05/26/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT
Wearing a black tux and red vest, 81-year-old Charlie Frazier climbed out of a limo and spotted Kashen Moore, 17, waiting outside Washington High School. "My prom date," he smiled, walking hand in hand with Moore into the gym and onto the dance floor as the band struck up "Moon River."
Frazier was one of 350 senior citizens and 60 high school students dancing the night away May 10 at the Senior Citizens Prom, organized by student leaders from Washington High. "It's a wonderful way to bridge the generation gap," says Karen Dawson, a retired teacher who launched the event in 2002. Then one of a handful of schools to hold such a dance, Washington High has served as a model for dozens of schools that have followed suit, she says. "I loved doing this," says Alyssa Woemmel, 18, the event's cochair. Along with 27 others, Woemmel put in more than 100 hours holding fund-raisers, passing out flyers and assembling decorations for the big night. "These folks have grown up here, and we're doing something for them."
Many older residents of this industrial town, which skirts the Missouri River, never had proms of their own because of world events—World War II or the Great Depression. "We couldn't afford a class ring, a prom or even caps and gowns," says Ann Hartbauer, 90, of her 1935 senior year; she arrived this evening dressed in blue silk shantung. Frazier missed his 1943 prom because he was working in a welding shop, but made up for it last year when he came to the Washington High dance and was crowned prom king after names were pulled from a hat. Now he wouldn't miss it for the world. "These kids," he says, "make me feel young again."
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