In the summer of 1961, when 12 young men arrived in York as the first interns at York Hospital, none of them had any way of knowing what was ahead.

Completing WellSpan York Hospital's residency program was the intended goal, but along with the residency, friendships were formed along the way that are still strong today.

Only seven of the 12 original interns are alive today, but those seven have maintained friendships together for more than 50 years.

"There are obviously many other groups (of interns) that followed us, and none of them have that kind of relationship," said Dr. Jim Smolko, 77, of Springettsbury Township.

Smolko was one of the original "Twelve Apostles," as they were dubbed in the hospital hallways.

Under the instruction of Dr. Robert Evans, York Hospital's first director of medical education, the men completed the program, and each had successful careers afterward, said Smolko.

It was a formative year, he said.

"We were in there nights, holidays and weekends, and all kinds of things were happening," he said. "You learn to depend on each other and teach each other, and I think that is what created the bond."

Teaching internship: Dr. Thaddeus Lekawa said York's program stuck out from the others he visited where the doctors and instructors were less receptive and welcoming.

Lekawa, 77, now lives in Spring Garden Township and works part-time at Jefferson Family Medicine. He and Smolko started the Hayshire Medical Center together.

"It was really a great teaching internship," Lekawa said. "We had a lot of physicians who were interested in doing this, and a lot of good guys who were really interested in teaching and having interns."

Smolko said one of the draws of the program was that it provided housing at Country Club Manor.

Most of the men were about 26 years old and married with young children.

They all took turns watching each other's kids, Smolko said.

"We were on call all the time, and we had to stay at the hospital," Lekawa said.

"Residents and interns now don't do that.

"We just all seemed to hit it off together and became really good friends," said Lekawa. "That made a real difference, and we all stuck together and kept in communication."

Ringing in the new year in 1962 was a memorable night as their party moved from one apartment to the next at Country Club Manor.

They had their first reunion five years later at the Hershey Hotel and agreed they should plan one for every five years.

"Then it became every three, two years, and in recent years we've been getting together almost every year," Smolko said.

For their 50th reunion year, they traveled with their wives to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, and they have taken several other trips together through the years.

Changing times: WellSpan York Hospital's education program has grown a lot since the Twelve Apostles finished, and more than 1,000 medical school seniors applied for its 46 residency positions last year.

Demographics have changed tremendously in terms of gender.

For instance, in Smolko's graduating class at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine, there were only five women in a class of 100 students, he said.

Today, around 51 percent of medical students are female, said Smolko.

And it seems like fewer people are married or starting a family while they're in medical school or completing a residency, he said.

"When I graduated from Pitt, I would say 60-plus percent, maybe 75 percent, were married. Now I think it's probably 5 percent," Smolko said.

With larger programs and more staff, Smolko said he imagines the camaraderie and sociability are reduced for today's residents.

"Medicine was a different story then," Smolko said. "In most minds it has become kind of a big business, and it wasn't back then. We were all generally impressed with the generation before us. They were all dedicated to their profession."

The other inaugural interns who are still living are Drs. David Litrenta, Charles Moreels, Joseph Cirotti, Calvin Colarusso and John Robinson.

Drs. Samuel Chayatte, Phillip Langford, Charles Hartman, Paul Mahan, and William Shue have passed away.