It started modestly enough. In the mid-1990s, Jim and Marie Belmore of Natick rented a place in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the winter. It was not unusual for them to bump into other people from Natick who either had retired to the area or just went down for the winter.
So the Belmores thought, why not have these folks over for a cookout and reminisce about the Natick days? “We had about 10 people come,” said Marie.
Word spread about the Natick gathering. Each year a few more came. “When we got to about 200,” said Marie, “we had to move it to the St. Petersburg Elks. We had a great time.”
It became known as Natick Days.
Jim Belmore, who graduated from Natick High in 1950, died in 2010. It’s hard for Marie, who graduated in 1951, to do the legwork now.
To keep Natick Days going in the Florida sun, Pete Smith (class of ’57) is heading up the event this year, scheduled for Sunday at the Pimlico Recreation Center in the Villages, about an hour from Orlando. Smith’s first experience with Natick Days was in 2005, he said. “The next year we had about 20 from our ’57 class. It was great.”
Mary Roberts Kinsman (class of ’46), who was for many years the Natick Days secretary-treasurer, recalled that the oldest known member to attend the event was Dick Balzarini, class of ’32. He has passed away.
‘The joy is seeing who’s going to come through the door. It’s a great experience, talking old times.’
Fresh faces are hard to come by. “We’ve had very few young people,” said Kinsman. Many of the participants are in their 70s and 80s. There is always the element of surprise as to who will show up this time. “One year I was checking people in at the door. There were a lot I hadn’t seen since high school,” said Kinsman.
Danny Corbosiero (class of ’55) has lived in Ocala for nine years, and will be at his fifth Natick Days. He had heart surgery five years ago (seven bypasses). “I’m doing great,” he said. At 75, he still works out.
Corbosiero, at 5-foot-6, was a sensational running back for Natick High. He often reflects on his youth in Natick. “I’ve got pictures and plaques to remind me of those days. Those memories are wonderful things to have.”
Joe Kiley and his wife, Carol, both in the class of ’61, live in Leesburg, and they will be at Natick Days. “The joy is seeing who’s going to come through the door,” said Joe Kiley. “It’s a great experience, talking old times.”
One of those former Natick residents expected to walk through that door this weekend is Kiley’s brother, Jim (class of ‘64), traveling from his Maryland home. He also has a place in Naples, Fla.
Gary Hoyt (class of ’55) has been to several Natick Days. He used to have a place in Seminole, Fla., but he just can’t leave Natick for too long.
“I’m never moving from this town,” he said. Hoyt doesn’t run off to any of the Route 9 malls when he needs something. He does his shopping downtown.
Hoyt’s dad had a Pepsi-Cola plant in Natick for years. The son eventually took over. “We produced Pepsi until 1993,” said Hoyt.
Hoyt liked going to Florida, but returning home was even better, he said.
Pete Smith was a three-sport star at Natick High — he’s in the school’s athletic hall of fame — and he pitched briefly for the Boston Red Sox. He’s trim and active at 73, often winning competitions for seniors in Florida. “I play golf, tennis, basketball, table tennis,” he said.
Corbosiero said, “Every time I pick up the local paper Pete’s winning something.”
“It’s a great place to live, unbelievable,” said Smith. “We’ve got 37 golf courses around here.”
Smith’s brother Terry (class of ’55) has become a regular at Natick Days. He lives in Florida now. “Everybody who speaks at the event says how great it was growing up in Natick. Most of them don’t seem to have aged as much as other people their age.” Must be something in the town’s water.
“It’s nice to go back to Natick, but then the reality sets in,” said Joe Kiley. “The town has changed. You walk on Main Street and you don’t know anyone. The old guard is gone. Disappeared. We used to go to the downtown post office, and you couldn’t get out of there because you knew everyone and we just kept talking.”
At the Natick Days you find out who has died or is in failing health. “That’s the heartache part,” said Kiley, who lives in Florida.
Still, the good memories outweigh the bad.
Corbosiero recalled his senior football season, when he made an interception in the end zone against Framingham to seal the Thanksgiving Day win before the home crowd at Natick’s Memorial Field. “What a way to end my high school career!” he said.
Surely that will be brought up on Sunday. There will be true stories and embellished stories. But here is the important thing: They will be Natick stories, told by Natick people.
“It’s a rekindling,” said Joe Kiley.