50 Plus reunion weekend a success
Sandy Olson sits at the main table, welcoming people to the RSCS 1955-1965 reunion. (Photo by Janine Giordano)
It was four days of celebration that took two long years of meticulous organization. And it was over in the blink of an eye.
The sun shone brightly, the lines flowed smoothly, everyone ate and drank their fill and danced all night. Then all too soon, the much anticipated first event of the Richfield Springs High School weekend long reunion was over.
Before midnight more than 230 alumni and guests from the classes of 1955-1965 slipped into their cars and drove away, clutching close their commemorative goody bags and purple Tee-shirts, contact information of long lost friends, and enough memories to last a lifetime.
Or at least until the next reunion, which for four classes of alumni was the very next day.
For two years Reunion Committee Members Sandy Olson, John Houghtaling, Mary Hanagan, Cindy Couchman Hoffman and Darlene Oram planned the four day reunion weekend that began with a ten year span of classmates celebrating at the Meadowlinks Golf Course, and ended with a boat ride down the Erie Canal in Herkimer on Monday afternoon.
Saturday offered tours of their old alma mater, the new museum, and reunions for the classes of ‘59, ‘60, ‘62 and ‘63. Sunday the former classmates gathered at the Tally-ho from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. for a reunion brunch and Monday completed the schedule with a ride aboard the Lil Diamond II.
“It was two years in the making and a labor of love,” said committee member and Class of ‘61 alumni John Houghtaling.
The devil was in the detail, and Sandy Olson and her committee team had left nothing to chance for the first and most widely attended nearly 12 hour long event. There were purple Tee-shirts and goody bags, name tags and purple table cloths. It was like one huge pep rally or sock hop, some would reminisce afterwards.
The former classmates could barely contain their excitement, as re-acquaintances met with squeals of delight and peals of laughter, smothering one another in hugs and securing memories in firm handshakes.
At one point, Olson and Houghtaling attempted to restore order to begin the event, but the din softened to a mild murmur, leading one alumni to note, “It sounds like the cafeteria at lunch time.” Another responded, “They don’t listen any better, do they? That’s it, detention for everyone!”
The afternoon and evening was filled with a luncheon, a dinner, a presentation by current RSCS Superintendent Robert Barraco, the recitation of poetry by Terry Berkson, and music by Rick Bond. There was reminiscing, a memory wall, the sharing of stories and successes, a few tall tales spun, more picture taking, tears and laughter.
Before the meal, Cindy Couchman Hoffman read a blessing of the food, and gave thanks for everyone arriving safely.
There were some somber moments, when names of the deceased classmates were read and people realized for the first time that someone they once counted as a friend was no longer alive. Former principal Fred Kurkowski attended, but former teacher Emma Rapenske could not, so she sent a note of apology, explaining it was her 62nd wedding anniversary. “Those years passed too quickly and left fond memories of each and everyone of you,” she wrote.
Connie Weston Christian had been to her tenth and twenty fifth reunions, and noted, with a bit of laughter that, “This is amazing. Some you know right away and some you have to look at a while.”
One reunion within the reunion that caught the hearts of many who attended was that shared by Grace Fusco and Orville Eckler. Grace had attended RSCS from kindergarten (when she first stole Orville’s heart) to fifth grade (when she broke it). The breaking was of course unintentional, as her family had decided to relocate suddenly down to Long Island. Orville never heard from her again, but held close the memory of days when his antics of pulling her pony tail and sneaking to see her would get him in trouble.
Two weeks before the reunion, Grace and her sister decided to take a ride through Richfield Springs for a drive down memory lane. On a whim they decided to stop in the Tally-ho for old times’ sake. It was there a chance recognition with a former student sparked a conversation and information on the upcoming reunion was offered. Grace had not know about the reunion, but she and her sister made plans to attend.
Grace and Orville shared a lot of laughs on the Saturday tour of the school, led by Tom Shypski. And their memories were captured forever in snapshots taken by Orville’s wife, Eloise.
Then there is the story of Tom Southward, Class of ‘59, who nearly 30 years after graduating from RSCS devoted his life to preaching God’s word. “I had a parish in eastern Maryland, but decided it was time to let someone else have it. So I’ve been traveling up and down the east coast, trying to find people of Christian faith to stand up for our nation. We’ve hooked up with a church in California, and we’ve become kindred spirits.”
Perhaps the alumnus who trekked the farthest to attend was John Woytowich, Class of ’59, hailed from Thailand. Woytowich explained, “I come home every summer to visit my mother. I teach mathematics at an international school (in Thailand). It’s good to meet everyone again. I met up with a lot of classmates and friends. It was well worth the trip.”
There were former sweethearts, ministers, ex-servicemen and women, teachers, writers from Los Angeles, drag racers, snow mobile champs and America’s Cup sailors. But in the end, they were all former Richfield Springs High School students at heart.