Jim Amidon —About four years ago, Tom Runge and the folks in the Wabash College Alumni Office took a giant leap. They decided to scrap the old way Wabash hosted alumni class reunions and try something completely different.
This past weekend proved that with big risks come great rewards.
We just finished hosting our Third Annual Big Bash Reunion Weekend. Through diligent work by the Alumni Office, alumni class agents, and some slick marketing materials, we’re beginning to see some wonderful results for our newfangled reunion weekend.
This year’s Big Bash was the biggest ever: more alumni, more spouses, more younger alumni, more events, more fun, and more memories. I won’t rehash the whole weekend, but if you want a snapshot, click on www.wabash.edu to have a look at the photos and stories that document it.
A couple of moments really stood out for me:
• On Friday afternoon in a packed lecture hall, we learned about Tom Kometani’s family. Tom is a Japanese American who grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s. In 1942, his parents and siblings (all American citizens) were removed from their home and placed in an internment camp, where they lived with 10,000 others for an entire year.
Kometani has made it his life’s work to address the issue of the fundamental denial of civil rights during the hysteria following the bombing of Pearl Harbor so that in the future the Constitution will safeguard all Americans despite the nationality of their ancestors.
• At Friday night’s Big Bash Banquet, more than 400 alumni, family members, and friends joined together to celebrate their common bond of being liberally educated at Wabash. What I found fascinating at the event’s reception was the intermingling of generations: men from the 50th reunion class chatting up guys from the Class of 1996; a graduate of the Class of 1971 and his wife electing to dine that evening with men who graduated 30 years later.
• I was out early with about two-dozen other brave souls on Saturday morning for the Big Bash Fun Run. In truth, only half actually ran the two- or four-mile course around campus; others took the opportunity to take a stroll on a bright, cool morning.
What we really shocked me, though, was the “winner” of the four-mile fun run: Bill Houseman, Class of 1971 (picture left). He outran guys 25 and 30 years his junior to finish in about 25 minutes. Even more impressive was seeing Mark Hopkins, at 73 years old and back for his 50th reunion, crossing the line after a two-mile run. Talk about the heart of a champion!
• Another significant moment of the weekend was when we discovered two unusual “members” of the Class of 1971. Patrick Brannigan was a member of that class, but died in a tragic accident just prior to his senior year. Thirty-five years later, his parents returned to Wabash to catch up with the men who meant so much to their son so long ago. It was a tearful, yet joyous occasion for the Brannigans, who discovered their son has been remembered in the hearts and minds of his classmates.
• The most public highlight of the weekend was the Alumni Chapel Sing (Class of 1956 at top right). When Big Bash was conceived several years ago, we imagined that the singing of the school song was the one thing every Wabash alumnus would have in common. That hunch has been proven three years running.
This year a couple of classes took Alumni Chapel Sing to a whole other level, especially the guys back for their 40th reunion. Cal Black (right, driving), one of the class agents for the Class of 1966, had arranged for a police escort for a class parade around he mall. Yes, a parade! Behind the police vehicle were red golf carts, red pickup trucks, and a vintage 1962 Pontiac, all of which were loaded down with members of the Class. Not only that, but the class shared bright red golf shirts and matching red and green pledge pots — a remarkable effort for the consensus winners of the sing.
Later that night, the individual classes would come together to reminisce and remember classmates who have passed.
Still, the defining moment of Big Bash came when it was time for the Class of 2001 to sing on the steps of the chapel. Only four guys made it out for the competition. Then, spontaneously, alumni from 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, and all the other reunion classes joined them on the steps to “help” the short-handed class (picture left).
In unison, more than 300 alumni crowded together on the steps and sang “Old Wabash” in an intergenerational moment that will endure in my memory for a lifetime.