Food, travel make for lasting friendships

By Jason Brady

Some psychologists contend that if two people are friends for seven years, they are friends forever. A group from Fayetteville has proven that assertion.


The group goes by the unpretentious name of Pine Forest Graduating Class of 1972, the last students to attend the old Pine Forest High School at 6901 Ramsey St. The building now houses Pine Forest Middle School. Since 1973, Pine Forest seniors have graduated from the “new” high school on Andrews Road.


What started as planning meetings for class reunions has evolved into more frequent get-togethers centered on food and travel. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the group gathered for dinner in Fayetteville and the surrounding area, and they traveled in the U.S. and abroad.
“We started having dinners so that we could stay in touch with each other. As you get older, you begin losing classmates,” says Ron Bean, one of the coordinators of the events.


Bean is a retired Marine aviator, Cumberland County Schools administrator, teacher and coach. For the past three years, he has served as interim pastor at Walstone Memorial Baptist Church.


The former classmates and friends may meet in Fayetteville or try a restaurant within easy driving distance, such as in Clayton or Dunn. The group hoped to resume the dinners in late April.


It was during an earlier gathering that someone suggested taking a trip, and a cruise to the Caribbean enticed eight to set sail. When the next trip was planned — a cruise to Alaska — that number grew to 22, Bean says.


Throughout the years of planning and taking trips, the core of travel aficionados included Bean and his wife, Sandi; Cosette and Wilson Grant; and Karen and Conrad Lopes.


Bean credits Wilson Grant and Conrad Lopes with finding the best deals for trips. Sandi Bean and Wilson Grant are not Pine Forest alums, but they are both quick to say they have been welcomed into the group.


Would-be travelers do not have to be 1972 graduates. “We would tell people you are welcome to cruise with us. The more people, the greater the discounts,” Bean says.


In addition to Alaska, they have traveled to Canada, Ireland and Italy. Other excursions include a trip down the Danube River, a visit to Hawaii, and van trips through various parts of the continental United States.


For Sandi Bean, no one trip stands out. “There were so many memories,’’ she says. “In Hawaii, we walked across lava fields and watched molten lava flow into the ocean. It was awesome.”


Swimming with sea turtles and seeing double rainbows, some of which touched the ground, are forever etched in her mind.
Because of the war in Ukraine, Sandi Bean wants to stay in the U.S. for the next trip. Destinations may include a tour of the western part of the country, the Four Corners or maybe a return to Yellowstone National Park.


“I have made some lifelong friends with this travel group and the dinners,’’ she says. “If I needed anything, they would be there.”
Cosette and Wilson Grant, who live in the Raleigh area, started attending the group dinners after running into Conrad Lopes at a North Carolina State University football game in 2001.


“We went and had a great time,’’ Cosette Grant says. “It brought back so many memories. We sat around talking, and that’s when the idea of taking a trip came up.”


At first, the trips were scheduled every two years, then yearly. “We’ve gone to more places than what I ever thought was possible,” Cosette says.
Like Sandi, the Grants can’t point to any one trip as their favorite. It’s the moments in time during the excursions that stand out, including having lunch in the home of an Italian family during the trip to Italy.


Conrad and Karen Lopes echo those sentiments, although the trip to Hawaii may rank above all others for them. It’s where their daughter, who accompanied them, was married, Conrad says.


“Hawaii was extra special, of course, but all the trips were extra special,” says Karen.


The group has a bucket list of places to visit: Yellowstone; Greece, particularly Athens; Rome; Panama; another trip down the Danube to Prague; and Norway to see the Northern Lights. The Norway trip seems to be the most popular possibility.


“This relationship with my friends has meant a world to me,’’ Conrad Lopes says. “They are some pretty special people. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make new memories with them.”