Jim Amidon — Two years ago, the folks in the Wabash College Alumni Office thought they had hit the peak for Big Bash Reunion Weekend attendance. I remember talking with Tom Runge and other people about how getting 356 alumni back from 36 states — and even Thailand and Australia — represented the best in Wabash; the best we could imagine for an alumni reunion weekend.
Those thoughts were confirmed last year, when the 2008 Big Bash softened a little and we felt like maybe we had leveled off — about 320 alums from a little over 30 states.
So you can imagine our hopes were tempered going into this past weekend’s Sixth Annual Big Bash. After all, the economy is in the tank and, to be honest, it was a pretty rough year for everyone close to Wabash College. A lot of us thought we might be lucky to get 300 alumni to return for the weekend, after which we’d close the door on the 2008-09 school year… and throw away the key! Forever!
But a funny thing happened this year.
My friend Steve Charles captured the pure essence of what happened when he spent Saturday evening with the Class of 1959 — the men celebrating their 50th, golden reunion.
Steve told me that past years, alumni from the College return for reunions to pick themselves up; to feel young again; to get a fresh start — like graduating all over again.
This year I think the tables were turned.
This year I think the alumni came back to pick up Wabash; to buoy the spirits of the faculty, staff, students, and administrators who suffered through a rough year and still managed to dust off the red carpet and welcome back the alumni with open arms and open hearts.
When the book that contains the official attendance figures — the Alumni Register — was closed Saturday night, Wabash had a new all-time reunion weekend attendance record. Runge tells me 389 alumni from 35 states — plus Greece, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Scotland, Chile, and Canada — returned to alma mater to be together and celebrate what was once good in their lives and which has carried them throughout their years.
They came to Crawfordsville, jogged their memories, shook hands with old friends, told tall tales (some of which might even have been true), sang their hearts out, and gave this mighty little liberal arts college exactly what it needed — a shot in the arm of pure spirit and love for this place and the men who call it their college.
If you think what I’m suggesting is less “pure spirit” and more pure hype, you needed only to be here to see it in their eyes; to hear it in their voices.
The Class of 1959 sang — at Friday’s Big Bash Banquet, at Alumni Chapel Sing, and again at their reunion. And let me tell you, even in their early 70s, those guys can really sing.
Steve told me they sang “Wayfaring Stranger” at their reunion dinner Saturday night. There’s a line in that song that goes, “I’m going there to see my brothers, who have gone before me one by one.”
I know those guys sang that particular song 50 years ago as members of the Glee Club. Just imagine the power of that song — of that one line — when more than 70 members of the class gathered to celebrate half a century of friendship.
Guys like Bob Wild, Roger Billings, Sherm Franz, Bob Wedgeworth, Hoyt Miller, Ray Riddle — all of them — have wisdom in their years. As President White noted, “These guys are the marathoners, not the sprinters. They have the long view.”
That “long view” on this particular reunion weekend was a perfect match. Those men back for their 50-year reunion have lived through the cold war, civil rights movement, Vietnam, at least two recessions, perennial unrest in the Middle East, and stock markets that have soared and that have tanked.
They have the long view. And to quote my friend Steve, “It is a beautiful view.”
So as we finish writing the chapter on the year that has passed in the history of Wabash College now 176 chapters long, we shall not write it with disappearing ink with hopes that the difficult events will vanish as if they never happened.
We shall write this chapter with deep, bold strokes — powerful lines that match the powerful voices of the men of Wabash, who by returning to their college to relive their past provided strength and courage to move Wabash boldly into an uncertain future.
“Dear Old Wabash, thy loyal sons shall ever love thee,” says the school song. “Long in our hearts we’ll bear the sweetest mem’ries of thee, long shall we sing thy praises, Old Wabash.”