Ever-evolving class reunions ‘bittersweet’

Day by Day: Ever-evolving class reunions ‘bittersweet’

By LIZ THOMPSON

Oct 6, 2019
This Week News
 

Some people might wonder why, 50 years after my high school graduation, any of my 370 classmates would want to reunite.

But some 68 graduates from Westerville (South) High School (Ohio) did just that in August.

Many of my classmates traveled all 12 years – 13 if you count kindergarten – alongside each other. If we didn’t attend the same elementary school, we knew some classmates at our church, in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, Campfire Girls or through mutual friends.

Surely, we all spent many hours at Jaycee swimming pool, which opened in 1958, or Glengarry’s round swimming pool, which closed in 1979. I would miss the center diving board at Glengarry, but my siblings and I could ride our bikes or walk to Jaycee – and they had swim teams.

But like most children, we wanted to be refreshed with cool water during our summer days.

I remember classmate Dee Weaston Standish’s sister, Diane, giving us each a nickel to jump off the high board. A nickel would buy us a candy bar. Westerville was a typical small town, like so many in the 1950s and ’60s across America.

One draw to the reunion for me was all these shared memories that made us who we are. We might not have a lot in common today, but we easily laughed at our junior high photos and memories of living in a small town.

We were thrown back in time when Ron Kenreich, music director during our senior year, led us in singing “Happy Birthday to You” to Nancy Lindsay Coder.

Dee, the reunion chairperson, asked, “Mr. Kenreich, will you lead us in singing ‘Happy Birthday?’ ”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Ron raised his arms and motioned for us to sing. I felt 17 again, as I’m sure the others did, too. My guess is that Ron also felt younger.

Music is a great memory keeper. Ron had been teaching only a few years when he walked into our school to lead us in a glorious year of music.

Dee, now living in Marietta, told me later why she thought the reunion was so special.

“As life gets in the way with work, family, children and grandchildren, I find it hard to see all the classmates I would like to see,” she said. “The two evenings we spent together were a wonderful opportunity to see so many friends. The years melted away with smiles, hugs and laughter.

“Five years is too long to wait to do it again.”

Our class has held reunions many times in five-year intervals. Now we are talking about a 70th birthday party in two years. I’m sure the idea will gain momentum as 2021 nears.

Classmate Jeff Fields moved to Nevada 30 years ago and saw major changes and growth in his hometown.

“Being so far away, our reason for attending was to see our old hometown and the friends who made it such a great place to grow up,” Jeff said. “The irony of it all was saying ‘hi,’ getting a hug and sharing a memory but silently knowing that ‘goodbye’ was also being said. But it was worth every minute.”

Barbara West Rood, in Westerville, said she agreed with Dr. Seuss’s question, “How did it get so late so soon?”

“Seems as though it was just a short time ago at previous reunions we were discussing who married who, careers, children and fun times,” Barbara said. “Further down the line, the discussions became about grandchildren, retirement, travel plans and maybe caring for parents.

“The most recent reunion became Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” for me. It was the same personality, laugh and smile in friends that I knew from 50-plus years ago.”

I chose to use my cane and not my walker at the reunion. But two classmates used walkers and one was on oxygen.

Physical aging evident, we keep going.

“It was so good to catch up and bittersweet in a way knowing that time is catching up with all of us,” Barbara said, “but, thank God, we’ll get new bodies and another, even sweeter reunion someday.”

 

Class of 1969, Westerville (Ohio) High School

Grads found fulfilling paths, planned or not

Day by Day
Grads found fulfilling paths, planned or not

By Liz Thompson

Jun 16, 2019
This Week News

Fifty years ago this month, I was one of nearly 400 high school seniors from Westerville (South) High School (in Ohio) who marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” to receive our graduation certificates.

Looking back, my main regret is I did not ask for help in my studies. Instead, I relied on my music ability to get me through life and onto my goal to become a music teacher.

That never happened. Best-laid plans and all that. But I know I’m not alone.

My classmates have tried to keep track of each others’ whereabouts over the years, yet we have lost track of about 60. As far as we know, 81 live in 29 other states, one lives in Newfoundland, one in France and two in Japan.

In 50 years, we know 49 classmates have died.

