VALRICO - World War II was raging when Brandon High School's class of 1944 finished their senior year.
Some students, like Don Burt, who went on to serve 32 years in the Navy, reported for duty before graduation. His mother had to pick up his diploma.
Students dreamt of valor, school, careers and families.
"But who ever expected we'd be holding a 69-year reunion?" asked Jim Paige of Lakeland, reunion coordinator.
Of the 63 original classmates, about a dozen, all 86 to 88 years old, live close enough to Brandon to meet once every year or two.
Paige was born and raised in Brandon, served in the Navy and became principal of Fort Meade High School in Lakeland. His grandparents and parents lived in an orange grove on the present site of the Brandon post office.
"Back then, Brandon was mostly vacant land," he said.
Brandon held first through 12th grades where McLane Middle School is now. Paige remembered having only six months of school in 1932 because the county ran out of funds.
Dorothy Lentz Crowder recalled a time when tire marks scarred the grass around the school flagpole. Principal E. F. McLane was furious and stomped from class to class trying to find the rascal who did it, vowing punishment.
"Everybody knew who it was," said Hazel Pelt Moffatt, laughing. "It was his son."
"Frank McLane tore up the lawn with the family car," said Burt. And they never let him forget it.
"Principal McLane came back around to all the classes and apologized," said Crowder.
One time, a student got a spanking, went out the window and never came back to school, said Burt.
Eugenia Holston's class learned psalms and Bible verses and went weekly to the auditorium to hear a classical-music radio program by conductor Walter Damrosch. She became a musician.
Crowder recalled an April Fool's Day joke the boys played on Miss Gooden, "an old maid who taught typing and shorthand." The boys told her her petticoat was showing. 'It is not,' Miss Gooden said. 'I'm not wearing one!'"
Winifred Dean remembered the girls being so jealous of Audrey Gowing's looks and popularity with the boys that "we voted another girl the most beautiful. But she wasn't. Audrey was the prettiest."
Dean became a licensed practical nurse. She worked with Dr. V. R. Hunter, who "did everything from delivering babies to pulling teeth," she said.
There was no bank in Brandon, so he went to Tampa for a loan to build an office in Brandon.
She said, "The banker asked, 'Why? Brandon will never amount to anything.'"
Send stories of community interest to Barbara Routen at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.