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Monthly luncheons bring schoolmates together
Mary (May) Vallejo shows off the Manteca High School yearbook from 1962 the year that she graduated from what was at the time the towns only high school. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Mac Freeman was shy in high school.

He was a bit reserved and a bit nondescript and before he wandered into Chez Shari to break bread with other Manteca High graduates from the 1950s and 60s – who have been meeting monthly for the last several years – thought that nobody would remember him from his days on campus.

Boy was he pleasantly surprised.

After being urged by event organizer Mary (May) Vallejo to attend, Freeman finally wandered in to the regular gathering of those who graduated from 1957 to 1966 and was taken aback by some of his old classmates that recognized him not for the work that he has done out of school – he served publicly as a member of the Lathrop City Council among other things – but as a fellow Buffalo.

“The thing that I enjoy the most is getting to meet the people that I used to casually know and get to know them better now,” Freeman said while poring over old yearbook photos. “To learn about where their life has taken them and how things are for them today.

“I was shy when I was in high school and I didn’t get to know very many people too well. I wasn’t into sports or anything like that, and it was the biggest surprise when I walked in and I saw how many people remember me today.”

The event – which has been held monthly since Vallejo and Mary Ellen Arellano got together in August of 2009 with a few classmates – has drawn as many as 100 people at a time who come back to chat about everything from the good old days to the golden years.

And while it has been a big hit, Vallejo – who graduated in 1962 – never thought that getting a few friends together for lunch would have spawned into what has become a big hit with friends from the community.

“When Mary (Arellano) came back to town after 15 years away I called up some people and we agreed to have lunch and we had a great time,” Vallejo said. “The guys were talking about who they dated and the shenanigans that they pulled and I just sat there and wrote all of these names down.

“And I called them. And I didn’t tell anybody what I was going to do but I called all of them up and invited them the next month and it just started growing from there.”

Before too long people started bringing in yearbooks and annuals from not only Manteca High but also the elementary schools that they attended – allowing Vallejo the opportunity to put together binders that newcomers can browse to see people that they have not have thought about in decades.

There’s a binder in remembrance of all of those who have passed away over the years, and every month she does her due diligence to make any updates to keep those in the close-knit community informed.

Naturally there have been more than a few good stories that come out of the reunions.

“We’ve had people that were high school sweethearts that started dating after nearly 50 years,” she said. “Sometimes they’ve been widowed or divorced and they come and see the person and they hit it off.

“They’ll ask me, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that she was going to be here? I’ve been married five times and she has always been the one love of my life. And they hit it off and they’re just perfect together. Those are the things that you love to see.”

Starting in 2013 the lunches – which range in price from $10 to $15 depending on what is being featured – will be held every other month. The next event is scheduled for March.