It all started eighteen months ago at IHOP in Petaluma. Nancy Brandhorst Gornowicz and I casually knew each other in school but after learning we lived only twenty-six miles apart in Northern California, we became fast friends. During a 2-hour breakfast, the conversation drifted to our milestone reunion. Was anyone planning a party? If not, we wanted in.
I contacted Fred Taylor, our class's Facebook administrator who works tirelessly to keep us all connected. Fred told me Sherman Seelye had inquired about a reunion and that both of them were willing to serve on a committee. Nancy and I agreed to drive to SoCal so the four of us could get the ball rolling. Unfortunately, the pandemic locked us down, canceling our plans. We quickly figured out how to use Zoom, and moved the meeting to cyberspace. Soon, a fifth classmate, Cecilia Ramm Boal, joined the group.
In July 2020, Sharyn Brown Link from the class of ‘70 called to ask if we would consider combining parties since COVID-19 restrictions had shut down hers. She had signed contracts with a venue, DJ, and photo booth company and didn’t want to lose the deposits. We welcomed her and Linda Scott Paton into our group, adopting the slogan, Better Together. The seven of us rolled up our sleeves and got to work, figuring out how to create a memorable evening for both classes.
I scheduled and facilitated monthly Zoom meetings, and recorded our agreements. Sharyn and Nancy managed registration lists and opened up back accounts to stash the money. Cecilia and Linda focused on decorations and the memorial. Fred and Sharyn posted messages on Facebook to build interest (Fred never let a meeting end without taking a group photo to share with classmates). Sherman reached out to many people, nudging them to register. He also brought humor to the virtual room, making sure we laughed.
Did everything run smoothly? Of course not. We had conflicts over the budget, the agenda, and accounting software. Decisions were not always unanimous. People missed meetings because of vacation, moving, and family obligations. But we pushed forward, not letting anything stop our momentum. We used Google forms to give everyone instant access to reports, built a slideshow from yearbook pictures, secured raffle gifts, color-coded name tags, invented ways to display memorabilia, agreed on registration packets, chose a dinner menu, endlessly marketed the event, reached out to unregistered classmates, identified ways to honor people who were no longer with us, and fine-tuned the agenda. Four weeks before the event, we met weekly, focusing on the tiniest detail. Messenger pinged frequently with group chats.
On the big day, the seven of us arrived at the Mayne Events Center promptly at 3:00 pm. We were excited to see one another in person yet anxious to organize our stations before guests arrived. When I entered the massive banquet hall, my jaw dropped. Computer images of the floor plan had not prepared me for its sheer size.
I busied myself, arranging the dessert table and organizing raffle items. Sharyn met with the venue’s manager, DJ, and photobooth crew to ensure everything was going according to plan. Linda and Nancy finalized packets at the registration tables. Cecilia set up an impressive three-dimensional display of a letterman jacket, cheerleading outfits, yearbooks, scrapbooks, class pins, and other memorabilia. She and her husband put the final touches on a whimsical lighted tree that had floating butterflies with pictures of deceased classmates swaying in the breeze.
The waiters covered twenty round tables with crisp, white tablecloths, then arranged eight plates, crystal glasses, silverware, and red napkins in symmetrical order. Cecilia and Linda laid out gold table runners to make our school colors pop, then added Cecilia’s homemade centerpieces: macrame-covered potted plants to given away at the end of the party. After sprinkling glitter, the tables were ready. Sharyn and Sherman got the slideshow up and running on two overhead screens, and Sherman helped the DJ with his equipment while Fred assisted where needed and got his camera ready. At 5:55, we took a collective deep breath. After eighteen months of planning, it was showtime.
Classmates arrived looking their best, some traveling hundreds of miles to attend. Smiles and chatter soon filled the banquet hall along with songs by Van Morrison, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, and other favorite bands from our wonder years. I recognized some people immediately while others required a glance at the senior picture dangling from a lanyard around their neck.
Memories came flooding back as I shifted from party-planner to guest. I still remember climbing into Vicki Jansen’s big black car with friends to cruise Bellflower Boulevard on Saturday nights. We’d eat donuts and check out the action before toilet papering a house or two. Vicki made me laugh like no one else. Sandi Kurikka Felix, Ruth Humphries Cole, Karen Druyor Crowley, Jackie Rohrer, and Debbie Buchanan Gunderson arrived in a limo. They, along with Nancy, have met regularly since graduation to celebrate their friendship. Debbi Collins Kightlinger, my bestie and sister flag twirler, arrived looking stunning in a blue jumpsuit. She and I have shared every imaginable life experience, and have backpacked in Europe, visited a health spa in Tuscany, and hiked the Matterhorn in Switzerland together.
I enjoyed slow dances with Larry Mirch, Richard Rahm, and my sister-in-law, Gaye Thomson, as well as fast dances with too many folks to name. My friendship with Claudette Fabian blossomed during our careers at Kaiser Permanente. Richard Gonzales’ parents, Lupe and Albert, were my delightful next-door neighbors at the first home I purchased. Janice Rose Cole drove Joella Cotney Hansen, me, and others to Vegas to see Elvis perform at the Hilton, my first concert. Debbie Barlow Cossey reminded me of the “A” we received on a Vietnam War media project. Cathy Sistrunk Winger mentioned the time she and I visited Ellen Brenney Amestoy’s bomb shelter and lived to tell about it.
Myra Kumagae’s face almost made it on the butterfly tree since we thought she had died. Thanks to Fred’s sleuthing, we found her phone number and left a message. Imagine my joy when she returned the call! Myra and I caught up on fifty years of life, reminiscing about our stint as 7th-grade cheerleaders as well as the three years of ice skating lessons (along with Theresa Wells Bickford) at Ruth Noland’s rink. I'm so glad she decided to come to the reunion at the last minute.
As I mingled, danced, and gave away raffle gifts with Nancy and Sherman, Fred and Sandi Kurikka Felix were busy pointing their camera lenses. Not only did they take class and elementary school photos, but they also captured many candid images that allowed us to create a wonderful memory album on Shutterfly. Fred’s array of the ‘then and now’ photos is pure genius.
After singing our Alma Mater, the merriment continued, even as busboys began cleaning the room. At 11:15 p.m., I said my goodbyes, packed up my car, and drove to my hotel, reflecting on the evening. I wish the mic had worked better and I’m mad at myself for not writing down raffle-winner names. I’m disappointed the bartender ran out of red wine at dinner time, and I felt awful about losing Fred’s pen. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. Nancy, Fred, Sherman, Cecilia, Sharyn, Linda, and I performed a miracle: delivering a fabulous 50-year high school reunion for two classes in the middle of a pandemic. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, no person did one great thing, rather we all did many small things that made the party great.
So, now you know what happened behind the scenes to create this magical moment. I will miss my fellow party planners, and I’m grateful to the classmates who attended the gathering. The years at BHS helped shape us into the people we became, and our memories will bind us forever. Go Bucs!
To check out the Shutterfly album, click here.