The Story of Our Reunion
The Reunion of a Lifetime (or so the website claimed)
Who's Going to Do This?
Last January I realized I hadn't received any notification of a 50th reunion for the RHS class of '67. I asked myself if I would bother to go to the reunion if there was one. It only took a minute to realize that, of course, I would be there.
Then I wondered who would comprise the committee to organize the 50th reunion? It would have to be people who still live in the area because it would be too difficult to set up a reunion long-distance.
Not being a very organized person, I had no idea what it would take to make a reunion happen. That turned out to be a good thing because after I decided I would attend the reunion, I took the big next step to believe I could be the one to make it happen.
Could I do it or would I screw it up?
This is the age of the internet. I figured all I'd have to do is make a simple website, get online to find some classmates, and get those classmates to email, call, or write other classmates. A network of classmates would magically spring into being and the swell of excitement would cause organized, enthusiastic people to step up and help me make this thing happen.
RHS.org was already taken, so I settled on roosevelt67.org, contracted for that URL (Uniform Resource Locator), and bought some space from a local internet provider. My wife thought I was crazy to believe I could pull off this class reunion. She is both a superb graphic artist and an accomplished website developer. She could have created a beautiful, multi-dimensional website for the reunion, but I didn't want to drag her into this enterprise—yet. It seemed like a good idea to postpone asking for her help until it was absolutely necessary.
I picked a date in July (two weeks after the 100-mile One Helluva Ride bike ride— through Hell, of course—that I train for all year), coded up a crude website (like the website I've had for my car since 1999), and told my friends Jody Anderson Alexander, Peter Kuchnicki, Sally Foster, Chris Lund, and Charlotte Osborn I was in the reunion business.
Where Are My classmates?
Jody, Sally, Chris, and Charlotte were all very enthusiastic. Peter couldn't commit—he runs his own business that conducts industrial design competitions in the US, South Korea, and China. He's essentially the only full-time employee and he drives that employee like a rented mule. He said he just couldn't find the time to come to a reunion on the date I'd picked.
I got out my yearbooks, made a list of the people I needed to find, and started searching for them on the internet. The internet wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped. It was completely useless for finding women who have changed their surnames when they got married. Common names were tough, too. I'm glad I didn't have to find John Johnson. The magic network of classmates who knew other classmates didn't pop into being as I'd hoped.
Then Charlotte and Sally stepped up to the plate. They were both amazingly resourceful and successful at finding classmates I couldn't locate. I did discover classmates still living in the local area, but none of them responded to my letters.
Sally in California and Charlotte in Minnesota, Jody and Chris in Florida, Don and Sharon in Colorado, and, eventually, Hal in Amsterdam said they would come to the reunion. Months later, Jerry called from Ypsilanti and I finally had a local classmate committed to the reunion. Then Bob Packer called to tell me that the date I'd picked was the only weekend the band he plays in was going to be idle and I had another local. Roger Johnson turned out to be a Michigan resident, too, and he committed. Things were looking up.
Eventually more classmates began to respond. Also, I learned about other classmates who had passed away. After 15 classmates had committed, I knew the reunion was really going to qualify as a class reunion. I would have gone ahead with just 5 classmates, but I wanted more, as many more as possible.
In March I started looking for places to hold the reunion. I asked for tips from my long-time friend, Tom Dusbiber, who helps organize the frequent reunions for the RHS class of '66. He told me that Haab's Restaurant was a great place that offered a good value for group dinners and didn't charge a fee for the room.
A friend and former housemate in the 80's told me I should check out the Bona Sera Restaurant that he and some friends started in the old Ypsi Kresge building, a block up Michigan Avenue from Haab's. I drove over and took a look at The Underground, their basement grotto bar, and it looked perfect. By some miracle, the date I requested, July 21st, was the only open summer weekend evening still available. Evidently, it's a very popular venue.
Now that I had helpers, things were falling into place more easily. Sally made RHS Reunion postcards and sent them to people to ensure they wouldn't forget. Sally and Charlotte made many, many phone calls. Charlotte even found Jim Moore, whose parents still live in Ypsi, but he had another commitment that weekend. Jim, send us your story!
Everyone Needs to Send Their Story
One of the key features of the reunion website was to provide space for people to tell the stories of what's been going on in their lives for the past 50 years. Those stories would serve two purposes: they would give a voice to people who couldn't come to tell their stories in person and they would provide background information to the classmates who could come to jumpstart their conversations. For all our classmates, the collection of stories would serve as a virtual reunion.
