In 1911, one year after Windham’s first high school was built, the graduating class of 1910 met to establish an alumni association. They were determined to have graduates gather every year and they even set up an alumni award, a kind of scholarship that would be given to one senior each year at an alumni banquet.

Detailed reports from that year and all years through 1990 are in the archives of Windham Historical Society. Early banquets were held in a variety of places, such as local restaurants, until the gym was added to the high school in the 1920s. For many of those earlier years, the meal was cooked by fraternal organizations with underclassmen serving the dinners. During war years in the 1940s, the banquet wasn’t held because so many graduates were fighting overseas, and after the 1970s, interest flagged and no banquets were held for a few years.

In 1991, the late Harold Haskell called a few fellow WHS grads with the news that he had been informed that there was a bank balance still being held for the alumni association. It wasn’t much, but Harold, a selectman and later a town councilor, felt it needed to be followed up. The group that met decided it was time to resurrect the association, the alumni banquet and the annual scholarship.

When Haskell and the others started talking about a banquet, it was realized there wasn’t a place big enough in town to hold all of those who expressed interest – and indeed, enthusiasm – for an annual dinner and get-together. And then there was the meal preparation. It would be too costly to consider a catered meal, although that was discussed. Many of those who would attend were on really limited budgets and the alumni committee wanted everyone to be able to participate. So committee members decided they would do the cooking.

After a meeting with the School Board and the middle school principal, it was all set – the banquet could be held in the middle school cafeteria and the kitchen could be used for cooking by the alumni, under the supervision of the kitchen staff. The committee figured out how much it would cost and went to work. Jim (Bud) Finley would cook – he served later as president. All the alumni committee would help in the kitchen and serve the sit-down meal.

Committee members made a visit to the school and the kitchen to check out the facilities. The visit was an eye-opener for many of the older graduates. They discovered that youngsters didn’t eat lunch from plates any longer, because all the alumni could find were Styrofoam trays and little plastic silverware. Before any banquet could be held, dishes were needed. The alumni association purchased dinner plates and silverware and all that went with them. Wooden storage boxes were built by the then-Industrial Arts classes. The dishes and silverware were stored for future use.

The association supports the schools with special plaques and awards from time to time. The Alumni Scholarship is still given at graduation, although the amount has increased. (The first alumni award was $2; in 2016 it was $500.)

When the Pleasant River Grange disbanded, it designated the alumni association as administrator of some of its Grange scholarship fund. That scholarship is given to a senior who is planning a future in a field related to agriculture and/or the environment. This could be horticulture, forestry or animal care, in addition to the more traditional agriculture pursuits.

Each year, hundreds gather for the annual Alumni Banquet. People come from all over New England, New York and beyond. As alumni gather at the tables, they recognize teachers and retired teachers, legislators, town councilors, police officers, town committee members, town hall employees, bus drivers, contractors, architects, builders, engineers – all ages, all walks of life, all former Windham High School students.

Windham’s annual high school alumni banquet is unique. Few towns can boast such an event, which brings so many people together, all with a common bond. This is how a community thrives.

Harold Haskell would be proud.

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