Jim Bishop: Oh, What a Night, Late October Back to ’63

Column by Jim Bishop

“Take Thou My Hand, O Father, and Lead Thou Me …”

Wow, some 45 years later, our group sang all three verses of this hymn acapella style in glorious four-part harmony and, given our “mature” voices, may have sounded even better this time around.

This awesome assembly, gathered in a spacious but dimly-lit upstairs room at the Whiskey River Grill on the grounds of the Mainland (Pa.) Golf Course, concluded our celebratory evening together with this hymn. We’d sung it at our baccalaureate service the evening of June 3, 1963, the eve of our graduation from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Lansdale, Pa.

Someone defined a reunion as people coming together to see who’s falling apart. Not this bunch. Here we were, 21 members from our 52-member class, and 14 spouses, together at a brief point in time, recollecting the past and attempting to catch up on the ever-accelerating present.

The amazing thing, to me, is how easily we seemed to resume conversations from where we’d left off five years earlier. I didn’t see many persons standing on one leg off by themselves, hoping someone would come up and initiate a tête-à-tête. A social hour – sans cocktails – gave lots of opportunity to mingle, in a buoyant atmosphere.

Following an excellent buffet dinner, class vice president Glenn Bauman gave words of welcome and called on Annie Meyers Musselman to summate activities of classmates who weren’t present. The planning committee did a yeoman job at assembling a booklet from questionnaires sent out earlier to the entire class. Only a few failed to respond.

We lost two members since our 2003 reunion – Harold Rosenberger, who died of acute myeloid leukemia, and John Vannoy – a complete surprise to most of us – cause of death unknown. Ten years ago, John, then a chef in Philadelphia, took obvious pride in preparing a gourmet meal for our 1998 reunion.

During a time of open reflection, classmate Henry Rosenberger observed that “We were an average bunch of people who have done some above average things over the years.”

Amen to that, Henry. Perhaps these activities didn’t shake the earth, but maybe a small piece of it. In addition to representing diverse occupations, many classmates remain active in volunteer endeavors – prison ministry, medical mission trips, hurricane relief work, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), providing transportation for the elderly, “House of Hope” ministry to former prostitutes, pastoral care/elder, Care and Share program, singing in a choir that gives public programs and overseas mission work.

Marilyn Gehman Zook of Hagerstown, Md., expressed appreciation for “the support I received” in a battle with the West Nile Virus, followed by a heart attack. One wouldn’t know, to look at her, the tough sledding she experienced.

Class advisors Pearl Schrack and Roland Yoder, both retired, were in attendance. Mr. Yoder – I can’t bring myself to call him by his first name – said how he “still feels connected” to the group as he challenged us to “stay active in retirement.”

Yoder practices what he preaches. He and wife Dottie divide their time between Landis Homes in Lititz, Pa., and Phoenix, Ariz., where for some nine years they’ve supervised a program called “SOOP” (Service Opportunities for Old Persons), connecting seniors with service projects.

The overriding class theme is that “life is good,” Annie Musselman said. “God has blessed us in many ways, and we’ve found satisfaction in our work, families and in service to our congregations and communities.”

Recurring conversational themes – around tables as we ate and in informal groups of three or more – were retirement (I couldn’t believe how many were already in that life stage), grandparenting and caregiving for aged parents.

Another recurring phrase that evening – “how did we get to this place so quickly?” Most members of the class of ’63 are 63 years old. In five years, 2013, we’ll teeter to our 50-year reunion. What all might transpire in these five, fleeting years?

Any anxiety triggered by that realization seemed to be swallowed up as representatives of the magnificent Christopher Dock class of 1963 gathered in a circle and sang robustly, “Take, then, my hand, O Father and lead Thou me, until my journey endeth eternally.”



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