Dee (Weaston) Standish was a classmate of mine from kindergarten on. She now lives in Marietta. Her best-laid plans worked for her.

“My career turned out just the way I hoped it would,” she said. “I became a teacher, allowing me to work with children every day. I was in education until I retired.

“My advice to graduating seniors is to follow your passion, and it will help you find fulfillment in your chosen career.”

Barbara (Ralston) Thurber and her husband have lived in Austin, Texas, for 30 years.

“I would tell a graduating senior that life is going to give them many challenges,” Thurber said.

Her life has been interesting as a nurse.

“I served in the Air Force and have worked at many different places,” she said. “I have used my knowledge to take care of myself, my mother with cancer and my three daughters.”

Now her health prevents her from traveling to Ohio for our 50-year reunion.

Classmate Jim Garvie, now in Oklahoma, said his high school days were riddled with poor grades and anonymity as an introvert.

“No one gave me an outlook into what I could be or what I could do in the future,” Garvie said. “The moment I graduated and went to Bowling Green State University, it all changed. Loved college life, less structure and a reason to enjoy life.”

As his grades improved, he became involved in sports for the first time and began a major in physical education and teaching.

He found coaching and teaching health, science and driver’s education fun.

“I cannot believe I ended up in a career where I was paid to have fun,” Garvie said. “It’s the last thing I ever thought I would do in life.”

He knew there were students in high school who were like him at that age – unmotivated and with no clear future ahead.

“In classes, I developed a reward system where kids that behaved and did their work could earn extra credit and get the grades they wanted,” he said. “In football, I was able to get them involved as a team manager or actually on the teams, even if they were not athletically gifted.”

As a result of his teaching and coaching, he was hired by the Department of Defense to teach and coach on military bases in Japan, South Korea and Italy.

Many of my classmates are grandparents and have life experiences we never thought possible 50 years ago.

We sent a reunion survey to learn what people wanted to happen at the event.

Most wanted time to casually visit and reconnect, see memorabilia of our high school days and walk through the school building. They would love to see teachers and let them know the impact they had on their lives.

Music of the 1960s will play; name badges will halt the awkward moments because we have all changed in appearance. Laughter and maybe tears will happen along with memories.

Classmates from Massachusetts, Nevada, Kentucky, Wisconsin and all around Ohio will gather Aug. 3 to celebrate the 50-year mark in our lives. More than once, we will say, “Has it really been 50 years?”

We learned from our experiences and are wiser for them.

Take heed, graduates. Time passes quickly.

Early lessons live on even as memories fade

Day by Day
Early lessons live on even as memories fade

By LIZ THOMPSON

September 2018
This Week News

In September 1956, I stepped into the basement of the Masonic Temple in Westerville. (Ohio) Most likely I was wearing a dress my mother made, with saddle shoes and a bow in my hair.

Here, I would begin my public education. Mrs. Sleeper was my teacher. Years later, she would see me as an adult and call me by name. She said I had not changed.

My guess is Mrs. Sleeper followed many of her students’ lives and could call us each by name, even years later.

My black-and-white photo shows four rows of tables with eight children at each table.

Mrs. Sleeper handled all of us mostly by herself. We became members of our first club here — the Bow Knot Club — when we tied our shoes by ourselves. My next club membership was the Mickey Mouse Club with a photo membership card.

Many of these same classmates would see Westerville grow from a village to a city. We would see the farmland surrounding our city disappear.

We would walk side by side at graduation at the single high school 13 years later.

I remember the names of all my elementary teachers: Whipkey, Camel, Freeman, McGlish, Sweazy, Clapham. Once we began seventh grade, we had a teacher for each subject. No more recess; the only break came in walking to each class.

Remembering all those teachers’ names now from middle and high school is based on what happened in the classroom, both positive and negative memories.

Mr. Franklin was my seventh-grade geography teacher. His thick gray hair represented knowledge to me. I loved his class for what and how he taught. Here, we had our first real homework. I don’t recall the topic for my assignment, but I used an encyclopedia to get information.

Mr. Franklin called me forward when he passed out our graded assignments. The conversation went something like this:

“Elizabeth, where did you get your information?”