Sally and Charlotte's efforts not only got more classmates to say they were coming to the reunion, but they also resulted in more stories being submitted for the website. I'm going to keep after the classmates who didn't submit stories because the plan is to keep the website going and serve as a tribute to a great bunch of people with a great high-school in common.
Lodging Proves Not to Be a Problem
Because the date I picked coincided with both the Ann Arbor Art Fair and the Ypsilanti Beer Fest, I was worried that motel rooms might be in short supply. So I visited some local motels and reserved rooms in case any classmates needed to find lodging. It turned out that everyone found a place to stay on their own, so I cancelled those reservations.
The Reunion Expands to a Third Day, But There's a Price
When it became clear that a few of our classmates could make the Friday gathering, but had other obligations on Saturday, I decided there should be some kind of Thursday "pre-launch" get-together to give them at least two days with their old friends. So I added the Thursday event without having any idea where it was going to take place.
As the time before the reunion grew short, Mary took pity and volunteered to host the Thursday pre-launch party in our small home. If the weather cooperated, the party could expand onto the patio in our back yard, where there would be enough room for 20 or more people. If the weather did not cooperate, however, space within our house would be in short supply.
There was a finished room in the basement that could provide more space for people to hob-nob: it was my "man cave." The problem was that room was full of boxes. When I took over my former employer's business in 2014, I brought multiple computer systems and box-after-box of books, business records, and back-up tapes home and piled them in that basement room. It ceased to be my man cave and became just a storage room. Since then, many layers of dust had settled on the thousands of science-fiction books and many hundreds of science-fiction toys filling the long shelves lining the walls.
I believe Mary may have had an ulterior motive for volunteering to host the party. She knew I would want to show off my man cave and she was willing to trade her efforts to get me off my butt and working to clean it up. It took me more than a week just to clear space in another part of the basement and then to move the stored boxes onto the shelves in that space.
To help me return the room to man-cave status, Mary, the saint, did what she's done more than a few times over the past 20-odd years: she dusted every single one of the hundreds of tiny space-shuttles, flying saucers, aliens, super-heroes, Star Wars figurines, ray guns, sand worms of Arrakis, rocket ships, moon globes, robots, space brains, Godzillas, moon rocks, pieces of Kryptonite, and even the mechanical arm that grasps my two graduation tassels. What a trooper! By now she's touched my toys more times than I ever have. She's even learned which of the toys belong together. However, more than once during that week Mary said, "Don't you go and die and leave me with all this crap!"
The Herculean effort extended right up to the day of the party. We were confident we could be ready by 6 pm, when our guests were scheduled to arrive. Then, at 5 pm, Charlotte and Sharon appeared! Mary was just getting out of the shower and I was still stealing chairs from the yard of our next-door neighbors who were on vacation. After a brief panic on our parts, Charlotte and Sharon told us they were just dropping off some beverages and cookies—and beautiful flowers for Mary. What a pair of thoughtful sweethearts!
The Thursday "Pre-launch" Party
Indeed, we were ready by 6 o'clock and the threatened rain went to the south of Ann Arbor, so the patio was in play. Our guests began to arrive.
Sally Foster and her boyfriend, Pete, were just getting in at the airport at that time, so we knew they would be late. Jerry had picked up Don at the airport earlier in the day, but they went directly to a casino. I guessed correctly that we would see them only if they emptied their wallets quickly. However, their fortunes were good, so they didn't join the reunion until the following day.
Mary had made some barbeque beef, fruit salad, and caprese salad, and put out chips and salsa. Charlotte and Sharon had gone overboard on their cookies, so we had way more than our guests were prepared to consume. The flowers they brought complemented the food and brightened up the setting.
On the table with the food I displayed the Roosevelt clock my brother had liberated from the hallway near the entrance to the school library. He figured it wasn't needed after the last classes had ended. I also showed off a softball marked "Roosevelt PE" with a magic marker long ago.
After months of planning, it was almost surreal to see my classmates actually appearing at my house. It was great to watch them re-acquainting themselves with each other. The reunion was truly ON!
At a carefully selected moment, I casually volunteered that I would be happy to take people downstairs to see my "man cave." Jody was heard to suggest an alternative moniker: "boy cave." Everyone told me they were impressed by my collections and they were polite not to remark upon a 67 year old man with a hoarder-level mass of books and toys (at least not within my earshot anyway).
