Remembering the 50th Reunion

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If you didn’t make it back for our 50th Reunion in May, you missed a very special event.  If you were among the 119 Classmates in attendance, you experienced the pure joy of being back on Old South Mountain with friends of old.  I’ve never seen so many big smiles!  The positive spirit was contagious.

The first event was our Class Reception in old Lamberton Hall.  Joe Bartish was back from Las Vegas with his wife Christine.  Joe has worked for 10 different defense contractors and is now with QinetiQ North America producing unmanned aircraft for the Joint Forces at Nellis Air Force Base. As the proud father of a Navy officer, Joe is a volunteer with the US Naval Academy and a Charter Member of the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum in San Diego.

Bill Pons is as active as ever.  He had just returned from diving in Honduras, having explored the second largest barrier reef in the world last year in Belize. His half-century (50+ years old) softball team in Orlando, FL has won five tournaments.  He showed me his trophy from the Orlando Runners Club, where he won first place in a 10-race series.  Ponsy brags that he “hasn’t had a paycheck in 20 years”; he survives nicely managing his own investment account.

The rough winter in Saratoga Springs, NY drove Bob Wilson to an early spring vacation in Panama City.  He retired 11 years ago from the State of New York as an epidemiologist for the Department of Health.  Len and Elaine Hertzberg are celebrating 47 years of marriage. Len earned his M.D. degree at Tufts Medical School in Boston and he still puts in a nearly full work-week in general and forensic psychiatry in Baltimore.

Also travelling from Baltimore was Charles Morgan. Chuck served in the Army following graduation, stationed at Fort Ord, CA.  He retired 10 years ago from CG/CIGNA, and has since been helping his wife Judy in her interior design business and volunteering at the Baltimore Veterans Hospital.  Myron Olstein is teaching at University of Wisconsin and consulting in water and sewer financing. Five years ago he helped issue the first water/sewer revenue bond in China.

George and Gladys Spill sold their house in Allentown and moved into an independent senior living complex in Valley Forge.  John and Penny Kramer are “in heaven” in Naples, FL, where John stays fit biking and golfing.  He looks forward to a 135-mile uphill bike ride from Columbia, MD, to Pittsburgh.

It is always great to see Toms Royal, one of five Chi Psis back for the Reunion.  Toms faithfully sends me Christmas cards featuring has numerous kids and grandkids; he and Kathy now have 18 grandchildren!  Toms proves that he is fully retired from H.M. Royal, Inc. by playing golf five days a week at his home in Vero Beach, FL.  “I haven’t missed a Lehigh-Lafayette game since I enrolled at Lehigh,” he bragged. “54 and counting ….”

Chick Hodge was back for his very first reunion.  He spent his entire career with Boeing Aircraft in Seattle.  He is still super active in tennis and golf, and runs a tennis camp for inner city youth in the summer.  He also volunteers to a non-profit which provides tutoring and counseling to underprivileged youth.

The highlight of the opening reception was the presentation of the Class of 1961 Gift to University President, Dr. Alice Gast.  Joe Celauro and Pete Hagerman, who jumped in to co-chair the Reunion Fund when Joe King died unexpectedly last May, presented President Gast a check for $10.5 million.  Wow!  We done well!

ReunionFest 2011 was held under a big tent on the grounds of old Taylor Stadium. The grass was soggy from days of rain, but the spirits of ‘61ers were high as the Lehigh Alumni Swing Band performed familiar tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Among the many dancers were Dave Hapke, John Buchanan, Al Richmond, Tom Selgas and Ken Weaver.

Dave is semi-retired, but still teaching at Pace University, enjoying life in Connecticut with wife Jan, snow shoeing in Northern Vermont, and riding his 1976 Triumph Spitfire.  John is retired as Science Chair for Evanston Township High School in Evanston, IL and makes annual trips to Adelaide, Australia, to visit his son.  Al is preparing for a 150-mile bike ride in Virginia to raise funds for MS (he is riding for Jack Davidson), restoring his 1965 356C Porsche, and planning extensive travel to Europe with Kitty.  Tom and Anne just moved from Rochester to San Diego to be near their two daughters, after Tom retired from 25 years with Kodak in 1991. Ken and Jessica live in Strathmere on the Jersey Shore, travelled to Ireland last year, and are still peeved at Lehigh for converting the Theta Delt house to a sorority!