“The encyclopedia.”

“You do know you are not supposed to copy word for word, but read and tell me what you learned.”

How did he know? He must have seen my confusion.

“There is a hyphen in this word.”

I remember looking at my paper and knowing I was caught. I had copied a word that was only hyphenated because it fell at the end of the column and continued on the next line.

“That is called plagiarism, Elizabeth. Cheating. Using someone else’s words.”

He was not angry; he was teaching. I learned and never did that again.

In a small town like Westerville was in those days, sometimes the teachers or principals were neighbors or members of your church.

Recently, my church’s school at Beautiful Savior in Grove City installed a new first- and second-grade teacher. I mentioned to her that I still remember my early teacher’s names. I said the early years of school are uniquely important, setting the base for all learning.

Her enthusiasm was contagious. It gave me assurance that one day her students might remember her, much like I remember mine. That is the type of legacy we all long for.

Schools continue to teach English, mathematics, science, language, art and music. History, government and geography are called social studies. Hopefully, physical education remains a class, but sports have become a type of replacement.

Encyclopedias are not a temptation for students to copy from anymore — the internet has entered the picture. In my day, we did not have word processing or computers. We hand-wrote, in cursive, all of our work. Since cursive is no longer required, that probably sounds antiquated to today’s students.

The edge of Westerville is no longer farmland and the district has three high schools.

I no longer wear saddle shoes and most definitely have changed since 1956. But when I look in the mirror, I still wear my hair similar to when I was 5. No bow. No longer red, but white — sort of like Mr. Franklin’s was. My hope is I have passed on some wisdom I learned from my teachers.

Memories certainly are fogged with time. I choose to cling to the good ones.

Mrs. Sleeper’s 1956 Kindergarten class

MS changes lives, families

Day by day

MS changes  lives, families
By LIZ THOMPSON
THISWEEKNEWS.COM
Tuesday March 18, 2014

Tim and Tyler Heaton, 19, of Westerville, know firsthand that life holds no guarantees. “Many people take things for granted such as financial stability and a healthy family,” Tim said.

“I have learned that these things are not guaranteed.” Tyler added, “We have kept a positive family attitude which has had a huge impact on our lives.”

Their mom, Leeandra, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Tim and Tyler were 10. They remember the day the world changed for all of them when she couldn’t get out of bed and had to be hospitalized. They had planned a vacation with another family, and their mother insisted they go without her. Their sister, Brynna, 8, stayed home.

Tim said, “Upon returning home, my mom explained that the doctors believed her to have multiple sclerosis, and I recall just blankly staring and — as much as I hate to admit it — just dismissing it as some kind of ailment obtained from age. I first thought that she would simply take some kind of medication to get better or go through physical therapy to strengthen her body, but I turned out to be incorrect about a lot of those things.”

“When anyone hears someone say that they have a cold or strep throat … people always say, ‘I hope you feel better and take it easy,’ but when a 10-year-old hears the word ‘disease,’ there is a different reaction,” Tyler said. “I did what I was best at and just smiled and said everything was going to be OK. This was not the day that we as a family really understood that this disease was going to negatively impact our life.”

These boys reacted much like anyone might without knowing exactly what this diagnosis might mean. Their comments make perfect sense, especially given their age at the time. Years later, their compassion for their mom has only deepened.

The twins each won a scholarship from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that is helping them as electrical engineering students at Ohio State University.

Tim uses a metaphor to express his thoughts. “If high tide and low tide are compared to sunrise and sunset, then everything in between can be compared as the events in a day. If the ocean is calm and predictable, it is manageable and pleasant. Once the storm hits, though, the ocean no longer is simply ‘manageable.’

“Rather, there are precautions, steps and planning that is necessary to ride these waves. I sailed the waves, and sailing the roaring ocean has taught me life lessons that I feel that some people will not realize for several years, specifically that financial stability and a healthy family are taken for granted. Growing up in a not-as-typical environment prepared me for college and the world ahead of me, and I am quite thankful for everything that has happened to me up to date.”

When their mom was diagnosed with MS, things became financially difficult. The process to apply for Social Security benefits is long and tedious.

The family chooses to turn it into a positive outcome. When her MS flares up, they make sure that everything else she experiences is positive.

