Jean Waldo DeLanoy scanned the faces of Woodrow Wilson High School graduates returning to celebrate the school's 50th anniversary yesterday. As one of the school's first graduates, she was unsure how many classmates from 1937 would return to the "country club" school on Nebraska Avenue NW.
"Guess there aren't many of us left to come back," she said as she sat in the library helping to register about 100 former students who returned to the imposing three-story, red brick building that counts among its graduates TV newsman Roger Mudd, developer Oliver T. Carr and businessman John Hechinger.
Older graduates looked surprised when they entered the school library for the open house. "What happened to our gymnasium?" they asked as they stared at the bookcases and study tables. Well, the old gym is now the library and a new gym was added to the building 10 years ago.
Blue and white name tags with graduation dates helped former classmates find each other. When an identity was uncertain, the appropriate yearbook was grabbed and opened to the right page.
"Yes," said DeLenoy as she studied the picture of young man with slicked-back hair, then compared it to the balding man in front of her, "I think I remember you now."
While Wilson has changed from an all-white student body to one that is 80 percent black and Hispanic, its surrounding neighborhood remains overwhelmingly white and has changed little, according to DeLenoy, who lives in the house where she grew up about a mile from the school.
"Western High School was the only school over in this part of town, and it was so crowded that we were attending in shifts," she recalled, "the juniors and seniors attending in the morning and sophomores in the afternoon.
"When they opened Wilson, they didn't let any seniors transfer in, only juniors and sophomores. So my class was the first to graduate, although the school opened in 1936."
DeLanoy, a cheerful woman who greeted everyone like an old friend but admitted that she knew few of them, remembered when the worst student violation was to sneak across the street to a grocery store and buy cigarettes.
Gary Newman and George Dellinger, both 38 and graduates of the class of 1965, remembered that drinking and cars were the big fads when they attended Wilson.
Newman, who owns a messenger service company, and Dellinger, an economic analyst, have continued their friendship that blossomed at Wilson.
"When I was here, it was an accepted fact that you went to college," said Newman. "We didn't have the perspective of knowing other kids who did anything but go on to school."
Dellinger said of Wilson teachers, "They pointed us in the right direction. You won't find many of us in jail. But what they didn't teach us was the important stuff that we need to know today like taxes and mortgages."
Minnie Williams, 29, of the class of '75, an accountant at the Smithsonian Institution, remembers a senior program that kept her in school.
"They had a 'Stay in School' program which gave students academic credit for working," she said. "That got me my first job as a clerk-typist, and I kept it all through college. That program meant a lot to me."
Fifteen-year-old James Smith of the class of '88 stood by the auditorium door wearing his perfectly pressed ROTC uniform and helping former students reacquaint themselves with the building.
Smith, who lives near one of the city's busiest illegal drug markets at 9th and T streets NW, spends a couple of hours a day commuting to Wilson.
"I wanted a new environment, and I knew Cardozo [a high school closer to his home] wouldn't give that to me," he said. "I came here because the academics are good and because of the ROTC program."
Yesterday's open house kicked off a week of activities that ends with a celebration party Saturday night at the Shoreham Hotel.