Diary of a Class Reunion Organizer

by Jane Pipia

I am having a lot of fun planning this reunion. I am a do-er and my problem is that when something needs to get done I am first to raise my hand and say I’ll do it. I have to make a conscious effort to keep my hand in my lap and let other people help. But I know that if I’m doing it, it will get done.

I wanted to be involved in this planning but I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy hearing from old friends and classmates.

We have a diverse group on the committee and that is good. The only committee downfall we have is the lack of men. We only have one guy consistently showing up depending on his work schedule. At our ten-year reunion the committee consisted of people from the “in” crowd. A few mentioned the reunion still felt like high school. I guess at the 20th we have grown up. I was definitely not in the “in” crowd. I’ve started contacting people to learn what their thoughts are and that got the ball rolling.

Before we can set a date, although we knew we wanted it in late summer or early fall, we have to visit hotels to see who can accommodate us. Most hotels have minimums and some won’t include money spent at the bar in the minimum.

We had our meeting and things went very well. We decided on a date, and committee members chipped in for the hotel’s $500 deposit.

A couple of people pushed hard for the later homecoming date to take advantage of the whole spirit of “coming home.” One problem is getting a hotel banquet room in the area that can accommodate 200+ during homecoming. The homecoming date did not work.

Others think we should look for a hotel that can accommodate us and not be a slave to the date. They believe that we must have it at a hotel to encourage people coming in from out of state and those who want to stay overnight.

Most people realize it makes more sense to have everything at one place. That makes it easier on the committee and classmates, especially the ones from out of town.

We meet once a month at an old high school bar/grill hangout and the number one issue is addresses. Getting current contact information has been the biggest and most time-consuming part of the reunion.

We went to the guidance office at school and got a graduation list, which includes phone numbers. Although they are 20 years old, some parents still have the same number. We’ve split the list between us, each being responsible for locating people with names starting with specific letters. We’ve checked all area phone books, gathered numbers, and our friends already had contacted our classmates who had registered with classmates.com. We listed a reunion contact; it helped. I created a spreadsheet listing grads’ names, addresses, phone and email and we kept adding to it.

At Office Depot we purchased postcards that can be put through any printer. Before Christmas card season we mailed out a very basic postcard. NBHS 1981 20th Reunion, the date, the location, phone number, email address, website address, and asked for help gathering addresses.

I’ve mailed out the first group of questionnaires. After every meeting another batch will go out to the new-found addresses. The website provides an online form that can be filled out and many are using this.

We are having monthly meetings with six regulars and four stopping in to see old friends. We have had to compromise on some plans because, as always, people have different ideas of what should happen. But talking it out as a group really makes a difference. We had one fellow who really wanted a few things a specific way. After talking it through we realized they just couldn’t be and sadly he left the committee. We have e-mailed or left messages asking him to come back, but … nothing. Not everyone works well on a team.

It’s neat being on the committee and being the online contact on classmates.com because I get to have little reunions with new people just stopping in or e-mailing. When the reunion comes around I will have reconnected with so many more people than I would have if I had only the night of the reunion.

One of the best things about e-mail is that people are more open. People I barely knew in school have been e-mailing, some regularly. I have even become friends with a classmate’s sister who lives in Colorado.

Reunion plans are going smoothly. Our first mailing of the official invitation will go out this week (before the postal increase). We have the date, the location and a DJ, so the big things are complete. One of the girls on the committee is a decorator and she will do table decorations at cost. My husband is a commercial artist, and he will design our keepsake booklet and get printing at cost.

At our next meeting we’ll gather more names and addresses of missing classmates and decide on an event for Sunday after the reunion. We hope to have a family picnic so people can bring their kids and introduce them to old friends; it will also give people another chance to reconnect.

Search Tips

  • Go to anybirthday.com and enter a name or even a partial zip code of where someone was born. “I typed in name and ’53, figuring most people I was looking for were born in southeastern Wisconsin,” Pipia reported. You will get a list of names with birthdates. Choose a name whose birthday falls within a year or so of most of your classmates and anybirthday.com will provide all the known zip codes this person lived in.
  • For unfamiliar zip codes, ups.com allows you to enter a zip code to get the name of the city. Once you have the name and city/state, you can go to the white pages at infospace.com and enter the name, city and state to see if there is a listing for the person.
  • “I tried this with a dozen plus names and located five additional people for our reunion. So it does work,” Pipia concluded.
  • “We had a class of about 300 and we found all but 32, so we are pretty proud of that. But it took a lot of phone calls, even calling people back more than once if they didn’t return our calls! We had a cop on our committee, and toward the end we gave him a list; he found over 50 people for us, so if you have a cop on board – great!”