Around 10 pm, following an evening of food and conversation, people drifted back to their assorted lodgings. The first night of the reunion was a success! Nobody spilled any wine in our house!
The Friday Visit to Roosevelt
The next event was a tour (well, a wandering) of the old school. Professor Dr. Suleiman Ashur, Director of EMU's School of Visual & Built Environments, whose office is in what is now called "Roosevelt Hall" granted us access to the building and designated a classroom for our use as well. I had misjudged the amount of Art Fair traffic on the expressway and was late to the tour. When Mary and I finally arrived, separate groups of classmates had already begun investigating the many changes EMU had made to update the 1920's-era school embedded in our memories.
All the lockers have been covered over and, in the basement halls, free-standing lockers had been installed, narrowing the hallways considerably. We could not check out the athletic end of the building because it was locked. It now houses EMU's ROTC. The swimming pool has been turned into their shooting range.
The cafeteria, which now houses a computer lab, was also locked. Above the cafeteria, the old auditorium was being divided into two large classrooms for the physics department. We stole our way onto the stage through that strange little stairway next to the door to the parking lot out back. It was dark in there, but we could see that all the seats were gone and scaffolding filling the seating area portended a recycled space that would soon be unrecognizable to those who received their diplomas there.
Mary and I joined the largest of the groups wandering through the building and swept up the stragglers. I directed everyone to the classroom Dr. Ashur had provided and class was in session. Using the computer and the giant screen at the front of the room, I displayed a short slide show of photos I scanned from our yearbooks.
After opening with a slide showing the old school as we knew it, the first image was of our wonderful principal, Mr. Mac. As I'd hoped, people talked about what he meant to us, the students he so wisely and kindly guided. The following images showed Miss Cooper (remember the smell of those mimeographs?), Miss McAndless conducting one of her classes, phys-ed teacher Miss Drake sitting on the edge of the pool, Miss North explaining the mysteries of shorthand, Miss Rankin showing Charlotte how to be a math teacher, Miss Fraser teaching us the language we use every day, Mr. Dodd the charismatic art teacher (note Gail and Sally in the background), Mr. Gosseaux the non-charismatic chemistry teacher, Mr. Milske the excellent biology teacher, Coach Dornbos the swimming coach, Mr. Francis one of our shop teachers, Mr. Brumbaugh who taught the oh-so-important driver's ed, Mrs. Sundquist music teacher and mother of classmate Julie, Coach Saunders, the football coach, and the final teacher in the slide show, the iconic Coach A.D. Walker.
With each image, different classmates would chime in with a comment or story. For example, I'll never forget when Jerry Cooch asked Mr. Walker if we should bring swimsuits when our phys-ed class shifted to the swimming pool. Old-school A.D. replied, "No, you will be swimming in the raw."
The star story-teller was Charlotte, who had the class in stitches with a story of meeting another Roosevelt alum from a much earlier class—in Minnesota! "She told me she was from Michigan and I said I'M from Michigan! Then she told me she was from Ypsilanti and I said I'M from Ypsilanti! Then she told me she went to Roosevelt and I yelled, I WENT TO ROOSEVELT!"
The next set of images were of the student plays in which we participated. Jerry Cooch was grilling Debbie Hille on the stand. Sharon Turner and other cast members argued the truth in front of Judge Hal Caswell in the production of "The Night of January 16th." In the dressing room, Karen Blakemore attended to a mop of hair beneath which the caption claimed was Sharon Turner. A bunch of classmates under the direction of Tom Dodd put on a faux Academy Awards ceremony.
The final photo is my favorite photo in the yearbook: the just-crowned Homecoming Queen Charlotte with Homecoming King, Dave, in his football uniform on the field at halftime. Charlotte's Dad is watching proudly from the background. That photo looks like it came from the happy ending of a feel-good movie.
Class was dismissed and everyone moved to the front steps of the school for the obligatory group photo. Well, many obligatory group photos.
Then we got into our cars and made our way downtown for the next reunion event. The visit Roosevelt wasn't a bummer despite EMU's efforts to bring the early 20th century building we remembered into the 21st century.
The Friday Meet-and-Greet for All RHS Classes
Friday's Meet-and-Greet event took place in Bona Sera Restaurant's Underground cavern below the restaurant proper. The restaurant occupies the building occupied by Kresge in our younger days. Sally Foster had meticulously curated a 5-hour "mix-tape" (actually an MP3 file) of songs from the 60's, when we were students at RHS. Unfortunately, the level of the intense and spirited conversations in that room drowned out that music. But Sally was kind enough to provide the music to me on DVD, so I can listen to it any time I want.
