I hate reunions. They are just scary, especially when they involve people you haven’t seen for three quarters of a lifetime, and I’ve always feared them with every fiber of my being. But then, there was last weekend.
Background: When we graduated from college in 1963, Dick Hogan and I took our first teaching jobs in Stacyville, Iowa. Visitation High School had approximately 150 students in grades nine through twelve. Dick was the coach, athletic department, and Latin teacher. I taught all the English classes, and it was a wonderful place to learn how to teach teenagers. The only down side was the salary. Four thousand dollars a year, with no benefits, would never support a family. After three years, Shar and I moved to the public school system with its living wage, health insurance and retirement program. But I’ve always missed those kids.
Then, several years ago, I received a letter from a very nice lady I hadn’t seen since she was seventeen years old and a senior in high school. Ann May Wolf was retiring after her own long career as a high school teacher. She wrote one of those letters that makes a retired teacher like myself feel that he might have had an effect beyond his own little classroom. I responded, thanked her for the kind letter, and we maintained an informal and sporadic contact since that time. Facebook is great for informal and sporadic contact. She was also the source for connections with a few more former students from Stacyville.
This year marked the 50th reunion for these Visitation High School graduates, and they were unbelievably kind enough to invite Dick and I to attend. This is not something that happens every day. When the kids (even if they are now close to being 70 year old kids) invite you to their reunion, you make plans to attend. And so did 75% of the graduates, some of them for the first time since their graduation. They came from a dozen or more cities in Iowa, and flew or drove from Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, and Virginia.
I said I had reservations. And I had my reasons. Teaching students who are only four and five years younger than you presents special challenges. At the very least, there are normal questions of attitudes, respect, and the proper relationship between older high school students and very young teachers. There is a very fine line between appropriate and not so appropriate. I’ve always felt that Dick and I did a good job of respecting that line, but this weekend could have proved me wrong.
It was wonderful. No question. The best. From 10:00 in the morning until late that evening, classmates and teachers shared food and drink, lots of life stories, pictures, and a hayrack/float ride in Stacyville’s 45th Annual Bratwurst Day parade.
After the parade we met for more bratwurst, a little beer, and lots more socializing that would have been impossible when the teacher/student barriers were up.
My only complaint? Wouldn’t you think it’s about time these people in their late sixties could comfortably call their former teachers by their first names? Fifty years later, coming from people in their late sixties, “Mr. Hogan and Mr. Morgan” just doesn’t feel right.