Zenith yearbook of that year during a reunion luncheon on Monday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Jean Tedlund shares photos of her husband Donald, who graduated from Central High School in 1943, with other members of the class during a reunion lunch at Black Woods Grill & Bar in Duluth on Monday. Donald wasn't able to be at the luncheon, so Jean stood in for him. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 4

It's hard to believe that when she was in school, LaVerne Stone was admittedly one of the quiet ones. It's not that way any longer.

Together with Betty Weatherby, Stone is the glue that's keeping the Duluth Central High School Class of 1943 together.

"We're all 92½ years old — and we can walk, talk and chew gum," said Stone, who sat at the front of a banquet table Monday at Black Woods Grill & Bar in Duluth, where seven former classmates and two spouses of classmates met for a low-key and charming 74th class reunion.

"Every morning I look at the obituaries and then I call Betty to say, 'Hey, we're safe,' " said Stone, who counted seven classmates as having passed away so far in 2017.

There were nine people around the table — eight of them women, all widows.

"We outlasted the men," said Weatherby, nodding to Bill Braun at the other end of the table to acknowledge him as an exception.

Through the years there have been gala reunions — boat rides, tours of old Central, more than 400 at a Radisson ball one year — which have given way to more modest luncheons. Everyone now goes Dutch. Most of them still drive themselves.

Peggy Rich said her son will surreptitiously follow her around as she drives, then send her an email giving her an assessment that ends with, "Keep on driving, Mom!"

"I don't even know he's following me," said Rich, who considers driving a luxury. "The biggest gift of all is having our noodles intact."

Braun, a Navy man, ceded the sharp wit to the women at the table, saying he wished his memory was still as good as theirs.

Before they ordered lunch, the school tales were flying. Back in the day, when classic old Central High School downtown featured a cannon on the lawn, "Meet you at the cannon," was a thing students would say to each other. That drew a laugh.

Betty Drinnin recalled being chastised by a teacher for missing a day of school the week her mother died. Hearing the story, Marian Braff said, "A lot of our teachers would be in a courtroom now for doing what they did." That drew a knowing and collective sigh.

Braff also recalled the girls wearing skirts — and not being allowed to wear slacks.

"Too manly," she said.

Drinnin didn't graduate with the class, diving into the workforce at the Woolworth five-and-dime before the end of her senior year during the height of World War II. She waited until 2009, at 85 years old, to finish her final two credits at the Adult Learning Center (located at old Central) and walk at graduation.

"It was just overwhelming," she said. "People stood up and cheered."

It was a different time, the classmates agreed, with the great war providing a backdrop to everything. Several of their male classmates never made it to graduation, drawn into service when they hit 18 years old.

After school, Irene Waage, 93, joined the Navy's WAVES — a women's reserve unit that found her doing secretarial work in Washington, D.C. throughout the remainder of the war. Her parents had moved to the states from Norway, she said, just after the turn of the century. Germany's occupation of that country riled her, and she spent her senior year cursing Hitler and desperate to join the fight to stop him.

"I was so mad," she said. "My parents still had brothers and sisters there."

Happy to take a desk job that she said allowed a sailor to join the fight, Waage worked across from Arlington National Cemetery.

"There were funerals all day long," she said. "every day."

Editor's Note: This story was corrected on Sept. 14 from a previous version.