Guy Vena, the longtime dean of students at the former Arlington High School, sprinted down the aisle when his name was called during a recognition ceremony at the start of Saturday's all-class homecoming reunion.
Now 84, he came to the school in 1962 and served in its administration until the school closed in 1984. Those years came rushing back once he walked into the school, and he, like the hundreds of others who attended, were thrilled to retrace their steps.
"My years here were some of the best years of my life," Vena said, trying to check his emotions during his remarks.
Vena was one of nearly 50 alumni and former staff who were honored at the start of the homecoming event. They ranged from standout athletes to military veterans to administrators and teachers.
Among those of special note were Bob Frisk, former high school sports editor for the Daily Herald, and Bob Paddock, vice chairman and executive vice president of the Daily Herald, as well as Jack Martin, a former English and journalism teacher at the school, who went on to serve as principal of Forest View and Prospect high schools, and assistant superintendent of Northwest Suburban High School District 214.
"I was just a kid when I taught here, and I still keep in touch with many of my former students," Martin said. "This place just got me off to such a great start."
More than 800 people attended the event, officials said, and it included graduates of all ages and their families.
They ranged from 94-year old Russ Dahlstrom of Inverness, who graduated in 1941 and immediately entered the Navy to serve in World War II, to alumni who graduated in the school's closing years.
"I thought if I came there might be a slight chance of running into someone from my class," Dahlstrom said.
Diane Gerrity Reich of Barrington and her classmates from the class of 1980 all made their way to the cafeteria, where they sampled the school's iconic chocolate chip cookies, which were made by the same woman for decades.
"These are really good, but hers were much larger," Reich said. "They fit the plate."
Another alumna, Vicki Grabarek Ortlieb of Algonquin, found the cookies to be somewhat magical.
"To me, they taste exactly the same," Ortlieb said. "If I close my eyes, I'm back here in school."
Graduates found plenty to do at the event, which was organized by District 214 staff members with input from alumni.
In keeping with its homecoming theme, alumni were able to apply red "war paint" on their faces, wear white mums with the letter "A," and decorate a large float topper made of chicken wire and shaped in the letter "A," reminiscent of homecoming parades.
A highlight was the two-hour performance of the alumni band, organized by Joseph Preissing, from the class of 1980, and AJP Music Haus. Made up of local musicians who had gone to the school, they played music from the '60s through the '80s in the school's Grace Gym.
Most enjoyed touring the building, seeing the collection of memorabilia on display and reconnecting with former classmates.
"I just wanted to see if I could still find my locker," said Chris Harter of Third Lake, class of 1976. "I think I still remember my combination."