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Favorite son Hugh Downs emcees class of '38 reunion

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Television personality and author Hugh Downs, center, chats with Mary Jean Butturff and Odos Craig at yesterday's Shawnee High School 1938 class reunion.

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LIMA, Ohio - Television icon Hugh Downs' predictions about the future of his classmates in the 1938 Shawnee High School yearbook prove that he was a better anchorman than fortune teller.

Class President Odos Craig was supposed to become mayor of nearby Hume, which was predicted to grow to a city of 200,000 people.

After serving as a flight instructor during World War II, Mr. Craig returned to his family business selling farm implements. Hume remains unchanged. "It's still a village of 98 people and 104 dogs," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Downs foresaw himself as designing "air-conditioned kiddie-kars for the Kantor Kiddie-Kar Kompany." "That's not as funny as it sounds," he wrote. "The health of young America is in my hands. Tremendous responsibility."

The class of 1938 gathered for its 67th anniversary reunion yesterday at the Old Barn Out Back, a barbecue decorated to resemble a pit-stop along the Oregon Trail. Mr. Downs, who retired to Arizona in 1999 after anchoring ABC's prime-time newsmagazine 20/20 for 21 years, emceed the event.

Although Mr. Downs failed to live up to his yearbook prediction, he remains the class celebrity.

He started as a radio announcer in 1939 at the now-defunct WLOK in Lima, after failing to land what his father considered to be a legitimate job. Following stints as an announcer for a variety of television programs, including The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, Mr. Downs was named the host of NBC's Today show in 1962, a position he held for the next decade.

In addition to his television work, Mr. Downs has written 13 books, which have covered topics ranging from astronomy to sailing across the Pacific Ocean.

He said it will take years for his 3-year-old great-grandson to appreciate his latest work, Letter to a Great Grandson, published earlier this year.

"He'll read it when he can read, and he'll be bored to tears," Mr. Downs said. "But when he's a prime adult, he'll be interested. And when he's my age, he'll be very interested."

A total of 17 people, including nine graduates from 1938, attended the reunion - the group's eighth since 1978. The class had 52 graduates, 30 of whom have died. With the exception of Mr. Downs and three others, the rest continue to live in Ohio.

Aging, the subject of seven books by Mr. Downs, was the luncheon's chief topic.

Mr. Downs said that he has slowed down in recent years, though he continues to perform acrobatics in his glider and still speaks with the clear diction and bass voice he willed to his younger brother, Paul, in the yearbook.

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.

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