40 years gone by now: Reunion a reminder of very happy days

NEGAUNEE – Those unexpected gestures in life can score a direct hit on the heart, like a gesture made at my recent 40-year class reunion.

If you read the columns I write, you know gathering with the Negaunee High School Class of 1976 is something special for me. Not everyone enjoys class reunions, but I do, because the people who attend ours are fun, kind and pretty darn amazing. Maybe it’s just our class is blessed with a super bunch, but the events have always been wonderful through the decades.

As the years have gone by, our reunion gatherings have gotten simpler. That 10-year reunion back in 1986 was a bit of an extravaganza, with balloting on awards like “most changed” and trophies for traveling the greatest distance to be there and the like.

We didn’t do any of that in 2016.

Now, we have food, we share tons of old photos and programs from yesteryear’s school events, we bring in photos from reunions past and we talk. A lot. And we dance. A lot.

When our classmate Al Heikkinen arrived at this recent reunion, he brought a little something for each of us to take home. It was a Bicentennial quarter, from the year we graduated, 1976, which of course marked America’s 200th birthday. As each classmate arrived, Al handed him or her a quarter, explaining the significance.

It was hectic at the start of the gathering so there wasn’t time to really think about it, but as we settled in to eat, drink and be merry, it dawned on me how much effort Al put into this sweet souvenir. He had scores of quarters to hand out. It must have taken quite a while to find these specific coins.

Incredible, really.

What’s more, Al brought his senior year yearbook along to have people sign, a cool idea all these years later. Al was rather quiet in high school, but now, he’s a bundle of energy and enthusiasm.

Like any time in one’s life, high school days are not perfect, not for anyone, even the cheerleading captain or the basketball star. When you’re a teen, you might think others have storybook existences, while you struggle with acne or body issues or whatever else makes you self-conscious.

What attending reunions has taught me is we all struggle in our own ways throughout our lives, but can find comfort and joy in those folks who knew us way back when, who understand how far we’ve come as people, who genuinely care about us, almost like family.

Looking at the high school photographs of the five of our ranks who have died – each of whom left the earth much too young – made me thankful for another day, even if the morning after the reunion, my body told me that disco fever shouldn’t involve three hours of dancing nowadays. My old bones and joints were aching from all the boogying.

Sorting through the photos I snapped at the reunion, it once again struck me how fortunate we are to be able to get together every five years.

While I missed the classmates who did not attend, my goodness, how fantastic it was to talk and to laugh and to cry, just a few tears, with a variety of people with whom I share memories of those long-ago high school years.

Thanks, my classmates, for being such amazing friends. I’m already looking forward to 2021’s gathering.

And Al, thanks for the quarter.

Editor’s note: Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.