Saturday, October 16, 2004

540 Two Classes One Reunion

At the end of the month we're driving to Indiana to attend a reunion of my husband's high school fraternity. I think the last time they got together was about 10 or 12 years ago, although we've seen a few individuals over the years. They all attended Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. In 1997 I wrote about our 40th class reunions, and how two classes that had been so different 40 years before, had become very similar.

Our Differences

Our schools couldn't have been more different. His school--Arsenal Technical High School--has a beautiful 76 acre campus in the middle of Indianapolis. Founded in 1912 at the site of a Civil War arsenal, its architecture spans a century and a half, from the old officers' barracks and guard house to the concretely ugly contemporary. Its neighboring residential area, once the glory of Indianapolis, was already shabby in the 1950s, but is now experiencing a renaissance. Tech's course offerings from technical to college prep were breathtaking, ranging from stagecraft to orchestral instruments to Greek. The school had 8,000 students when my mother-in-law attended in the 1930s, but was around 5,000 when my husband graduated in 1957. His school was larger than my home town. He says, and his classmates confirm, that they were so well behaved that you could hear a pin drop when the entire student body met for assembly.

Mt. Morris High School where I attended had only 52 graduates in 1957, was even smaller when my father attended in the 1920s, and our school, as a high school, no longer exists. The building is now a junior high school and the senior high students are bussed to Oregon, Illinois, to attend classes with our former nemesis and biggest rival. Its low profile, 1950s style architecture neighbors a retirement center to the east, a cemetery to the west and a cornfield to the south. The only foreign language offered at MMHS was Latin (for which I'm thankful--it's an excellent foundation), and we had no art classes, unless you count "industrial arts." Tech's lunch room staff was larger than our entire faculty! And we were never as quiet and well behaved as those city kids.

Our similarities

Our reunions had more similarities than our schools. Hard working local committees make these class reunions work. If there are no local people committed to the project, it just doesn't happen. The Tech Committee has quite a challenge finding addresses for over 700 people, many of whom have changed names, addresses and careers several times. The MMHS class had a much better rate of attendance with 37 classmates attending compared to 85 from the Tech class of 1957. His class has lost 34 members in death (1997)--that the committee has confirmed. My class has lost four.

Both groups assembled a large table of memorabilia for the reunion--annuals, a confirmation class photograph, snapshots, athletic sweaters, personal items. Tech's publications were a little more slick--they had an award winning school newspaper published by their journalism classes which even after 40 years looks quite professional. The MMHS class, however, had a signature quilt made in 1954 with all our names, our teachers' names and the current slang expressions embroidered on cloth blocks sewn together. That was a far sighted 14 year old who organized that project!

Both classes gathered for a reunion photograph. Bob's group was rather dignified and well-behaved, squinting in the bright sunlight on their beloved campus the day following their evening reunion. My class had a few stand-up comics who played off each other and kept everyone laughing. They must have driven our teachers crazy 40 years ago. The smiles in our MMHS picture taken at dusk in the White Pines State Park, the site of many school-related picnics, certainly weren't forced.

The Classmates

Each class had couples who met in school, dated and then married. The difference is that in Bob's class if you ask, "How did you meet," she might say, "We sat next to each other in zoology." My classmates Sylvia and Nancy and Mary Jane can say they met their husbands in grade school. Our classmates' marriages produced many children and now they are showing pictures of grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. One Tech couple at the reunion needed to hire a babysitter for the grandchild they are raising. One MMHS classmate showed a family picture that was almost half the size of our class.

Tech and MMHS classes both had a girl who was equally a friend to boys and girls, probably not an easy honor then when the preferred status was "going steady." I chatted with Bob's classmate for awhile and knew immediately why everyone in the class loved her. "I wish we'd known each other in high school," I told her (even though she had dated my husband).

On Growing Older

Sad stories were told in both groups. I think I met more guys downsized out of jobs in their 50s at Tech's reunion, although I didn't ask the same questions of my own classmates. Like me, many of the women began their careers after child-rearing and listened with envy to tales of buy-outs and early retirements. At our 25th and 30th reunions, divorce was the major personal loss. At the 40th it was the loss of parents, with at least three of my classmates losing a parent within the past six months. One Tech man told me his father died 13 years ago and he misses him more each day.

Surgeries, cancer, heart medication and portable oxygen kept our groups from getting too frisky. Two Tech men told me about hip replacements and were thrilled to be walking with no pain. One construction worker who had traveled from Florida to be at the Tech reunion proudly showed us his first pair of athletic shoes because after surgery he no longer wears a built up shoe. A Mt. Morris classmate had postponed knee surgery to be there and traveled in pain from California.

When we stopped by the Alumni Dance at the Moose Lodge in Mt. Morris after my reunion, we left after 5 minutes because of the smoke and noise. Nor did we go to the Indiana Roof Ballroom for the Tech Alumni dance. We love to dance, but unlike 40 years ago, these two alumni like our sleep more when facing a long drive home.

One thing was clear at these reunions: success touches us in a variety of ways. All our classmates were successful. Some had achieved the traditional definition--money, power, status or recognition. All the people I met or with whom I renewed acquaintance had overcome adversity, or followed a dream, or achieved a goal, or had provided needed friendship and compassion, or had been a faithful caregiver. The two classes that were so different in 1957 had become one by 1997.

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