Class Reunions, A Dying or Thriving Tradition?

October 19, 2021 / Andrea Wenger
Class of 2016, Homecoming 2021
Class of 2016, Homecoming 2021

As director of Eastern Mennonite School’s advancement team, I ponder the relevance of five-year class reunions. In the nearly 20 years that I’ve worked with teams at EMHS, and earlier, Eastern Mennonite University, on homecoming planning, I’ve seen a pattern. Or rather, a lack of a pattern. Each year, some classes have a large turn out and nurture life-long friendships; other classes have little to no participation.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with class reunions myself, skipping many, planning some. But the older I get, the more I see the value in nurturing relationships with people who knew you in your youth (oh, how we wish we could do things differently!), and have moved through life’s stages from a shared vantage point.

Homecoming 2021 reunions followed the same pattern: some strong and some with no participation. This year also saw a few unique additions. The class of 2011 met by Zoom, something we never thought to encourage before COVID-19. A small group of 2005 alumni gathered in Oregon to mark 15 years, and members of the class of ’70 held their 50-year reunion one year late, since COVID prevented gathering last fall. Read a post on that gathering by Pat Hertzler here.

The class of 2016 held their first five-year reunion. This director shamelessly used her position to offer a little extra encouragement to the coordinator, daughter Leah Wenger. “This is a chance for you to set a tone for the next 50+ years!” I encouraged her. “Start something now that will last for the long haul.”

Leah collaborated with Michael Bender and Olivia Smucker on the reunion, and decided it would be a success if people stayed at least two hours after the 4 p.m. meeting time.

A 10 p.m. text to me reporting that the party was still going strong, confirmed a successful first reunion. “I had hoped we could get beyond, or work through, some of the inevitable hurts and disappointments that come with high school,” she said. “I think we were successful.”

The gathering included a long visit with Paul Leaman, head of school, and an opportunity to give feedback about how their experience may have been improved. “The conversation was delightful,” Paul reported, wondering if the insightful questions may have been planted by me or co-worker Maria Archer, K-8 principal who was having her own 40-year reunion, and whose daughter Gabby is also from the class of ’16. No “planting” necessary. These young adults care about the institution and want to see it improve for future generations.

The group also enjoyed reconnecting with Shannon Roth, class sponsor and government teacher. Late evening conversation included reflections on how EMS does and could do more to equip people from varied political perspectives to have respectful dialogue.

“I loved hearing from them about how they have actually taken things from my classes and implemented them in their own lives as voting citizens,” said Roth. “They encouraged me and gave me ideas for how I can continually strengthen my teaching.”

Class of ’71
Paul Doctorian has come to every five-year reunion from California since graduating in 1971. He was the first of four brothers to come to EMHS from Lebanon, a school suggested to his pastor father by friend Myron Augsberger, then president of Eastern Mennonite College.

“I get so emotional every time the story comes up of the Doctorian family,” wrote third brother Sam to class of ’81 classmates. He writes that his grandfather was rescued by Mennonites during the Turkish massacre of the Armenians in 1915. Many years ago, his father told the story during a sermon in Washington State. “An old man stands up during his preaching and said, ‘I was one of the three men that helped your father!'” Sam wrote. “My dad stopped his preaching and started hugging and thanking this man!”

Another brother, Dan, graduated in 1977 and is now deceased. Youngest brother Luther graduated in 1984. And cousin Hratch graduated in 1978. Paul and Luther are pastors at the Pasadena Armenian Church of the Nazarene, along with a younger generation of Doctorians, Paul and Jonathan.

Class of ’51
Jan Suter Showalter, class of ’51, coordinated two gatherings, an evening at her home with husband and classmate, Sam, and a more formal catered meal at the school.

“We are basking in the glow of our wonderful reunion. We were thrilled to have friends come from eight states plus Virginia. We had a great time Friday evening and Saturday without doing a lot of work. Early planning and communication helped. Looking forward to 2026!”

Three classes were unable to identify a person to coordinate a reunion, leaving some disappointed and frustrated. It’s understandable that people are busy and unable to take the lead. The advancement team does mailings and facilitates connections, but does count on a coordinator from each class. A homecoming breakfast and on campus picnic this year provided gathering places for classes who may not have had another activity (or, in addition to). That model will be developed further in coming years.

Several classes played trivia games during reunions this year, drawing on facts about the school in general and their class in particular. “Who can recite the words on the banner in the auditorium?” “Where do you find locker #1?” “Who dressed up as (fill in the blank) for spirit week our senior year?”

The EMS Alumni Office will make templates of trivia games available to future reunion planners to adapt for their own class gathering.

Please send your suggestions for reunion planning to alumni@easternmennonite.org.

Photos for this article were taken by reunion participants, Paul Leaman, Trisha Blosser, and Andrea Wenger.

Check out some more photos from this story

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2 Comments

  1. Marvin L Miller on November 4, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    I am a former faculty member (‘96-‘81) and really enjoyed the reunion of past faculty. I strongly encourage a repeat at least every 5 years, if not more often. (By the way where are the photos of this group? Hard to find! And as I suggested when MaryEllen and I were there this year (again!) let’s start a newsletter (formfaculetter) which would provide opportunity for former faculty to let us know what they have been doing after EMHS (EMS). This could be on the school website and updated periodically. I would be happy to help. Make a list of Name, Address, Email etc. and let’s ask them to respond. How about it? Marvin Miller

    • Andrea Wenger on November 4, 2021 at 3:49 pm

      Thank you so much for joining us each year, Marvin and Mary Ellen! The picnic was a wonderful idea, thanks to Rebecca Yutzy. We’ll invite former faculty and staff to our homecoming picnic every year going forward. Why wait five years!? I’ve added some more photos to this article (there were also some on the homecoming wrap up article, but yes, hard to find. A newsletter among people in this group is an idea we can discuss off line. Thank you for offering your help. We appreciate your interest and support!

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