ANDY THOMAS: Fiftieth Class Reunion Brings Back Memories
Some of the events and conversations from my 50th reunion on a recent weekend beg me to relate them to you.
I'll not mention the college I attended, but it is in New Hampshire, begins with a "D" and was the inspiration for "Animal House."
The 50th reunion anywhere is an admirable event because it celebrates the fact that people are still alive, able to enjoy each other and reminisce. About 38 percent of our classmates attended, out of a living base of about 590 and, with spouses/partners, this represented 450 people.
The 50th at "D" coincides with the graduation, and so we marched in front of the Class of 2008.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, received an honorary degree and gave the commencement address. She was surrounded by Secret Service agents the United States had provided her. Her message exuded optimism despite the fact that she leads a country filled with poverty, graft, sickness and strife. She is the first female head of state in Africa and promises to improve Liberia's status.
Father Theodore Hesburgh, past president of Notre Dame, gave our commencement address in '58, and we voted to make him an honorary member of our class. He's 90 years old and in pretty good shape. He has annotated his 1958 address to us with comments on the occasions of our 25th and 50th reunions.
Cicely Tyson, the actress, also received an honorary degree.
Jim Meeker, classmate, fraternity brother and usher in our wedding, showed up after 50 years of silence. Jim originally came from Fort Worth, Texas, where his daddy was on the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulated Texas oil production in the '50s and '60s. Jim had lots of money and a late-model Oldsmobile while the rest of us drove antiques.
My roommate and I shared a black, four-door, 1936 Chevrolet sedan, for example. Jim used to get in his newer car some Fridays and bomb down to Boston's Logan airport, where he caught a flight back to Texas for a party, and then flew back in time for class Monday.
We all marveled at that. Sometimes he would bring a case of Wolf Brand chili back and cook it on an illegal hot plate in his room. To commemorate his dear friend and classmate, Lee English, he bought Ed Ruscha's "Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas" (1963) painting. This is a famous piece of pop art and hangs in the Hood Museum at "D."
Another classmate lives in Faro, Portugal, and Wimbledon, England, and is married to Helga, a Czech who fled with her family to Germany at an early age. It happens that the best man in Helga's first wedding was another classmate, Kit, a friend of mine from Denver. Totally a small world coincidence.
Kit married his second wife, Ardy, last December after a 12-year relationship. Kit took Ardy to Nordstrom just before Christmas to buy her a gift. Having picked out a nice bracelet, Kit edged her down to the diamond department, where a ring caught her eye. After picking the ring, Kit asked her to marry him in an aisle at Nordstrom. This had onlookers and sales staff in tears of joy and surprise.
After the two-day reunion in New Hampshire, about 80 of us extended our get-together for another three days at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt. The von Trapps were the family that escaped Austria in World War II and were famous for their musical story, "The Sound of Music." Sam von Trapp, and his father, Johannes, both "D" graduates, run the Lodge. This venue provided a quieter and peaceful spot to meet. Side trips for lectures, museums, golf and fishing were fun, and a dinner cruise on the "Spirit of Ethan Allen" on Lake Champlain, out of Burlington, was superb.
At "D" (and elsewhere, I imagine) a concerted effort by the college is created to raise money. Fiftieth reunion classes seem to donate to the alumni fund in bigger amounts, believing in the shadows of life that there may not be many more occasions to do so. We presented a check to the College for $3,585,858.58, a college record aided by a few wealthy mates, in the -- yes, you guessed it -- Class of '58. Eighty-two percent of the class provided support for this.
Another nice aspect to this reunion is the bond established between our class and that of 2008. We have a project to carry on this relationship that started when we cooked meals for them as freshmen on the college grant, four short years ago.
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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