By SEAN ROWLEY
There are many indicators of summer in Tahlequah: the rising temperatures, the fast-growing lawns, the scent of grills, the river traffic.
But another sign is the annual round of class reunions of alumni from Tahlequah and other area high schools.
The THS Class of 1971 will hold its “60th Birthday Bash” July 27 at the Jazz Lab. The class has held reunions regularly over the years.
“It is fun to see people and see how they are doing,” said Debbie Baughman, an organizer of the ‘71 reunions. “It is interesting to see how everyone’s lives have changed.”
Sue Dobson Berry is among a group of alumni organizing the landmark 50th reunion of the THS Class of 1963, Oct. 11-12, at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center.
“I really enjoy it when our class gets together,” she said. “I am working on a 45-page book to commemorate this. I love watching people who haven’t seen each other in years – especially the men. You can hear them laughing from across the room.”
Putting together a class reunion is no small feat. Planning often begins between several class members more than a year in advance. A site must be reserved. Budgets and any fees must be determined.
Many organizers also choose to gather memorabilia and include entertainment, and class members visiting from out of town may need updates on available lodgings.
Social media has impacted class reunions. Some classes may not reunite as often because members can keep up with each other on sites like Facebook. Other classes use social networking sites to facilitate reunions.
“I remember our first one was organized by mail and telephone,” Baughman said. “That went rather slow. Now we can use the Internet and Facebook to set up a page. We can send invitations online. We don’t use the telephone much anymore. Today, everything is much faster and easier.”
For other classes, social media has had little effect on their gatherings.
“The majority of our class is not on Facebook,” Berry said.
“I figure less than 20 percent use it. Facebook does help some, but I have an e-mail address or a street address for all but a couple of people in our class. We generally just write members to notify them of upcoming reunions.”
Jill Berry Ericksten, another reunion organizer for the THS Class of ‘63, said a surprising challenge is getting locals to attend.
“More than 50 of our class members still live in the area,” she said. “I think they run into each other often enough and feel like they are still in touch. But our reunions bring people in from all over the country. We would really like the people here in town to attend.”
Another unavoidable challenge is the passage of time. There were 162 graduates in the THS Class of 1963, and 26 are deceased. Age has taken a toll on others.
Berry said this 50-year reunion of the Class of ‘63 will likely be the last, though members will continue to meet for reunions of the 1960s classes, held every three years.
“Several have had stents or joint replacements or fought cancer,” she said. “The older we get, the harder it is for some to travel very far.”
But Berry echoed the sentiments of Baughman and Ericksten that bringing their classmates together to celebrate and reminisce makes the effort worthwhile.
“The people still value their friendships, even if it has been 50 years,” she said. “I think it gives everyone a chance to think about their younger days and relive them a little bit. And we also get to catch up, hear about kids and grandkids, tell about what we want to do in the coming years. It will be interesting. It always is.”