OLEAN — Scott Rucinski and Tina Aiello-Austin view their time at Olean High School as the best days of their lives. The Class of 1996 graduates would go back to their junior and senior years in a “heartbeat.”
As they put it, they loved it so much, they never really left.
Twenty years later, the two friends both work for the Olean City School District. They’re able to see the students of today get the same experiences they once had, whether it’s the various academic programs or attending football games under the lights.
“It’s nice to be able to see Olean is still what it was,” Aiello-Austin said.
Some 300 alumni got a chance to relive the good years over dinner at the Premier Banquet Center Friday, part of the Olean High School Alumni Reunion. The dinner kicked off a weekend of events, including a party Friday night and a barbeque Saturday, as well as a school tour.
Ronald Magnano, Class of 1976, helped plan some of the events and was excited by the number of alumni at Friday’s dinner.
“We have such a better turnout than we’ve ever had,” he said.
Magnano said he grew up in Olean and stayed there, and the reunions allow him to see old classmates who moved away. He called it “overwhelming.”
“You’re always gonna have someone you haven’t seen in a really long time, but what’s nice is seeing the people that you don’t see that are still here in town,” Magnano said.
Magnano said his class uniquely broke from tradition and wore red, white and blue gowns for graduation. They did it to honor the 200th birthday of the United States, and stood together in the shape of the bicentennial flag.
The overhead picture taken from that day will be on a cake at Saturday’s barbecue.
“I’m looking forward to seeing that,” Magnano said.
Rucinski and Aiello-Austin were excited to see the families their classmates have started.
“It’s nice to see the people that don’t live locally,” said Aiello-Austin, a teacher’s aide at Olean Intermediate Middle School. “It’s nice to see all the people that are coming back in for it.”
The two friends have both raised their respective children in Olean and send them to school in the district.
“We think Olean is a great community to raise a family and a good school system,” said Rucinski, who does building maintence for Olean High School.
Rucinski tells his two daughters, going into fourth and fifth grade, to not “wish away” their school days and — although he admits it’s cliche — to cherish their high school days once they get there.
There were also alumni at Friday’s dinner who now live across the country, like Texas resident Norma Turner, Class of 1946.
She stays at Cuba Lake each summer, so she comes to reunions almost every year. This year, she got a chance to see the three other Class of 1946 graduates.
“It’s amazing really to be here and see some people I know,” Turner said.
She said she’d like to relive her time in high school all over again. She was a cheerleader and called it a “good time” in her life.
“Everybody comes and enjoys it,” Turner said of the reunion. “It’s not just for one particular class.”
Some alumni also got honored, as two graduates were inducted into the Olean City School District Foundation’s Academic Wall of Fame.
Jeffrey Reisner, Class of 1995, and Douglas Stolberg, Class of 1950, were voted onto the wall this year and briefly addressed their fellow alumni.
Stolberg said he missed making the wall by one vote a few years ago, and joked he thought he’d been forgotten about, though he was pleased to be honored.
Reisner, a co-captain of the 1994 Olean football championship team, said it’s great to still be around Olean. He said he’s thrilled to now help locals with his firm — the same people who helped him by making contributions to the community while he was growing up.
“It’s great to still be around,” Reisner said.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)