Newport Harbor High's reunion will fundraise

There's something about high school reunions. Some people avoid them like the plague; others embrace them for the loads of fun they can often become. Movies have been made about them.

Then there's the Newport Harbor High School Class of 1985, whose 25th anniversary reunion is scheduled for Aug. 14-15 at the Ayres Hotel & Suites in Costa Mesa.

The class is taking another tact: It's going to use its reunion as a fundraiser to help those who've been stricken with sarcoma, a cancer that took the life of one of its students, Suzy Leider, a high school cheerleader, friend to everyone and founder of the Sarcoma Alliance.

Also taken from this world was Terry Denigan, who died of skin cancer, and had been a star water polo player.

He died in August 2003; Leider in August 2002.

Denigan and Leider left indelible impressions on many in the Class of 1985, which rounds off at 500 students.

Kim Fine, a Newport Harbor alumna, is organizing the reunion, which will cost $120 per person for both days, Saturday and Sunday.

Jon Elliott, the former student body president, is uniting the class under the slogan: "The Year the Spirit Came Back."

"For the most part," Fine said, "we were a close class, and in the memory of Suzy and Terry we will reconnect with old friends, make some new ones, and celebrate."

And if you don't think donating to the cause of cancer is ample enough reason to drop in on your old classmates, keep this in mind for all you single people out there: During the 20th anniversary, two classmates, Laura Haskell and Andy Stoneman, not only reconnected — they got married.

"And one of them, I can't remember which, didn't even want to go to the reunion," Fine said.

As for Denigan and Leider, their memories and spirit will live on regardless, said Fine, who managed to track down old quotations and writings on behalf of the pair by friends and fraternity brothers.

Denigan, an athlete until the end, and Leider, a frequent jogger and registered nurse later in life, influenced the lives of many whom had the pleasure of knowing them, Fine said.

Known as "Dengo" around his fraternity house, Denigan was always a good sport. Even when he was dying, he went out of his way to smile and be cheerful as friends gathered around for one of the last visits.

"I knew it took a tremendous amount of energy to put on his 'game face,'" wrote Peter Shea Jr., a longtime friend and pledge brother. "He made it seem to us as if he just had a little bug, but I know it was taking all his strength to sit there and laugh and talk. When I reflect back on it now, he was doing this more for us than he was for himself."

As for Leider, she founded the Sarcoma Alliance after she was diagnosed with synovial cancer in her right thigh in 1992. It ultimately spread to different parts of her body and took her life a decade later after a no-holds-barred fight that included intense chemotherapy.

The funds from the reunion will go toward the Hand in Hand: Suzanne R. Leider Memorial Assistance Fund, which was founded in 2003 in her name. It was Leider's dream to be able to provide financial assistance to those seeking second opinions with their sarcoma.

On her website, before she died, Leider wrote: "In closing, I would like to share two simple messages that can profoundly impact the life of a cancer patient. First, for those who have a diagnosis of cancer, maintain your follow-up appointments and tests. Until there is a cure, I believe that early detection is essential in the fight against cancer. Secondly, never succumb to the belief that your life is on hold because you have cancer or that cancer define who you are."

"Strive to live, experience and thrive in the midst of cancer!" Leider added.

Said Fine, who's been working nonstop on the reunion: "I know the names of all our classmates. I have a list. And if you are not there, you will be missed. Good times or hard times, we made it through high school and I must say, I am impressed with each and every classmate I have tracked down so far."

To register for the reunion, go to http://www.newportharborhigh1985.com.

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