We sat at a table with Mike Hoben and Pete Hagerman. Mike is retired CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Benefit Capital Management.  He and Joan shared stories with Susana and me about our recent travels to Argentina and Brazil.  They also spent two weeks at a villa in Theoule Sur Mar, France.  Mike is on the investment committees of two non-profit boards and serves on the board of foreign currency investment firm A.G. Bisset.  Pete was busy taking pictures of joyful Classmates.  He is Vice Chairman of Valley National Bank, which purchased his Hallmark Capital Management firm in 2000.  He and Mike remain very active in fund raising for Lehigh, and they recently established the Endowment Fund for the Teaching of Ethical Decision-Making.

I had a long conversation with Don Ritter, who served as US Congressman from the Lehigh Valley from 1979 to 1993.  He is now President of the Afghan/American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC.  He has been active in human rights and business in Afghanistan since the Russian invasion. He founded the Afghanistan Foundation in the ‘90s, has owned several businesses there, and travels to the country four or five times a year.

John Van Deusen has substituted cross-country for downhill skiing since he had his knees replaced.  He has been living in Edwards, CO, since he sold his elevator business. A planned trip to Israel and Jordan should prove exciting!  Bob Dombal prefers cruises, including the Panama Canal and riverboat cruises in Europe.  He still works half-time in his real estate appraisal business, and splits his time between homes in Manasquan, NJ, and Naples, FL.

It was only the second reunion for Dick Knoebel, Elysburg, PA, amusement park owner, and Bob Scheu, golf enthusiast during his 12-year retirement.  You might remember that Bob spent six years in the Air Force and was shot down in Vietnam before he became a pilot for Trans World Airlines. He and Patti continue to live in Berkeley Heights, NJ.

Pam slipped me some news on her hubby, Bruce Adam. He is still working for Wells Fargo, fundraising for the Huntington Medical Center, and enjoying four grandkids in NJ and MA.  Jim Giegerich is also putting off retirement, working fulltime as a manufacturers’ representative for Stitzer Company in Paoli, PA. Other ReunionFest attendees were Al Burfeind, Bill Deem, Doug Edwards, Charles Lull, Bill Kugler and Tom Whitten.

A very special event at our 50th Reunion was the Saturday morning memorial service held for Joe King in Packer Memorial Church.  72 were in attendance, including Mary and 13 others of Joe’s family. Joe died unexpected on May 11, 2010 at his home, shortly after we chatted on a conference call planning for the Reunion.  Rich Bradley originally planned the event for Sigma Chi brothers (Joe was the moving force in recolonization of the house on campus).  Paul Smith spoke of Joe’s unrelenting support of Lehigh; “He had brown blood in his veins.”  Dave Hapke remembered Joe as “a man of vision” who suggested the Class of ’61 Professorships.

I spoke outside the church with Ben Huntington, who moved to Evergreen, CO, after retiring as a pilot for United Airlines.  He spends his summers at “home” in the YMCA of the Adirondacks in Silver Bay, NY, where he volunteers in the boathouse and conference center.

After the service I attended the Alumni Association Annual Business Meeting, where George Spill and Paul Smith were honored with the Alumni Award, and Pete Hagerman received a standing ovation for receiving the prestigious Grace Award. George was praised as a “quiet workhorse” for the University, and Paul was recognized as the “Class dynamo” who initiated adoption of the Class of 2011.  President Alice Gast thanked Pete for his untiring fundraising for the University.

Our Class luncheon was in Grace Hall, where Wayne Fisher, Dave Parsons, Frank Zahrobsky and I nearly got stuck in the elevator.  Wayne enjoyed “the best ski year of life” in his hometown Boulder, CO, transferring from downhill to cross-country. He does long-range, computer-oriented weather forecasting for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.  Dave is retired from Pennsylvania Power and Light, lives in Allentown, and recently biked throughout Amsterdam.  Frank flew over 100 rescue missions in Vietnam before retiring from the Air Force in 1982.  He then built nuclear redactors with Westinghouse for submarines and aircraft carriers. He is now retired in Sun City Center, FL.

