Members of the Socorro High School graduating Class of 1971 will be reuniting after 50 years on September 25 at Bodega Burger Co.
Courtesy of Joseph Chavez

Gas was 36 cents a gallon, Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones was the number one song on the radio, the war in Vietnam was winding down, and somewhere around 120 seniors of the Class of 1971 were graduating from Socorro High School.

It’s been 50 years since that graduation night, and a handful of those class members are organizing the 50th reunion, and attempting to track down as many members as possible is no minor feat.

Earlier this year Joseph Chavez and Connie Gibson started working on getting things organized.

“Joseph was class Vice President and I helped him organize our 10-year reunion,” Gibson said. “We started trying to find a suitable place, then tracking down class members.”

The duties of running the 50th year reunion would normally be a job for the Senior class president, Robert Martin.

Martin, who had become a well-known broadcast journalist in Albuquerque, unexpectedly passed four years ago when the KRQE-News 13 helicopter he was piloting crashed in rural Lincoln County. His untimely death was a blow to his classmates.

Senior class President Robert Martin, flanked by faculty sponsors Mr. Cox and Mr. Johnson, poses with Secretary Debbie Frazier, Vice President Joseph Chavez, Treasurer Jane Coulson and faculty sponsor Mrs. Hollinger.
Courtesy of Joseph Chavez

Cless member Peter Romero recalled that Martin worked as a DJ on KSRC before eventually moved to television in Albuquerque. He won two Rocky Mountain Emmys and several Albuquerque Press Club awards for his reporting and documentary work over the years.

Martin also reported from combat zones about New Mexico-based military troops and civilians deployed to hotspots including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Panama, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Martin was a commercial helicopter and airplane pilot and had an expert sport skydiver’s license.

“He was really active with the Civil Air Patrol and numerous clubs,” Romero said. “Another footnote on Bob, his father, Dan Martin, was one of the math teachers up at the high school, Mr. Martin.”

So the job of putting the reunion together fell to class vice president Joseph Chavez.

“He was one of my best friends in high school,” Romero said. “I graduated with Joseph and his brother Carlo Chavez. But Carlo has passed on, you know. It’s sad, but you look through the annual and are surprised to see how many have passed.”

Gibson remembers her class as a “tight-knit group.”

Shirley’s Drive-In, located in the now-vacant lot across from Bodega, was the gathering spot.

“Shirley’s was our hangout,” she said. “That’s where we went. We circled Shirley’s. Just drove around and around and around.”

Reunions are times for reminiscing and Jane Coulson, class treasurer, told the Chieftain about starting her Sophomore year in the newly opened high school on Michigan Avenue.

“We couldn’t start at the high school right away because it wasn’t ready and missed two weeks of school days,” she said. “Since you had to have so many school days in per year, we went to school on Saturdays over the summer. Down at the junior high, but most didn’t bother to go, only about half.”

Coulson said there was little to do in Socorro, so “we had to make our own entertainment. The drive-in had closed down.”

Cruising with friends was the default entertainment in 1971.

“I remember Charlie Saavedra’s dad, Reuben Saavedra owned this ice machine. it just sat on the corner and next to Shirleys,” Coulson said. “Whenever we’d be out driving around you’d see somebody and say, ‘hey what’s going on?’ And they’d say, ‘we’ll meet you at the ice machine.’

“We’d all pull up there and meet at the ice machine and then we’d decide where we’d go to cause trouble. Usually out to the canal,” she said. “We’d find somebody to buy us some beer. so we just made our own entertainment.”

Even though the drive-in theater had closed,  The Loma was going strong.

“Chris and Gary Jaramillo’s dad ran The Loma movie theater and we used to go there a lot,” Coulson said. “When I was really young, there was a double feature on Sunday afternoons. My dad would give me a 50 cent piece and he’d take me down there and drop me off. I could get in for 35 cents and that left me with 15 cents. With that, I could get either a Coke and popcorn, or a Coke and a candy bar. And the double feature.”

