The past comes alive at annual reunion
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 12:28

Seventh annual event scheduled for June 22

by Nicole Rodman

    The laughs flowed freely as the three men settled into their chairs at The Eagle office.
    The men — Andy Kozlowski, Raymond “Curley” Wright and Irv Becker — shared light banter and an easy rapport as they recounted their years growing up together in O’Donnell Heights during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
    It was the memories of these days — and the friendships that defined them — that would lead the men to organize the now-annual O’Donnell Heights reunion, held each June at Chesterwood Park.
    Sitting in The Eagle office one early spring day, the men reminisced about their childhoods, years spent playing in the neighborhood recreation center and running in and out of each other’s houses.
    “We spent more time in the recreation hall than anywhere — including home,” Kozlowski recalled with a smile.
    “Everyone shared everything they had,” he continued. “The mothers treated everybody like everybody was their kids.”
    “I bummed dinner off of everybody,” Becker added.
    Though none of the families were rich — “most of us didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” Becker noted — what they lacked in funds they made up for in resourcefulness.
    As time passed, however, life began to intervene. The 1960s brought marriage and kids, and the men eventually drifted apart.
    It was decades later  that they met again at the birthday party of a mutual acquaintance.
    Eventually, the men – together with friend Jimmy “Jimbo” Blake — reconnected.
    As they strolled down memory lane, recounting good times and even visiting the old neighborhood recreation center, the men felt the urge to reunite with other friends and former neighbors from their years in O’Donnell Heights.
   

Each of the four men — Kozlowski, Wright, Becker and Blake — contacted 10 people. They hoped to get a few people together for a reunion.
    They were surprised when more than 100 people showed up.
    That was in 2006. Next month, the group will come together for the seventh annual O’Donnell Heights reunion.
    “The organization seems to be sustaining itself,” Becker said of the reunion group. “People are coming because they want to renew their friendships of old.”
    As the years have passed, word of the reunions has spread.
    Former O’Donnell Heights residents come from far and wide ­— including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida and even Germany ­— to attend the reunion.
    “We have an international organization,” Becker noted with a smile.
    The gathering is free and fairly informal.
    There are no tickets to buy and no rules to follow.
    As Kozlowski pointed out, there is no pressure. Attendees can “stay for five minutes or five hours.”
    While the reunion is geared toward O’Donnell Heights residents from the 1940s to 1960s, no one is turned away.
    “A lot of younger ones who want to see what kind of friends their moms, dads, aunts and uncles had [attend the reunions],” Kozlowski explained.
    Attendees are asked to bring a picnic lunch and provide their own chairs.
    They are also encouraged to bring old photographs to share with the group.
    Many photos are also taken during the reunion.
    As a memento of the event, Kozlowski’s son puts together a CD that includes pictures and video from each year’s event set to music.
    Copies of the CD are distributed to attendees at a follow-up gathering at Chesterwood Park.   
    The seventh annual O’Donnell Heights reunion will be held at pavilion #1 in Chesterwood Park, 2200 Chesterwood Road, on Sunday, June 22, from noon to 6 p.m.
    Individuals seeking more information are encouraged to call Andy Koz-lowski at 410-686-7008, Jimbo Blake at 443-371-7250 or Curley Wright at 717-229-2466 or e-mail Irv Becker at ilbecker@
verizon.net.
    The four men vow to keep organizing the annual reunion as long as there is interest.
    “As long as we have two or three people come, we’re going to do it,” Koz-lowski said.