Over lunch Harvey Skollnick bragged about the on-line bridge tournament that he and Bill Samuels won.  Bill was equally proud of becoming a life master in bridge. Why is he vacationing in Iceland this year?  “I’ve run out of places to visit!”

I don’t know what the people of St. Louis would do without Toby James, director of their annual Thanksgiving and July 4th parades. He is still working part-time as a tax consultant. John McCaskie helped rebuild the Hill to Hill Bridge as construction engineer for Swank Construction.  He still works full-time.  Joe Lois is also still working, but he has reduced the New York City companies he owns from seven to two. Somehow he spends five months of the year in Venice, FL. Ray Baker took early retirement from Lehigh Valley AT&T in 1990, and is planning a trip to Patagonia.   Joe and Maggie Crist are preparing to ride the camels to see Egypt’s pyramids, after retiring from their own office equipment distribution company in Boston.

I chatted at some length with Armand Fernandes, who serves part-time as a Massachusetts trial judge despite his age 70 forced retirement.  He is writing two books, one of which is about the Kennedy inquest.  He is still involved in competitive soccer and track, having run the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meter events in Houston and having won the 100 and 200 in his age range in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Unfortunately I missed seeing Doug Wood, Paul Westhelle, Art Roede, Jay Anglada, Dave Elsner, Ed Grant, Jim Meloney, Roy Hermansen, Jim Robertson and Bob Young.

“The Great Class of 1961 Presents Snow White & the 61 Heigh-Ho Men.”  So read the sign presenting our 50th Reunion theme for the Parade of Classes.  We were all decked out in white polo shirts, gold miner helmets (which were much too small!), and picks and shovels.  The gold mining allegory reflected our large $10.5 million Class gift to Lehigh.

I spoke with Murray Rust as we gathered for our pre-parade Class photograph. His development firm rebuilt a Pittsburgh home in five days as part of the Extreme Makeover TV show. His biggest project was converting a former slag dump into a community of 700 homes, where he and Shirley now live. Ken Smith bragged that all nine ’61 Phi Delts returned for the Reunion, thanks to the persistence of Roy Martins. “I have five children and 10 grandkids,” boasted Birk Drury, who now lives in his bachelor pad in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.  After a career in computer technology, he is now dabbling in investment management.

They were married in 1959 at Lehigh, and John and Joan Nickerson are still happily. They spend winters in Del Rey Beach, FL, now that John has retired from his private accounting practice in Newton, CT.  Lowell Dever wants “no more excitement” after losing his Slidell, LA, office and much of his house to Hurricane Katrina.  He has a business administering pension funds.  Mike Groover has retired, after 44 years of teaching industrial engineering at Lehigh.  Jim Williams has been gathering competitive intelligence (he calls it “ethical spying”) for banks and high-tech firms since 1982.  He and his wife have moved back to Bethlehem, where Jim is a volunteer for Historic Bethlehem.

We were one of the last classes in the parade (they march in reverse chronological order).  Attractive Brittany Bartlett of our adopted Class of 2011 led the way as Snow White, followed by such grumpy old men as Ted Ritter, Art Rogers, and Vick Pratt. Ted retired from AGFA Corp. in 2001 and continues to live in Bridgewater, NJ.  Art is in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (where many of us spent our spring break in 1961!).  Vick is back in Bethlehem, after 18 Navy and corporate (primarily Union Carbide) moves, enjoying golf, world cruising and Lehigh wrestling.  Speaking of wrestling, our parade marshal was Thad Turner, who continues volunteer coaching in a Bethlehem junior high.

As usual, Rich Bradley was out in front carrying the 1961 banner. He bragged that ours is the only class that can turn the banner upside-down and still accurately designate the class. Rich is a volunteer English teacher for four-year-old children of migrant Mexican workers.  He still races grand masters bicycle road events, but has given up skiing and tennis (“The knees don’t work so well anymore!”).

I chatted with Ardie Emery as we began our march.  He boasted three generations at Lehigh; his grandson Michael is in the Class of 2011. Ardie has been working hard to recolonize Chi Phi.  Ken Weaver and Toms Royal wore their freshman dinks under their miners’ helmets.  Bob Jones reported that he still works fulltime, making wind sensors for tanks to help target the cannon.