Post-Reunion Glow
I was very involved in the planning and it may sound like bragging, but I cannot say enough about our reunion.
The official invitation went out six or seven weeks before the reunion, and then more went out, with the questionnaire, as we received the new addresses. Of course, as the time approached we wound up calling a lot of people, as our response was low. This got many people to respond, but it was irritating nevertheless, as you have lots of other things to do and of course your own life to deal with. This is a huge commitment of time and effort. People don’t really understand that. We still had people who called just days before and wanted to come.

We had a Friday night ice breaker at Kuglitch’s, now AMF Bowling, where a lot of us hung out in high school. We had a small room and gave them $350 for beer, wine, soda, pretzels etc. About 40 showed up (about what we expected) from 7 to 11PM. This was very nice.

The Saturday night main event was held at Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The hall and the services were outstanding.

We had cleared a couple of things with the hall and the DJ ahead of time, and looking back, these were among our best moves. We asked the hall manager and DJ whether they could extend our stay and the music past midnight if the night was going well. The hall manager said we could have the bartenders until only 1:00AM, but the hall was ours as long as we wanted it. We had a self-serve half-barrel of beer that stayed even after the bartenders left. The DJ said he would stay (and charge) as long as we wanted him. We brought food (mini sandwiches, veggies, dip, cheese and sausage) because we didn’t want anyone to go home hungry.

Everyone had a wonderful time. And we had many requests for a 25th (rather than a 30th). I will be involved with planning that.

Our reunion website will stay up with pictures of the 20th, so people who were unable to attend can take a look. There is also a form to update information (name, address, phone).

Name tags with graduation photos were a BIG plus plus and really needed, but it was also a very big and time-consuming job.

Disposable cameras were placed on every table. Viewing pictures with committee members was a hoot! About 50 or 60 of the pictures are on our web site. The remaining 500 were mailed to people who were in the pictures with a note asking them to make copies for others in the picture and to forward them. We did our best to distribute them well.

About 30 came with their families to our Sunday family picnic at Naga-waki Park. We provided soda, chips, veggies, cookies, brownies, plates, plastic flatware and water balloons. It was a lot of fun to meet old friends and see kids play together.

Except for committee members, no one was at both the picnic on Sundayt and the ice-breaker on Friday. And many of the people at the Friday and Sunday events did not come to the reunion for one reason or another. We felt very good about the fact that these additional people got to see some of their old friends.

However, it was a long, long weekend and I don’t know if we will have a three-day event for the 25th; it may be just the reunion next time. It was not easy to make it to the family picnic on Sunday after such a late night. We have heard from several people who wanted to come but after Saturday night they just couldn’t. Does this mean we’re getting old? In our youth we went out every night and it didn’t matter!

We have $1,300 left over. We are going to talk to the New Berlin West principal and hope to donate $300 to the school for a piece of equipment. The remaining $1,000 is going into a 24-month renewable CD, so in four years when we start planning the 25th, we’ll have funds available.

I will miss our monthly committee meetings. The group knew each other in school of course, but we were not “friends.” So as a bonus on top of having a great time at the reunion and being proud of the fact that so many other people did too, we made new friends with whom we will hopefully stay in touch.

Stationery supplies $ 200.00
Postage 400.00
Printing (135 books) 900.00
Name tags 110.00
Decorations 200.00
Friday night 350.00
Hors d’houevres 500.00
Dinner/beer & soda 6,300.00
DJ 550.00
Bar tip 100.00
Sunday picnic 350.00

We charged $60 per person. We lost some people because of the price but we felt that for all they received, it was worth it. Those who couldn’t pay $60 could come on Friday or Sunday at no cost at all. We know now that if we do not have the Friday and Sunday events we could charge about $50/$55 per person, but we really wanted to be comfortable and show everyone a good time. We didn’t want to skimp and we certainly didn’t want to be caught short of money.

About the author
Jane Pipia lives in Brookfield, Wisconsin, with Frank, her husband of 18 years, 6 year old daughter, Hailey, and another baby due in May, “just proving it’s not too late,” she says. She volunteers at Children’s Hospital of WisconsinTelethon, teaches second grade religion class at our church and is her daughter’s Brownie Scout troop leader. She and her husband have owned a design for 12 years which gives her “the flexibility to devote time to help organize the reunion.”