A California Class of the 1950’s faces its golden anniversary reunion and pleads “We need new ideas, new formats for activities, new means of announcing the event and new presentations for ‘the big night’ program.” To start, we asked what they’d done before to avoid replaying old songs. Here’s the response:
Friday evening there were one or two get-togethers at classmates’ homes for reacquainting, drinking and chatting.
Saturday morning, weather permitting, there was a golf outing for men while women visited, shopped and lounged at home or their hotel. Saturday afternoon there was a picnic which very few attended or visits to the high school, museum or other places of interest. Saturday evening the big bash was dinner at a place large enough to accommodate 100 graduates plus spouses and guests. The program rarely varied; an MC paid tribute to the reunion committee for their hard work [Editor’s note: Let’s not change that], recognized deceased classmates, and introduced a program of a monologue, skits, and awards for who came the furthest, had the most grandchildren, etc. Finally, the evening was capped off with dancing to recorded music from the past which attracted very few people and a lengthy session of group and individual photos taken by a hired professional.
Sunday morning breakfast was followed by announcements and a short church service.
“People are becoming bored and there are always problems finding lost classmates and with funding. Funding was charging each attendee a one-time fee which invariably left the committee to make up shortages in the general fund. No wonder volunteering is declining.”
We found this dilemma about a 50th class reunion somewhat universal for all reunions. Therefore, any class reunion organizer will find intriguing ideas from these experts. We turned, yet again, to members of the National Association of Reunion Managers (NARM), who make their livings organizing class reunions. They are paid to keep reunions from boredom.
Nikki Anderson, Reunion Specialists, Inc., Carlsbad, California wrote that several classes she’s working with invited a representative from the high school to do a “then and now” presentation. They included things like school enrollment, number of staff, classrooms, parking spaces. One class invited a school group (band, dance team) to perform. This season they have several classes doing Sunday events that include a “Day at the Races.” Football or baseball games with tailgate parties are also popular.
Deirdre Marvin, ReunionTeam.com, Vernon Hills, Illinois,reported “a big hit at an older classmates” reunion. The reunion committee made a contribution to the high school and their marching band made an appearance at the reunion playing the school fight song as they marched into the ballroom. Cheerleaders, pom-pom squad or flags add to the presentation. If space does not allow a marching band, a jazz band is a smaller alternative. It makes for a very festive and fun presentation.
Carol Riley, Owner of Reunions Unlimited in Olympia, Washington and past president of NARM, suggests that reunion attendees have expectations and like to have a format to follow. They expect to have one main dinner event which can be changed by having a theme party (’50s, Hawaiian, etc.) and/or a change in menu (BBQ, pig roast or international food stations).
Keep the golf, Riley says, open it to women and move it to Friday afternoon, followed by an informal cocktail party open to all golfers and non-golfers. Or have an informal non-alcoholic reception at the school. On Saturday, “nix the school tour if the school has not had a remodel.”
Cancel the DJ at the main event. Keep the program short, skip the skits and pass around a cordless mike from table to table for classmate introductions. Or maybe offer an open mike for anyone who wishes to share something with the entire group.
Put together a slide show from kindergarten through the 50th year reunion. Make a video or CD of it and offer it for sale.
For a donation, ask current cheerleaders, majorettes or band to perform, adding to the excitement of the event. They run in dressed in school colors with pom-poms, mascot included, and do some cheers or songs. They may also sing or play the school anthem.
Don’t do individual photos. One large group shot is fine and offers classmates a chance to mingle. Or take it a step further and break down into grade school groups.
Offer something totally unique on Sunday. If you live close to a large body of water, secure a large boat (walk-on ferry or something similar), bring onboard light finger food and a bar and go out for a three-hour cruise.
Chris Clishe in Riley’s office, who is midway to her 50-year reunion, suggests an additional event after the reunion. Work with a cruise line or vacation center and offer a class cruise or trip a day or two after the reunion weekend, giving classmates a longer and less scheduled chance to be together.
And finally, Riley makes a surprising conclusion that finding missing classmates is easy. The answer? Hire a NARM reunion professional in your area!
Beth A. Miller is president of Reunited, Inc. in Weston, Florida. She gave careful consideration to the reader’s question to do a golden anniversary reunion a little differently from past reunions.
First, I’d suggest shortening the menu of events to two— at most three. On Friday, a “happy hour” ice-breaker at a local bar or club may be a nice change. It can be done inexpensively by starting early before the “regular” crowd arrives. Try to arrange a drink special (ie: 2-for-1, a drink named for the school mascot for a reduced price or even one hour of open bar) whatever the establishment is willing to provide in exchange for an early-arriving crowd. Ask the establishment to provide hors d’oeuvres and light munchies. Remind management reunion attendees are mainly there to see old friends and not to consume the free drink and leave. Such an event could also provide publicity for the establishment and expose it to potential new and repeat customers.
For the Saturday “big event,” why not change things a bit and dress down, make it casual, they’ve done the dress-up thing before. Take it a step further and ask alumni to dress in school colors. It’s pretty cool to still have spirit after all of those years. Add to the spirit by having a trivia contest throughout the night. Give the DJ/emcee a list of questions about old hang-outs, teachers, who had what kind of car, who was voted best dressed, Homecoming King, etc. Provide token prizes or maybe divide the group into “teams,” for a team prize. Solicit token prizes from local businesses.
Offer an informal Sunday event for the “die-hards,” such as a poolside gathering. Anyone who wants to can order lunch or drinks on their own and it doesn’t raise the ticket price.
Put extra thought into the content of events and really bring people back to the “good ‘ol days” without the pressure of big ticket prices and fancy outfits.