There were appetizers and a cash bar at the Meet-and-Greet. The wonderful Mary sat at a table at the bottom of the stairs and handed out the beautiful name tags she had composed from our yearbook photos. She even had made photo name tags for the schoolmates from other classes who told us in advance they would be joining us.
The Friday gathering was the largest of the 3-day reunion. The last remaining of our former teachers, Mary "Miss Drake" Green joined us, for which we were very grateful. Many members of the class of '66 were there. They are reunion veterans, being so organized that they usually stage a class reunion (to which all RHS alums are always invited) every 5 years.
The food was good, the space was perfect, and, if you went over and stood next to one of the speakers, the music was good, too. Because our reunion didn't include a committee in charge of decorations there were none, but that didn't seem to bother anyone.
The one thing I did bring was an In Memoriam board on an easel displaying the photos of the 11 classmates who are no longer with us. There may actually be more than 11, but I don't know about any others.
There were so many people, so many conversations, it was exactly what a reunion should be. After 4 hours, the restaurant staff boxed up the remaining appetizers (those wings were really spicy!) for people to take with them.
The crowd dispersed into the Ypsilanti evening. Despite the late hour, Jerry and Don headed back to the casino and Jody went with them! The second night of the reunion was a success! Nobody got too drunk and barfed in the Bona Sera Underground!
The Saturday Big Dinner at Haab's Restaurant
On Saturday the reunion venue moved from one of the newest restaurants in Ypsi to the oldest: Haab's Restaurant. I spent the morning writing the 30-minute speech I'd threatened to deliver before dinner. The 30-minute estimate was conditional on no interruptions. I warned it would be longer if I was interrupted.
Because Haab's didn't have a lectern, I had to cobble one up from an old cardboard box. I slapped a photo of the bust of Teddy on the front to make it official. The construction project took longer than I expected but we were still able to make it to the restaurant before the 6 pm starting time.
Again, there were multiple conversations going on at every table. It was great to see people talking with classmates they never talked to much, if ever, in high school.
We learned that not only Jerry, Don and Jody had a late night at the casino. Roger and his wife, Pat, were there, too. Miraculously, every member of the RHS gambling team left the casino with more money than they brought with them.
After giving people a half-hour to conversate (a non-word I just heard on NPR yesterday), I called the room to order, then pulled out my hokey cardboard lectern and set it on a table facing the assembled masses. Despite my warning, people felt no compunction about interrupting me. I overcame the interference and the two-page speech took only 10 minutes for me to mumble. Then the excellent Haab's wait-staff served us dinner.
After dessert I encouraged people to tell more stories about their teenage years at Roosevelt. Again, Charlotte was the star, telling a funny story about when she and Sally talked to the workers in the Roosevelt cafe. When Charlotte and Sally found out how much those workers were making, the pair went to the EMU employment office to apply for those jobs. Sally told a hilarious, embarassing story about an accidental rendezvous in a dark bathroom during a sleep-over at a girlfriend's house—you'll have to ask her for the juicy details. Gail described how she had attended beautician's school in the evening while still going to Roosevelt during the day. So she had begun her successful life-long career even before graduating!
Hal read a meaningful and relevant fable about monks that he promises to send me. Others told stories, too, but I wasn't smart enough to bring a recorder so I could remember them all.
As the wee hour of 10 pm approached, the wait-staff began cleaning up the plates, glasses, and silverware. Reluctantly, people began leaving the final event of our 50th class reunion. That's when I got to hug all the girls (and Hal), whom it wouldn't have been appropriate (or safe) to hug in high school.
The third night of the reunion was a success! Although I got a little choked up, I didn't cry during my speech!
Thank You, One and All
I want to thank my wonderful wife, Mary, and everyone who joined us to make my reunion dream come true (as if anyone has read this far down the page). It was wonderful! However, now that it's all over, I'm feeling a bit of post-partum depression, but writing this lengthy recap was good therapy for that condition. My only regret was that I was not able to locate every one of our old classmates to give them a chance to be a part of this magical weekend. Well, that and my overuse of the word, "classmate" (29 times in this recap, alone).
To repeat the famous exclamation by actor Matthew McConaughey, which also ended my speech, "All right, all right, all right!" Here's to Roosevelt High! (Matthew didn't say that last part.)