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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009 8 years ago

1959: The age of innocence

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

When Elvis Presley scooped 15-year-old Linda Meeks into his arms and pressed his lips to her cheek, she swore she’d never wash her face again.

The year was 1958, and Meeks, then a junior at Sarasota High School, was sitting in the front row at The Florida Theater — now the Sarasota Opera House — when she spotted Presley seated in the audience and asked for his autograph.

“It was pretty wonderful and one of the highlights in my life,” Meeks said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about his aftershave, so we went to the nearest corner drug store to try and figure it out. He was so cute and so young. I wish I could have been older and taken care of him — he needed a good woman.”

Her classmate, Paulette Boyle, also obtained Presley’s autograph on a piece of notebook paper, and later sold it to help pay for her wedding.

Meeks, Boyle and 225 other students from Sarasota High School’s class of 1959 will get to catch up and share memories and stories from the past 50 years at their reunion party this weekend at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, the largest reunion event in the hotel’s history.

“Back then, Sarasota had an innocence about her,” said Linda Resh, who has been eagerly planning and awaiting the reunion. “My family’s milkman not only delivered the milk each week, but would come into the house and put the milk into the refrigerator.”

In 1959, sock hops, full skirts, crew cuts and ponytails were the style. Air conditioning, however, was not.
Despite the heat, the girls kept up with fashion trends by wearing three or four crinolines to push and poof the stitching on their skirts to their limits.

On Fridays, everyone went to the sock hop and slow-danced, dipped and jitterbugged at the Youth Center next to the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium.

The action was always up at Smack, a drive-in dinner joint.

“You might sit there for hours and get a Coke and French fries,” Resh said. “We would park the cars and just hang out. We would also go out to the beach.”

If you brought a visitor to Sarasota in 1959, you’d take them two places — Lido Beach, where they’d soak up the sun slathered in baby oil, and Texas Jim Mitchell’s Reptile Farm and Zoo.

In an out-of-focus, black-and-white photo, Linda Resh perches on the protruding tail of an adult olive-gray alligator, notorious for its bone-crushing bite. More than eight gators surround Resh.

Resh stares at the photo, wondering how her mother could allow her to do such a thing.

“I was always a tomboy and did get a reputation for being brave,” Resh said. “I wrote on the back of it, ‘Linda was brave (or stupid).’”

One of Resh’s favorite stories is of her classmate, Walter Post, who lived about five blocks away from the courthouse on East Avenue. Post’s family owned several ducks that liked to cross Main Street to swim in the courthouse koi pond.

“Every now and then they would get a call from the courthouse: ‘Mr. Post, come get your ducks — they are in the koi pond. That shows you how small Sarasota was — come get your ducks!”

Duck stories turned into football stories, and a few minutes later, Resh told the tale of a skunk that had ambled onto the football field.

“I can see this clearly in my mind,” Resh said. “The next thing I know my brother and his friend chased the skunk across the field. The skunk squirted them and my father took them home in the trunk because they smelled so bad.”

Attendees will spend Friday evening at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, where a group from SHS called
The Saints will be singing, as well as members from the Admirals band. Music teacher Andy Wright and his wife, Beverly, who taught English, are expected to join. Saturday night will be spent in the hotel’s hospitality room with local band Ricky and Frankie.

“We’ll dance the night away,” Resh said. “We’re planning on having a great time.


• 450 — Class of 1959
• 175 — Graduates living in Florida
• 100 — Graduates living in Sarasota
• 52 — Deceased
• 4 — All class of 1959 members attended one of three elementary schools: Bay Haven, Southside, St. Martha's Catholic School and then attended Sarasota Middle School
• 1 — Vietnam War death

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