The parade terminated at the flagpole lawn, where awards were bestowed.  Phil Mezey was recognized for his outstanding contribution to the reunion, particularly for preparing the 1961 50th Reunion Yearbook.  Our Class was awarded the Reunion Cup, for having the largest percentage attendance (25% of our Classmates!).  Most importantly, Reunion co-chairmen Dick Parsons and John Kuney accepted the Petty Flag Award for best parade performance.  After nine failed attempts, we finally won it!!!

The last official event of our 50th Reunion was the Class Banquet, located on the Mountaintop Campus with a beautiful view of the Lehigh Valley.

Do you remember the Cliff Clefs?  The a-cappella group, consisting of Jerry Hedges, Jim Iobst, , Tom McCune, Joe Pittenger, Jim Lewis, and Ralph Gallup, reunited to entertain.  Jerry lives in Richmond, VA, and is a teacher, actor, U.S. history buff and church choir member.  Iobst had recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary.  Tom lives “on the beach” in Southport, NC.  Jim Lewis retired as Turkey Hill Minute Markets’ human resources director and lives in Harrisburg.

The entertainment continued with a great live band and the surprise appearance of Johnny-Roy Cash (aka Roy Briggs).  Roy, who lives with his wife Gloria in Middletown, CT, does a great Cash imitation (14 live shows last year). He keeps mobile with a long walking stick, despite muscular dystrophy.

Roy Cravzow was dancing up a storm with his fiancée (since 2003!) Wanda. He continues in the export business to Brazil and lives in Far Rockaway, NY.  Despite two new knees, Fred Mummert was also on the dance floor with two Lehigh undergraduates!  He retired in Colorado, where he’s writing a book integrating Native American wisdom with quantum psychology.

Jim Rhoads retired from law practice in Atlanta.  He founded the Benjamin Franklin Legal Foundation to assist veterans; he, himself, is disabled with Army-connected diabetes and heart disease.  Scott Negley never misses a Phillies’ spring training in Clearwater, FL, far from his Kennebunk, ME, home. Dick Bookbinder sold his Philadelphia seafood restaurant but still sells his famous cheesecake and key lime pie to local eateries.  Bill Epp is controller for a shirt manufacturer in Newark and lives on the Jersey shore.  Kirk Laughinghouse has a great-grandson.  He resigned in protest as Army major in Vietnam and moved to the Twin Cities.  He served as mayor of Bloomington, MN in the late ‘80s, opening Mall of America.

A bout with skin cancer in 1972 changed John Emery’s whole life. He “retired” from clinical psychology and moved to the California Sierra foothills town of Volcano.  He and wife Sandy backpacked for six months and 2,155 miles along the Appalachian Trail; they are now tackling the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.  Bill Ruhl retired from Bell Telephone and formed his own firm to build telephone companies in foreign countries. He is on the Lebanon, PA, Historical Society board and plays in two volunteer symphony orchestras.

Camille Moll was introduced as recipient of the Friend of Lehigh Award for her work with Dick in revitalizing the Wrestling Club, which now has 1000 members nationwide. John Dobrota retired after 39 years as gastronomist at Grandville Hospital in Sellersville. Rich Miller splits his time between Hudson, OH and Key Largo, FL.  Rudy Fleischacker and Bob Rutledge are also “snowbirds,” golfing in Venice, FL, every winter.  Rudy still maintains a part-time CPA practice.

Dave and Ann Clark sat at the dinner table with me and Susie. Dave plays “social tennis” and drives autocross.  Bob Colonna is CEO of Innovative Systems in Pittsburgh, screening financial records against terrorists. Fred and Bonnie Liener restored an 1847 home in their hometown of Fredonia, NY, where Fred is a full-time volunteer in everything from scouts to Preservation Society.

I was surprised to learn that Larry Moyer began his insurance business in my hometown of Long Beach, CA, following his service at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. He moved back to the Lehigh Valley in 1972.  He and Linda hosted a post-Reunion pig roast at their Brookvue Farm.