Leeandra said the disease brought changes to her life, but it has not taken joy away. “I think that when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what to expect. I have figured out that it is just best to not expect the worst.”

“(We) believe that all a bad situation needs is a little bit of happiness to fix things,” Tyler said.

March is MS Awareness Month. More than 20,000 people in Ohio have MS and, as you can see, it affects the entire family.

When I was diagnosed in 1987, there were no drugs for MS. That was 27 years ago, and thanks to research, there are now 10. The largest portion of donations to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is used for research and programs for those living with MS.

MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms are unpredictable, ranging from numbness and weakness to total paralysis. It is typically diagnosed between ages 20-50, although the disease has been diagnosed in children as young as 3, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 children under the age of 18 living with MS.

The Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers assistance and information for people living with MS and their families.

For more information, call 1-800-FIGHT-MS (344-4867) or http://www.msohiobuckeye.org/

If you have the desire, write, share and enjoy

If you have the desire, write, share and enjoy
By Liz Thompson
November 20, 2013
ThisWeekNews

Everyone has many a story to tell. Is it “worth writing a book about” is a question I hear often from people with stories they think are worth the ink.

Recently, I was at Praises Books and Gifts in Lancaster where they hosted a book signing for my second book. Sitting with me was Kathleen Welty who has three stories in this book, along with 14 other contributors.

Since I live in Grove City and grew up in Westerville, Lancaster obviously is not my hometown but it is Kathleen’s. She let friends and family know of the event and many came to see her and meet me. The best experience of the day was meeting these old friends and family of Kathleen and others who attended.

Kathleen’s inspirational stories show how God has touched her life. All three were accepted by the publisher, while some others, by other people, were not. They didn’t fit the theme but were well written.

I fought for one of Kathleen’s stories to stay in the book. Three times it was cut and still kept showing up in a new working manuscript. The third time, I said that it must be meant to stay in and the publisher agreed.

This day, I met Kathleen’s longtime Campfire leader and we talked about how different it was from my Girl Scout experiences. Some friends since first grade showed up with smiling faces and warm memories.

One woman asked about getting published. She had heard of an online service where she could self-publish and she kept talking. When she stopped, I asked how much she had written.

“Nothing yet. But it’s about relationships,” she said.

“Is your goal to simply be published or to tell the story?” I asked.

Her answer was to tell me the experiences. I was hooked and told her I’d read it but she had to get writing. I suggested she sit and write from the heart telling the stories just like she told us that day.

“Don’t edit or worry about sentence structure, just write freely,” I said. “Edit later and do lots of it.”

Our Grove City Writers’ Group supports this idea of editing well and often and that editors are our friends. I have always believed that. We all agree, too, that we can’t have a thin skin if we are going to be writers — published or not. Not everyone reading our work will like it. I don’t like every book or article I read, do you?

Being published or seeing a byline really does hold a personal thrill but I believe writing is about expressing our thoughts, recording personal and family history, sharing our experiences and more. Most artists I know of different mediums are compelled to express themselves.

Also recently, I had the good fortune to talk with the Current Events group at the Upper Arlington Senior Center. They asked me to talk about my life as a writer. I still need to remind myself that, in fact, I am a writer. It’s such a natural act for me and I’ve been blessed with venues like this newspaper, magazines and my books to express my thoughts and experiences.

Having been a reporter in Upper Arlington for two years, this was especially pleasant for me. I did quite a few stories on members of this senior center and other senior citizens in this lovely burg. Their stories often were the stuff of history books, or what they should be.

My Uncle Walter and Aunt Eva Page lived there for years and of course I visited as a girl and as an adult. I used to love hearing my uncle tell stories of his life on the farm on the East Side of Columbus. He wrote them down for his grandsons. My father-in-law made tapes of his life in Southeast Ohio as a coal miner and all his other experiences.

Things I heard growing up from my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents seemed so distant from the life I knew. But these are tales of the people who helped form America’s history. They lived it, fought in the wars for our freedom and raised families against many odds. We can learn from this generation and need to listen.

Many have written their stories and been published. But whether or not you get published, I encourage you to write, share and enjoy.