It takes a small dose of courage to come back for Reunion. Will anyone remember me? Who will I see? Will any of my old professors be there? How do I look? Should I really go back this time?
Such trepidation is predictable, but it evaporated quickly for the thirteen hundred or so alumni who returned to Middlebury last weekend. The weather was glorious, about the best Vermont has to offer with warmth and sunshine and cool, clear nights. And, as always, the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs scheduled scores of meaningful activities to fill the days and evenings of June 2-5 with memories old and new.
The 50th reunion class – the Class of 1961 – was one of the first groups to arrive. Nearly 100 members of the class returned for Reunion, and they were a ubiquitous bunch of septuagenarians all weekend long. As they came together Friday morning on the steps of Mead Chapel for their class photo, Pete ’61 and Ruth Connal stopped to reminisce with Dave Gannett ’62, who recalled the first time he set foot in Mead Chapel.
“President [Samuel] Stratton greeted the class in Mead at our very first gathering,” Gannett said, “and then he introduced someone special to us. Do you know who it was? It was Robert Frost!”
During lunch on Friday, Valerie Killoch Miller ’61 looked around Ross Dining Hall, admired the breathtaking view of the Adirondacks, and commented on the outstanding food. “Back in the day we had mystery meat about once a week, and you couldn’t tell what kind of meat it was until you looked at the condiments. They put out applesauce if it was pork, mint jelly if it was lamb, and piccalilli [relish] if it was beef.”
Miller also remembered that women ate separately from men, women had different rules to follow, and women’s class ranks were segregated too. “When I got my transcript I saw that I was in the top quarter, but I knew that I had done better than that. So when I asked [the registrar] to rank the men and women together, suddenly I was in the top 10 percent.” A brief conversation ensued about the academic achievements of women at Middlebury. Joining Miller at the table were her husband, Bryan, and Richard Harris ’61 and his wife, Patricia Dearborn.
Mid-afternoon about 25 alumni found their way to the Harmon Periodicals Reading Room in the lower level of Davis Family Library for a hands-on presentation by Andy Wentink ’70, the curator of Special Collections.
Wentink captivated the audience with stories about how the College acquired its Special Collections – including the Julian W. Abernethy Collection of American Literature and the Ernest Hemingway Family Archive – in his talk entitled “Unless a College,” a phrase he borrowed from Robert Frost’s poem “Build Soil” (1932).
Don’t join too many gangs. Join few if any.
Join the United States and join the family —
But not much in between, unless a college.
The visitors to Special Collections marveled at Henry David Thoreau’s personal copy of the first edition of Walden with the author’s hand-written notes in the margin. They oohed and aahed over examples from the Tunis Collection of Antiquarian Maps. And, as they handled rare books, prints, and other treasures in the collection, they wondered why they weren’t required to wear gloves. Wentink explained that current thinking in his field is that wearing gloves decreases tactile ability and increases the chances of ripping a page. You would have to handle the same page 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without gloves to do the same amount of harm, he said.
President Ronald D. Liebowitz welcomed reunion volunteers and leadership gift donors to the 1800 Society and Reunion Volunteer Appreciation Reception held in the Donald E. Axinn ’51, Litt. D. ’89 Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Starr Library (Axinn Center, for short). About 150 alumni and friends enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres, including many who had never seen how meticulously the College has restored the 111-year old main reading room inside Starr Library.
Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. about 50 runners convened near the LOVE sculpture for a five-kilometer fun run around the cross-country trail. Just before the start Jon Cormier ’01 alerted the group to “get ready to P.R.,” i.e., set a personal record, because the course was more like 2.7 miles in length rather than a true 5K of 3.1 miles. Everyone cheered.
Always the busiest day of the weekend, Saturday included Alumni Achievement Presentations delivered by Betty Nelson ’51 and Walter R. Mears ’56; the alumni baseball game; the Class of 1986 panel; a talk by Bill McKibben, the Schumann Distinguished Scholar; an open conversation with President Liebowitz; readings by faculty and alumni who have been published in the New England Review; plus walking tours, receptions, memorial services, golf, and an ice cream social.
Several alumni stopped in to see the Davis Library and a few recorded capsule versions of their College memories for an oral-history project called Middlebury Murmur, organized by the Communications Office. Taylor Mahony ’96 told a story about the Stewart Hall Olympics in which he “skied” down the staircase from the top floor to the basement in about 14 seconds. There was a Murmur tale about rearranging a roommate’s furniture on the lawn in front of Painter Hall, and another about living in the Chateau while speaking only in French.
One of the most iconic events of Reunion is the Parade of Classes from Old Stone Row to Mead Chapel where the gathering enters under the inscription “The Strength of the Hills Is His Also” for the Reunion Convocation.
Before joining his class near the back of the parade line-up, Gerry Carrick ’61, with a Yankees cap on his head and a cool beverage in his hand, talked about rooting for the great Middlebury ice hockey teams of his era. Carrick and friends usually situated themselves behind the visitors’ bench and, as he recounted, they once had an altercation with the RPI coach.
As Carrick scurried to join the parade, he looked over his shoulder and said: “If you put me in the story, be sure to call me the Colonel. Everyone knows the Colonel.” The last group in the parade was the 75th reunion class represented by Agnes Harris Taylor ’36 and Marion Cole Morhouse ’36.
Soon the quadrangle emptied while carillon played in the light June breeze. But down near Voter Hall, under a stand of trees, about two dozen 30-somethings chatted animatedly while their children frolicked on the lawn. Oblivious to the fact that nearly every other reunion attendee was inside Mead Chapel, the members of the Class of 1996 talked about their busy lives and told each other how marvelous they look.
Sunday morning is a time for goodbyes. It’s also a time for Christian worship with Laurie Macaulay Jordan ’79, the college chaplain, and the Reunion Choir, which rehearsed all weekend with organist extraordinaire Emory Fanning, professor emeritus. Class brunches were held at different locations, and Rabbi Ira Schiffer, the associate chaplain, hosted a light breakfast in the Jewish Center where he was joined by a handful of alumni, faculty, and family members.
One of the alums at the Sunday breakfast, Gerald Zelermyer ’61, is a rabbi who retired from his Connecticut congregation but was called back into service recently as the interim rabbi for a synagogue in suburban Washington. Another alumnus at the breakfast was Sholomo Ben Levy ’86, who is rabbi to a congregation of about 70 African American Jews in Queens, New York.
Calling themselves “The Three Rabbis,” Schiffer, Zelermyer, and Levy posed for pictures. (Zelermyer and Levy, who had never met, also exchanged business cards.) Zelermyer talked about how Sunday chapel attendance was required during his years at Middlebury, but how the late Charles P. Scott, chaplain emeritus, allowed Zelermyer to offer Jewish services at the same time as chapel.
Soon after he graduated, the College eliminated compulsory chapel services.
As the three rabbis shook hands and hugged and bid each other adieu (in Hebrew, of course), Zelermyer looked exhausted from the weekend’s events. Was he glad he came back? someone asked. “I had to come,” he said,“ it’s my 50th Reunion. For me, this is a rite of passage.”