TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Regarding Reunions

The e-mail was friendly, but firm. My high school reunion was coming up in August and the organizers needed a check. Never one to rush into making payments of any sort, unless absolutely necessary, the temptation to ignore the message for a few more weeks was admittedly strong. But upon reading further, I caught the line about the “five dollars extra for late payment.”  So I thought it wise to contact my good friend, Bill, who just happened to be a member of the Reunion Committee.

tom1“Yeah, they want to make sure we get enough people to show up, so we don’t take a loss again,” Bill explained.  It seems that the numbers were down from previous years, and this one required 35 bucks a person to cover the cost for food and beverages.  Make that 40 if you waited too long.

We chatted awhile about the reasons for this declining interest.  Bill had heard that a classmate was offering up his house as a place for alums to gather the night before the big event.  And that “pre-party” didn’t cost a dime. My belief was that the falloff had more to do with frequency than finances. Let me explain.

The Golden Valley High School Class of 1971 has always been somewhat unique.  Located just southwest of Minneapolis, the school provided a unique combination: It was much smaller than most other suburban alternatives, yet only minutes away from the big city. So with just 126 students, our class offered an intimate “small-town feel” in an unlikely location. The result was a close-knit group, afforded the chance to participate in lots of activities, even if it meant taking our lumps when competing with our bigger rivals.

Unfortunately, the smaller enrollment eventually led to the school’s demise, as declining numbers and school district restructuring resulted in its closing in 1980. GVHS ’71 proudly broke away from the pack with its first attempt to re-connect, through a rare Nine-Year Reunion. And that wasn’t all.

As time passed, reunions were popping up in odd years as well as the predictable five- and 10-year increments. Everybody knew one another, and the more socially inclined were eager to host random “mini reunions” to stay in touch.

So as we approached No. 45 this summer, a bigger, more traditional and public gathering was on tap. Which brings me back to my original contention. Over the years, the same people keep showing up for these attempts to turn back the clock. Or not showing up. Regardless of cost or size of venue, the faces, while gradually adding more wrinkles and fewer teeth, have remained relatively unchanged. It’s left me convinced that as we all get gray, there is little gray area when it comes to reunions. We either like ‘em or we don’t.

Those unlikely to attend will give you a number of good reasons. Some aren’t that interested in knowing what others are doing now, particularly if their high school experiences weren’t that fulfilling to begin with. They live too far away. They don’t feel like wasting the time or the money. Some have insecurities about their appearance or lack of accomplishments since high school. Others are ill or in some cases, sadly passed away.

There does appear to be a direct correlation between classmates on social media  and those inclined to attend reunions. As a former broadcaster, nearly every colleague I worked with can be easily located on some social media source. Yet scanning my old yearbook, I did a rough count and found approximately only one-third of our 126 students with a page on Facebook. The majority of those folks have attended one or more of our recent reunions. That number, while still small, has been gradually increasing, as 60-somethings seem to enjoy exchanging family photos and birthday greetings. The Facebook demographics have risen too, as the younger crowd shifts to Twitter, Snap Chat and other faster paced forms of communication.

Those drawn toward online interaction seem more likely to want to meet in person, as well. The pro-reunion types enjoy reminiscing about the past, agreeing about “the good, old days” and often sharing similar life experiences. Count me in that crowd. It’s just that after awhile, too many reunions with the same returnees can result in boredom. We wish we could convince the no-shows that if they ever did surprise us with a rare appearance, they’d quickly become the highlight of the evening.

Ever notice how the activities for these reunions have clearly adjusted to accommodate the aging process?  Our “Nine-Year” bash featured loud music, dancing and just a hint of talk about new parenthood. Six years later, the dancing was out and the music less intrusive. Kids, babysitters and divorce took center stage. Before long, there were requests for dropping the tunes altogether so aging alums could proudly pull out pictures of grandkids. Or discuss suitable solutions for their senior parents now in need of our assistance.

OK, I know it stinks to grow old. This year’s reunion offers an earlier curfew and “heavy hors d’oeuvres,” whatever that means. My guess is, they must figure we could all stand to lose a few pounds and get to bed before 10 these days. But I still figure I’m putting that 35 bucks to good use. After all, where else can I go to find sound advice on senior discounts and affordable retirement plans?

2 thoughts on “TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Regarding Reunions”

  • Barbara La Valleur July 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Tom- Enjoyed your reunion blog. Reminds me of the 20 years I lived in Europe. I’d spent BIG bucks to get back to every reunion (BLHS Class of 1963) & there would always be those local living classmates who wouldn’t even bother to show up. That used to really piss me off especially since we only had 36 in the class so every person’s presence really counted! Our 50th was a blast. I did a lipsink to Patsy Cline’s tune “She’s Got You”, what a hoot-for those who showed up! PS Did you ever run across my aunt, the late Glo Mahar married to the late Bill Shemorry from your time in Williston?

    1. Tom Coyne July 6, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      Thanks, Barbara. Unfortunately it’s been so many years since my days in Williston that I don’t remember much. The names sound familiar, though. My buddy Pat Sweeney once went around town, asking everyone if they knew who Tom Coyne was. Of course he got responses like, “Isn’t he a bag boy at the Red Owl?” The guys working the oilfields were making a lot more money than me! As for the reunion, it’s really become predictable who will show and who won’t. I just wish people would forget their stupid hangups about appearance and status, and just celebrate that we’re still here. The memories are what make me want to re-connect.


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