Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 12, 2012

Kids once again

As we walked the couple of blocks to Frank's Pizza Palace in Appleton, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Husband Art and I were in his hometown of Appleton, Wis. for his 50th high school class reunion - a three-day affair. His school's colors were blue and orange, so he wore a pair of blue jean shorts with a bright orange T-shirt for the Friday-night event.

"You look like a giant pumpkin in that orange shirt," I told him.

We laughed.

We entered Frank's - an Appleton fixture since 1955 - and were immediately enveloped in the smell and warmth of the baking pizzas. We made our way through the crowded restaurant to the back where his classmates had gathered. It wasn't hard to spot them since many had the same orange T-shirts with blue "Terror" logos on them. The Terror - a cross between a fox and a wolf - was the school's mascot.

Reunion organizers gave out name badges and leis.

"Oh, my gosh! I haven't seen you in 50 years?"

"You haven't changed. It's in the eyes, you know."

"Where have you been since we graduated?"

"What did you do for a living?"

"Tell me about your family."

The questions and conversations rolled out.

I smiled. I could almost imagine Art and his classmates as high school youngsters. I felt as if I knew some of them because Art had been working for almost a year on a historical piece about the origins of Wisconsin, Appleton and the city's school system. He used many of his classmates' school reminiscences.

The next morning, we had the opportunity to visit the old Appleton High School - now called Appleton West. Computers had long-since replaced typewriters, high-tech equipment filled chemistry labs and additions had changed the original blueprint of the school. Still, many remembered what it was like 50 years ago.

"This was my home room."

"This is where I had college prep English."

"Remember? You were my physics partner."

"We used to make 'spit balls' out of rubber cement when we were doing the yearbook pages."

"This was where my locker was."

Many could have spent an additional hour or two touring the school and telling stories, but it was soon time to go. Classmates gathered outside the school and several of us snapped pictures of the group.

We were then on our own until the Saturday-night banquet and the Sunday-morning brunch.

The banquet was an elegant affair at a local country club. Some 150 people attended. Class members signed a "Terrors Class of '62" banner as they entered. A 3-D "Class of '62" photo collage and other memorabilia graced a nearby table. Table centerpieces were large glass vases tied with blue ribbons with orange roses inside. I could tell the reunion committee - about 10 people with Carol Nass Heid at the helm - had worked overtime to make the event memorable.

Again, the conversations flowed. A special treat was a speech by classmate Larry Stephenson, now a world-renowned heart surgeon at Wayne State University. But Larry didn't talk about his success. Instead, he went into great detail about the successful junior beer party he helped organize way back when. It was a hoot. He told who sold the most tickets to the party and showed the map used to direct kids to the quarry where it was held. Audience members giggled and blushed like teenagers.

Art spoke about the project he's worked on for the past year. He and reunion organizers at first thought they would publish a booklet to give to reunion attendees. But his undertaking soon became much larger than that - not surprising for a man who relishes history. So rather than print a book, he stored his more than 500 files on thumb drives for each classmate in attendance. The files included his 20-chapter piece, complete with historical photos, along with a "classmates remember" section; an "In Memoriam" segment with obituaries of 85 classmates who have died; a scanned version of the Clarion yearbook; junior high newsletters; the last 1962 issue of the high school newspaper, "The Talisman"; and the class of '62 graduation program with a list of the 430+ graduates.

All too soon, the banquet was over. A few couples danced to tunes from the '60s while others lingered along the edges, quietly talking. We said our "goodbyes" and slipped out.

The next day's event at the Atlas Coffee Mill and Caf´┐Ż on Appleton's Fox River was much more subdued. '62 classmate Sue Ashman Bogenschutz and her husband are the owners. It includes a lovely gift gallery. We lingered for nearly four hours, enjoying the brunch and really catching up on people's work and family lives.

"Are you still doing what you did?"

"So now tell me your story."

And then classmates moved on with their current lives. One was on his way to celebrate his mother's 92nd birthday. Another was off to the Green Bay Packer game. Still another was heading to Madison to visit his sister. Many had long trips home.

"See you at our 75th!" one called out, laughing as she went.

No one knows, of course, who will be there for the next reunion - whether it's five years or 25 years down the road - or even if there will be one. But at least for a short time, those 67- and 68-year-olds were once again kids back in high school.

Top left: Classmate Kay Menning Jolivette and "Great Pumpkin" Art share a laugh at the pizza party; lower left: Andi Polisky, Pat Peterson Rogers, Larry Stephenson and Natalie French share a banquet table; right: Dave Kestly, Tom Stoeger, Chris LeDain Bilonik, Paul Herzfeldt, Sue Warming, Bonnie Oliver Nabbefeld and Art chat at the reunion-ending brunch Sunday morning.

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