Alum asks, ‘Lordy, Lordy, how can it be 40?’

Column by Jim Bishop

“The line it is drawn
“The curse it is cast
“The slow one now
“Will later be fast
“As the present now
“Will later be past
“The order is
“Rapidly fadin’.
“And the first one now
“Will later be last
“For the times they are a-changin’.”
– Bob Dylan (1963)
One enchanted homecoming weekend, I photographed a group holding its 25-year college reunion, and I thought, “Man, these people look old.”
That was some 15 years ago.

Having just attended a 40-year gathering of the Eastern Mennonite University class of 1967, I scrutinize a photo taken of our assembly and ask, “This is us? How did we get to this place? Where did the last four decades go?”

An extraordinary group, from diverse places and backgrounds, came together at what was then Eastern Mennonite College between 1963 and 1967 to learn, to grow, to discern their life’s calling – perhaps even find a spouse. Those years saw incredible change and upheaval both on campus and in the larger society.

Forty years later, for several hours, about 25 class members reassembled at their alma mater to observe what we’d become and to reflect on what may lie ahead.

This sounds biased: Anna (a class officer) and I planned and hosted the reunion, but we felt our several hours together were a hallowed moment in time. Perhaps it was due in part to the relaxed setting in Northlawn’s great lounge, perhaps the way people were welcomed and given special name tags with their senior yearbook photo (so we all could tell who we were) or the surprise visit from President Swartzendruber and wife Pat.

Maybe each was a factor, or perhaps we’d learned to lower our defenses, felt more confident and could share unapologetically about who we are today and what we’ve learned about ourselves over the years.

Prior to going around the circle with updates, Anna said, “Don’t talk about your physical pains or memory loss, your grandchildren or ailing parents. We’re all dealing with these realities. Tell about yourselves – the joys and the sorrows.”

And, classmates did – remarkably so. Several talked about past struggles with depression or other mental illnesses, about divorces or death of a spouse, about undertakings with different outcomes than expected.

What especially struck me was the number of classmates, both those present and others who sent personal updates, who are already retired and spending their children’s inheritance. Several couples were on overseas junkets that overlapped with the reunion.

We also remembered classmates who are deceased – Dawn Batterman Good, Virginia Foltz, Walt Hackman, Merna Jo Hoylman Kindy, J. Weldon Martin, Ingrid Magnus Shomo.

The biggest disappointment – the many “locals” who didn’t show. I’ll never understand why so many in proximity to their alma mater don’t take this opportunity to reconnect, to rekindle friendships, to share memories (good and otherwise).

I administered a 20-question quiz on people and campus events related to our senior year, 1967, that I thought wasn’t too hard. Betty Wenger Good scored the highest, with eight correct answers, and received an EMU mug with a cut flower arrangement. Runners-up received other EMU keepsakes.

It was hard to say good bye to this special bunch, several whom I hadn’t seen since graduation, wondering what we and the larger world will be like by the time we reassemble in five years (with more of us having entered retirement and moving a tad more slowly).

To paraphrase the Statler Brothers’ song, “The class of ’67 had its dream,” too. Some dreams came true, in amazing ways, some became nightmares, some are still being shaped 40 years later.

The incredible journey continues, and I’m glad some of us could pause to reflect on and to celebrate our pathways that intersected for an all too brief period at a small church college in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

Jim Bishop is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press.

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