Bill Cook on Big Bash

Note: Bill Cook ’66 returned for his 40th class reunion June 2-4. When he returned to his home in New York, he wrote this column that was published in the Livingston County (NY) News.

Bill Cook ’66 —I really did not want to attend my 40th class reunion at my undergraduate alma mater, Wabash College. I’ve been at Wabash quite a bit in the past few years since my son Eric will be a senior next year. I have seen several of my closest friends from Wabash recently, and I knew that none of my friends from the classes just ahead and behind me would be there. Since I have been on a college campus for each of my 40 years since I graduated, there was no nostalgia for academe drawing me to Crawfordsville, Indiana.

However, I was asked to be a small part of the planning by trying to persuade my fraternity brothers to come. I had no excuse for not going. So, there I was last week. I had met lots of Wabash alumni when I was a student because I was a member of the Glee Club, and we entertained at such reunions. I remembered old guys (Wabash is still all men), often wearing funny reunion hats. I recall asking one alumnus what he majored in, and he had no idea. Others did not remember buildings that had been standing when they were students. I feared that some of my classmates and I might appear just as silly to today’s undergraduates as the Class of 1926 did to me 40 years ago.

Well, I had two glorious days. This was not because our reunion was so different than ones I witnessed in the 1960s. It is that I completely misunderstood what it meant to be 40 years out of college and then reunite with some of the guys who were with me during what might be the most significant years of my life.

We wore class shirts and name tags (the print was not quite big enough). My class wore replica green and read beanies, like those we had to wear as freshmen. I guess we looked pretty ridiculous to everyone except other Wabash men, but they were the only ones who mattered. We competed with other reunion classes in the singing of the college’s fight song, "Old Wabash." I can still sing it in my sleep since I sang it hundreds of times with the Glee Club. The Class of ‘66 was the runaway winner of the singing contest.

I spent most of my time with two fraternity brothers, one a successful lawyer in Minneapolis and the other a professor at Butler University in Indianapolis. We told old stories, many probably not quite true. We walked around the Lambda Chi house and recalled wondrous times and idiotic moments. The two are not as distinct now as they were then.

I talked a great deal with this really smart guy who went to Harvard Law School and now practices in LA. I had not seen him since graduation day. It’s fun to talk about serious and frivolous things with people who knew me when I was just beginning to take life seriously. We discovered that both of us were converts to Catholicism, something neither suspected of the other. One of my closest Wabash friends is David Kendall (pictured right), one of President and Senator Clinton’s lawyers. We get together from time to time. He is the smartest person I know personally, and it is good to be in the presence of profundity, even if it is intermingled with silly tales of water fights.

Forty years change a lot. We praised our physics professor Bob Henry, even though I participated in hanging him in effigy after a particularly tough test. I told a warm story about an economics professor who taught me very little about economics. I greeted joyfully my fraternity’s advisor, who would not let us fire the world’s worst cook.

Of course, there were a lot of folks I would like to have seen who were absent. Almost all the professors we talked about are dead, and the few who are still alive are retired (the last one who overlapped us retired in May at age 74). Only a couple months after graduation, one of my classmates was killed in an automobile accident, and we have lost classmates steadily. Our class president was killed in Vietnam. One guy had two heart transplants and died about 10 years ago. At least two have committed suicide. Some have simply not stayed in contact with the College, and we do not know if they are flourishing, languishing, or dead.

There was an educational component to our reunion. Several alumni talked about matters ranging from the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, presented by a member of the class of ‘56 who was sent to a camp at age 7, to the election of Pope Benedict XVI presented by a religion professor at the College of St Rose (class of 1991). It is right that part of a college’s reunion should be educational.

During a brief visual presentation, a picture flashed on the screen for about two seconds of the Wabash College Glee Club posing before the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Kneeling in front was little freshman Bill Cook. There I was. In my own minuscule way, I am part of Wabash’s history just as Wabash is a part of mine.

I am already counting the days (3652 starting the day I got home) until my fiftieth reunion at Wabash. God willing, I’ll be there with my companions from the time the greatest adventures of my life were beginning.