‘Westies’ (West Junior High Class of ‘54) invited to join picnic at Thorndale July 31

       They call themselves “Westies.” They remember fondly their youthful days together, playing and growing up on the Westside, attending the same schools and graduating from West Junior High as the Class of 1954.

Classmates Jean Wreath and Johnnie Mulnix at West Junior's 1954 prom.
Courtesy of Jean Wreath Shom

       The Westies liked each other so well that they've started setting up their own reunion picnics. The first was in July 2008 at Thorndale Park, with about 25 in attendance (including several from out of state). Another is planned Saturday, July 31, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., also in Thorndale.
       “Getting along well was an incredible factor,” said classmate David Bylund, a retired engineer who left this area in 1970 and now lives in Oregon. “The other thing was that we were so free to play outside in the neighborhoods. We had endless hours to do stuff. It was girls and boys, and it was more like tens of kids, not just two kids.”
       “It was a fun time growing up here in the 1950s,” recalled Charlene (Bryant) Davis, a retired dental assistant who currently lives in the south part of Colorado Springs. A favorite memory is Thorndale Park iced over in winter, which allowed skating and hockey. “It was simpler then; you didn't have to worry about getting sued,” she commented.
       Jean (Wreath) Shom, now a respected artist, has a photo of herself and classmate Johnnie Mulnix (now deceased) from West's 1954 prom. When the photo (at left) was taken, she recalled in an e-mail, “he had just arrived at my house on South 11th Street driving his parents' car - his father watching carefully from the back seat. (We were 14 years old.)... It's been so much fun reconnecting with these friends from so long ago and re-kindling our love for the Westside and each other.”
       A favorite memory of Bylund's is the “chug races” - an early version of the modern soapbox derby cars, in which he and his friends would make cars out of spare parts lying around their houses, then roll them down the 19th Street hill, steering them with ropes and no brakes. Wheels were always the hard part. “We didn't have any money, so we'd tear apart baby buggies or wagons,” Bylund said.
       Those wishing to attend July 31 don't need to give advance notice, but all will need to bring their own food and lawn chairs, if they like. The Westies hope to use the park pavilion, but that's a first come, first served deal, as they discovered to their chagrin in '08 when, after several of the group had cleaned it the day before, they lost out to earlier arrivals on the day of the reunion. But luckily, Davis's husband had packed along sawhorses and a sheet of plywood, which provided a flat place for the food.
       The picnic is intended for the 1954 West class, although others from the era are welcome to attend if they want to.
       For more information, contact Davis at 576-8410 or charlene5001@aol.com.
       Davis credited Bylund for coming up with the picnic concept. Most of the Westies had gone on to graduate from Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer) in 1957, and several met up again in 2007 at that class' 50-year reunion. “When you skip 50 years and then reconnect, you're not super-close, but you relate and remember a lot of good stuff and enjoy what's going on in people's lives now,” Bylund said.

A group photo from the 2008 picnic includes Jean Shom (front, third from left), Charlene Davis (to her left) and David Bylund (rear, fourth from right).
Courtesy of Charlene Davis

       Inspired, he helped organize the Westsie picnic in 2008. He'd already planned to come to town that year for his wife's Cheyenne Mountain High School reunion. “Since we'd be there, we invited others [from the '54 class] and we got a list together, and it kind of grew out of that,” he said. “It came down to: We'll be there; will anybody else come?”
       Lloyd Needham, another class member who is credited with coining the “Westies” name, waxed nostalgic in a written recollection. “As I look through the 1954 West Junior Citizen [the class' small equivalent of a yearbook] at the kids in the photos, it is hard to realize we are all now in our 70s. Some of us are blessed with a long life; others have passed away over the years and are missed. Others are still around and we enjoy e-mails now and again. I will always remember these “kids” the way we were then. It makes no difference if some fell on hard times, others failed, or others have achieved great success. We are all the Westies of the Class of 1954.”

Westside Pioneer article

Editor’s note: An upcoming Westside Pioneer will include short pieces about their West school days by Bylund and Needham.