ROTTERDAM – A storm had just passed over Amsterdam when a group of men and women sat down under a large tent outside of Wolf Hollow Brewing Company. The 10 of them chatted and laughed together as if they had been meeting at this spot for years.
The reality, however, was much different: they were not strangers but, until just a few months ago, many of them had spent years or even decades without contact. Now, they were together planning their 50th Schalmont High School class reunion.
“There are no cliques here — remember in high school, you’d go ‘oh, we don’t hang out with them,’” said Pat McDonough, one of the primary organizers of the reunion. “But all of a sudden, here at this gathering — you know, people still belong to certain groups, but there’s no more judgment, and that’s what I love.”
It has actually been about 52 years since their class graduated in 1971. The idea was originally born during a hike between alumni Mike Mugits and Jeff Zappieri a few years ago, but the pandemic put a dent on any plans for a 2021 celebration.
“It’s becoming so convenient to email someone or Facetime or send something on Facebook, we don’t take the time to actually meet… you know a lot about the person but you don’t actually know them,” Mugits said as he explained why he wanted to have a reunion. “That’s my perspective: why haven’t I seen these people?”
This year’s party, which will take place on Saturday, will mark the only reunion that the Schalmont class of 1971 has had in the decades following graduation. Event planning officially kicked off in April and a committee of around 10 alumni met monthly to discuss ideas and updates.
“I was very quiet in high school and so I’m having a blast because I’m talking to people I’ve never spoken to before,” said Marjorie Wells.
“You were quiet in high school?” teased Marilyn Delorey, who sat next to her at one of the committee meetings and was one of her close friends in school.
One of the most difficult aspects of the process was finding the rest of the class, many of whom have moved away, changed names or do not even use social media. Regardless, Nancy DeOrio and Wells faced the challenge head-on and have accumulated over 60 alumni from the class’s graduating total of 154 onto the reunion’s Facebook event page.
“As weeks passed by, they found all sorts of people,” Mugits said. “They could work for the FBI tracking down people and solving cold cases because I don’t know how — I don’t want to know how they did it!”
The committee has also planned a variety of activities for the celebration, including trivia from their schooldays, music and other games. A food truck and cash bar will be available and each guest is invited to bring a dish or snack to share.
Of course, it’s been decades since many of the alumni have seen each other. So, upon entrance, each attendee will receive a name tag with their senior photo on it.
“This is my picture,” joked Mugits, who was in charge of these name tags, as he held up a black and white photo of a young Brad Pitt. After being met with an uproar of laughter, he said, “you don’t think this is me? It was 52 years ago!”
But although the class reunion will give the alumni the chance to catch up with old classmates and lost friends, it has also made way for deeper discoveries and realizations about the people they had grown up with.
“I was quite surprised to hear how candid everyone was about their childhood, and that it was not the ideal Ozzie and Harriet type home life we all presumed each had,” McDonough said in an email.
At a committee meeting, she spoke with a classmate about the topic: “I had no idea that you had lost your father at such a young age. You were a young kid and it breaks your heart not knowing what kids endure. To bring that all out at these meetings is really powerful.”
The Schalmont class of 1971 has lost about 34 of its alumni — over a fifth of the graduating total. Planning the reunion and remembering these lost classmates — particularly when viewing the memorial video that will be played at the reunion — has reminded some of the alumni, especially Karen Brozyna, of the importance and value of life.
“We’re here to celebrate the joys of being alive and we are grateful for being here,” Brozyna said, adding that some of the alumni passed extremely young. “We miss these people and we know how fragile life is and they remind us that we have to live and we have to live the kind of life that we are proud to have.”
The Schalmont class of 1971 will celebrate its 50th/52nd reunion on Saturday at Wolf’s Hollow Brewing Company in Amsterdam from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Guests should RSVP by Friday with their name, contact information and the number attending by emailing [email protected]. The event cover is $10 per classmate.