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New London - As more than 100 of the remaining 'Bulkeley Boys' trickled in to the Port 'N Starboard at Ocean Beach on Friday, Harold Arkava could name each one, their class year and their past professions and interests.
Arkava, Class of 1944, has overseen the last 36 of the 46 reunions for the boys of the Bulkeley School, which shut its doors in 1951. Those up to the Class of 1954, who had begun at the school but finished at New London High School, are considered honorary alumni as well, Arkava noted.
"We're so small, so I didn't want to disqualify them and throw them out in the gutter," he said. "It's a remarkable group. They're fun guys."
The 117 or so attendees of Friday night's reunion are part of only about 850 remaining alumni of the school, which opened in 1873 as a two-year school before shutting its doors as a four-year all-boys high school 61 years ago. Thirty-nine alumni died in the past year, slimming the ranks of "the most exclusive club in the United States in America," Arkava said.
Though the school is long gone, the alumni group's most important mission - a scholarship fund begun in 1988 - passed a big milestone in this, its 24th year. Arkava said contributions have exceeded $800,000, allowing the group to give about 320 scholarships of varying amounts to students who are "lineal descendents of Bulkeley Boys," now generally grandchildren or great-grandchildren, Arkava said. In the next five years, Arkava wants to exceed $1 million in scholarship awards.
Sol Glater (Class of 1943), in fact, couldn't attend the reunion because he was in California watching his grandson, a scholarship recipient, graduate with a doctorate from Stanford University. Glater never had missed a reunion before, Arkava said.
Though Bulkeley was an all-boys school, Arkava said, scholarships are not limited to men.
"Women are outpacing the men now," he said. "Women are smarter than men, you know, and we're getting positively brilliant women."
Bulkeley has a long list of alumni who are distinguished academically, intellectually and athletically, Arkava said, including basketball great Art Quimby, who died two years ago, and renowned runner John Kelley, who died last year.
Joel Riley, at 76 one of the youngest members of the small fraternity, remembered when the Port 'N Starboard, Ocean Beach's banquet room and where the last 16 reunions have been held, was a basketball court that drew players from all over the state and beyond.
"We're very pleased with the atmosphere, and look at the view," Arkava said, pointing out the windows to the beach and ocean on a beautiful summer evening.
The view and the company is enough to draw alumni from Tennessee, Illinois and Maine back to New London for the event. Lester Frye, Class of 1936, is the oldest active member at 95, Arkava said, and comes to the dinner from Ledyard.
Seeing all the familiar faces is what thrills Arkava, who said he puts in 1,500 to 1,800 hours a year acting as the alumni association's secretary and treasurer.
"I'll start working on next year tomorrow," the 86-year-old New London resident said. "Nothing gave me more pleasure than this scholarship fund did."
Arkava started the fund in 1988 with "two one dollar bills" and invested in high-grade corporate bonds. He continues to add to it with contributions from alumni, other community members and through his personal pursuit of collecting returnable cans and bottles.
"I made $7.75 in recyclables today!" he said with visible glee. "I walk 21 miles a week and pick up bottles."
Arkava's determination is well received and recognized, by fellow alumni and scholarship recipients.
"It's amazing this group endures, for what seems like forever, and most of it is due to Harold," said Robert Sinagra, Class of 1952 and alumni president. "It's his life."