Class VP Chavez said his part-time job at The Loma had its perks. Watching movies when the theater was closed.

“We’d go hang out there with Chris,” he said. “We’d clean the theater and put on movies for ourselves. We watched The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with Don Knotts three times in one day because it was so funny.”

Chavez also remembers trips to Albuquerque with his friends all packed into one car.

“Chris Paul had a Checker Marathon,” Chavez said. “That’s the big taxi cab. We’d get nine people in that car. We’d all jump in the car and head to Albuquerque. Everybody would pitch in the gas and we’d cruise the Big Boy in Albuquerque.”

Class member Tony Montoya said he spent much of the time working at his father’s service station, Leo’s Chevron.

“I worked mostly the whole time I was in high school. It was there I learned the business, and how to work on cars,” Montoya said, although he did have time for cruising. “We did a lot of cruising up and down California Street in my ’55 Chevy with my buddies,” he said. “I was pretty much the only one in my little crew that had a car. I’d go pick them up on Friday night and we’d all pitch in for some gas, and just cruise up and down California Street. Then park at Shirley’s and shoot the breeze. Those were some good times during our high school years. It was a pretty laid-back time, you know.”

Montoya added that he also found time to date his future wife, Bernice Herrera, another senior.

“We didn’t really meet until our senior year,” he said. “We’ve now been married 49 years.”

It was a good time to be living, is the way Romero put it.

“I was just a young punk kid and had the whole world in my hands. Life was good. Socorro was still bustling at the time,” he said. “The Plaza was booming 50 years ago. There was the Baldwin Agency, Shina’s Cafe, Tribe of K, Scott’s Auto, Hilton Pharmacy, Stapleton’s, Ben’s Finer Foods, Silver Bar, Twin’s Barber Shop, Capitol Bar, Mountain Bell, Jessie’s, Safeway, Ben Franklin, Socorro Drug Store, Socorro Brownbbilt Shoe Store, and Crabtree’s Hardware.”

California Street was also bustling, he said, “from the north end of town to the south end of town.

“And of course, the old Defensor Chieftain office. Back then it used to be right across the street from the co-op,” Romero said. “I used to be a paperboy, and I think back in 1971 the Chieftain sold for 15 cents. And I was still in the money.”

One thing that hasn’t changed for the 1971 graduates are the friendships.

“I made many friendships in school and still do,” he said “Over time you lose contact with them, but you don’t lose those feelings of friendship, even though it’s been 50 years.

“It just seems like it was just yesterday of getting together having fun and getting in trouble…you know,” he said. “We used to hang around Tech and go to the Tech dances on a Friday night or Saturday night. Today the students are called Techies, but in those days we used to refer to them as ‘schoolies.’ As community members, we were welcome at Tech to go to their parties at the old student union building. It was in an old Quonset hut.”

Gibson and Chavez found that in the midst of the pandemic, organizing the reunion posed its unique problems.

“First we had difficulty finding a venue because of COVID, but we have now booked Bodega Burgers for the 25th of September,” Gibson said.

The next challenge was how to get in touch with people.

“We started with social media, posting stuff to get the information out there,” she said.

“After that, a flyer was printed up and sent to people whose addresses, phone numbers, and emails were known. And flyers have been circulated locally.”

Some members have passed and there will be a memory table with candles, photos and memorabilia, Gibson said.

“We’re also wanting the few class members that didn’t walk the stage with us but had been in our class through the years. Right now we’re hoping people will respond. Some have made reservations already.”

Peter Romero is collecting the $25 reservation fee for deposit a special bank account. Gibson said to mail a check payable to Peter Romero, Box 633, Socorro, NM 87801. Include on the check whether chicken or beef is preferred.

Gibson encourages all who were connected with the class, even those who left before their senior year, and even teachers, to attend.

For more information contact Gibson at 214-587-0831 or Joseph Chavez at 505-400-8192 and leave a message.

“I used to tease mom and day about their various class reunions,” Romero said. “And now look at me, we’re planning our 50th.”