Rose Mary Hunter, 71, gazes dreamily up through her bifocals at track star Doug Greene, 18, who is holding her in his arms. “He’s the most handsome man I’ve ever danced with,” she sighs. Responds her gallant partner: “I get near her and I light up like a light bulb.” Across the cafeteria, Ozzie Lederer, 83, dazzles two teenage girls with a finely honed fox-trot and waltz. And in front of an Alice in Wonderland backdrop, Barney Cichecki is taking a definite shine to Kimberly Adams, 18. “I’m 83, you know,” he tells her. “An old goat.” Kimberly smiles. “But you can still dance,” she coos reassuringly.
It was a prom night that bridged not just one generation gap but two or three. Last month, for the second year in a row, students at Mount Clemens High School in Mount Clemens, Mich., brought new meaning to the term junior-senior, inviting 175 of the city’s elderly, a few of them Mount Clemens grads, to join them for a traditional spring rite of passage. The evening included corsages for the ladies, a sumptuous buffet, a big band, the ho-keypokey, and dancing till the wee hour of 10:30. Says Jennifer Gale, 17: “I had more fun here than at my own prom.” Most of her schoolmates agreed. “I thought I was going to have to teach them how to dance,” says Shawn Shackelford, 16. “But they did all the teaching.”
The idea for the prom was suggested last year to Elaine Pace, 45, coordinator of the town’s Senior Citizens Humanities program. Pace loved the idea; she thought the dance “would make everyone feel young.” Members of the high school’s student assembly were equally enthusiastic. The event was a hit, and Pace particularly remembers “one young man with a Mohawk haircut who was having a great time. A couple of kids made some comment about his hair, and his dance partner, a senior citizen, said, ‘Don’t you dare say that. I like his haircut.’ ”
An encore was obviously in order, and this year the festivities began with limo rides for the guests of honor. Greeted at the door by girls in short, strapless gowns and boys in tuxedos and suits, the senior citizens either proceeded to tables laden with spinach pies and quiche or, like Ozzie Lederer, headed straight for the dance floor. “When I hear music,” admitted Lederer, who showed up with his steady, Louise Koth, 79, “I can’t stand still.” Such was his popularity that Koth finally felt compelled to cut in on his Charleston. “Remember me?” she asked. “I can’t dance with you,” he said, beaming. “All the girls want me.”
As sometimes happens on sentimental occasions, nostalgia was in flower as the evening drew to a close. Ethel Blanchard, 74, had missed her own school prom and called her second chance the “thrill of a lifetime.” Rocky Rizzo, 18, had spent much of the night in a tête-à-tête with Lillian Giesecke, 87, who talked about the old days when the local mineral baths made the town smell like rotten eggs. “I learned a lot from her,” said Rizzo.
But it was Louise Koth, reunited at long last with Ozzie, who summed up the evening best. “I thought teenagers were drug users and hoodlums,” she said. “Now I know you can’t put them all in one package. I’m a little late,” she added, “but I feel like Snow White.”
—By Kim Hubbard, with Carol Azizian in Mount Clemens