The third weekend of every April, alumni of Porter Military Academy gather at St. Luke's Chapel for a service to celebrate the heritage and history of their school.

This year that annual tradition will take on a deeper meaning as members of the class of 1964 - the last graduating class of the academy - will gather for their first reunion in 50 years.

"We had some good times," said Mike Ratcliffe, a 1964 graduate of the academy who has helped organize the reunion.

Despite the academy's name, Ratcliffe said it was military only in appearance but not in curriculum. The boys wore military-style uniforms and marched each morning to St. Luke's Chapel for service, but there were no military classes.

The academy has a complex history that dates to 1867 when the Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter, an Episcopal priest, formed the Holy Communion Church Institute as a school and orphanage for children orphaned during the Civil War. In 1880, the school located at an old military arsenal near the present day intersection of Ashley Avenue and Bee Street.

The school was eventually renamed Porter Military Academy and functioned as an all boys boarding school until 1954. It continued to operate as a private school for grades 1-12 until 1964 when the campus was sold to the Medical University of South Carolina.

That same year school officials decided to merge Porter Military Academy with the Gaud School for Boys, founded in 1908, and the Watt School, founded in 1931. The new school, called Porter-Gaud School, opened in the fall of 1964. The school moved a year later to its current location on Albemarle Road following a donation of 70 acres from Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

Today all but three of the buildings on the academy's campus have been demolished. Only St. Luke's Chapel, Colcock Hall and the Waring Historical Library remain.

The history of the school was palpable to the students who went there. Ratcliffe recalled discovering old tunnels under the arsenal.

"You learned the history as you were there," he said.

This year also marks the 50th reunion of the last graduating class of the Gaud School for Boys. Kathryn Sherrod, director of alumni for Porter-Gaud, said Porter-Gaud has been getting calls from alumni from both schools who are thrilled to be gathering for their 50th reunion.

"Alumni from both classes are really excited about how special this year is," Sherrod said.

Porter Military Academy's class of 1964 had 19 graduates, 16 of whom are still living today. At least 11 are planning to attend the reunion, which runs from Friday through Sunday. Many of the graduates have gone on to have diverse careers as college professors, writers, business administrators and engineers. Alumni will be coming from states across the country to attend the reunion. Most haven't seen each other in 50 years.

"It's going to be really fun and interesting to catch up with them," said Brian King, who is traveling from West Virginia to attend the reunion.

What many of the graduates remember about their time at the academy is the great education they feel they got.

"There was lots of interaction between the students and teachers," said Gilbert Smith. "It was more than just somebody who came to a classroom and taught a class."

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at Twitter.com/PCAmandaKerr.