Seniors & Aging

High school reunions for the elderly: Why you should get together for old times’ sake

Longtime friends Fontella Lindquist, left, and Maxine Bell Rawls reunite during the 70th reunion for the Bellingham High School Class of 1946 on Aug. 14, 2016, at Northwood Hall in Bellingham. Although they attended separate high schools, they have known each other since grade school.
Longtime friends Fontella Lindquist, left, and Maxine Bell Rawls reunite during the 70th reunion for the Bellingham High School Class of 1946 on Aug. 14, 2016, at Northwood Hall in Bellingham. Although they attended separate high schools, they have known each other since grade school. For The Bellingham Herald

They have common memories of the Great Depression, World War II, jukeboxes, the jitterbug and winter ice skating on the flooded Lakeway Drive golf course.

Their shared history of time and geography has made them closer over the years, enough so that 90 seniors gathered for lunch at Bellingham’s Northwood Hall in August to reminisce and renew old friendships. It’s important enough that they’ve been doing it regularly since graduation.

Leo Waldschmidt, who now lives in Burlington, has been helping organize reunion events for Bellingham High School’s class of 1946 for more than 25 years. This year, all Bellingham High classes from the 1940s were invited.

There are fewer of us each year, Waldschmidt says of his class, which once numbered 388. “So many of us also know students from other classes.”

In the 1940s, people were scattered in the service or in college. ... Everyone was family in those years, and we still have lots of friends in this age group.

Maxine Rawls, Bellingham High, 1947

Waldschmidt also organizes a monthly lunch for class of ’46 members.

Maxine Rawls, Bellingham High’s class of ’47 reunion organizer, says that during their high school years, with so many men at war, students often didn’t graduate with their original class.

“One of my brothers graduated in my class later than he would have, so we’re both in the 1947 yearbook. They also listed the service people who were not in the book because they weren’t there to graduate,” says Rawls, who lives in Bellingham. “In the 1940s, people were scattered in the service or in college. Some worked in family businesses. Everyone was family in those years, and we still have lots of friends in this age group.”

Class of ’45 organizer Janece Krein of Bellingham performed at the reunion this year with the Bellingham Community Band, formerly the Bellingham High School Alumni Band. Krein, 90, still plays trombone and “mall walks” six mornings a week when she’s not working out at the gym or driving to lunch at a restaurant or Bellingham Senior Activity Center.

Good friends are very, very important. When you’re ill or there is a tragedy, you find out who your friends are.

Janece Krein, Bellingham High, 1945

“I’m not the oldest one in the band,” she says. “We have a flute player that is 93.”

Krein, who has outlived two husbands, stressed the importance of friends.

“Too many older people don’t get out and socialize,” she says. “It helps keep you young and your mind more active.”

“ Good friends are very, very important. When you’re ill or there is a tragedy, you find out who your friends are.”

Waldschmidt and his wife, Sharon, are active travelers in their large RV. He didn’t always have it so easy. Born and raised in the Kansas dust bowl, he and his family “were starving” before they moved west for “a job for dad” and to be with relatives. Moving to Bellingham, he began high school in 1943.

He married his first wife in 1949; she died just before retirement. He married Sharon in 2000.

Maxine and Tom Rawls have deep Bellingham roots. Her brother introduced them in high school and they’ve been sweethearts for 64 years. Tom’s brother owned Rawls’ General Store on Holly Street, famous for its gigantic ice cream cones.

“Tom sang and was a drummer in his own band. We saw big bands at the old Armory,” she says. “We all went out dancing after football games.”

“Our first reunion in 1957 was at the Leopold Hotel,” Maxine says. “We were kicked out of the pool for making too much noise.”

“We plan to organize a class celebration of our 70th next year,” she says. “We’ll invite the rest of the ’40s BHS classes, too. It’s important to survivors of that era to celebrate, as long as God is willing and the creek doesn’t rise!”

How to plan a reunion for seniors

Advice from Bellingham High reunion organizers Tom and Maxine Rawls, Janece Krein, and Leo and Sharon Waldschmidt:

Facility: Reserve a hall or restaurant with good food and ready parking, adequate handicapped spaces and easy access to the door.

Invitations: Mail or post invitations on your website at least three months early. Some people plan far ahead, while others will forget until the last minute. Call, send a reminder postcard or email again the week before. Remember, not everyone uses the internet.

Mailing list: Ask several people to funnel addresses to the mailing list organizer. Older groups can lose track of those who pass on or move to assisted living. It’s important to follow classmates at this time of life.

Event: Take the time to recognize those who traveled the farthest and helped the most, and honor those who have died. Even a small award can mean a lot. Seek humorous speakers and stories and bring photographs and annuals, to make the event light and fun.

Follow-up: A reunion can be the start of smaller, specialty groups where like-minded friends can meet more often.

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