CLASS OF 1980 | 2021–2022 | WINTER ISSUE

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Forty-one-plus years after our Wesleyan graduation, our class is at such varied points in our lives. Ranging from enjoying our grandchildren, the graduations of our children, and retirement, to raising younger kids, starting new careers, furthering our education, and publishing books. After so much loss, isolation, and challenges during the pandemic, it’s wonderful to hear that though we still face challenges, we are a resilient, creative, and hopeful class with so much to offer each other, our families, our communities, and Wesleyan.

A sad loss: Sydney A. Francis ’78 sent in the heartbreaking news that her former husband and lifelong friend, Idris M. Diaz, passed away on, July 22, 2021, having succumbed to a rare form of leukemia. We are so sad to receive this news and grieve for her and all of our loss. For a major part of his career, Idris worked with USAID, joining in 2002 and retiring in 2019. Idris had a deep affection for the people, music, art, and religions of each of the places where he served or visited. He embraced diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as civil and human rights and justice from his days as a journalist—before entering public service—through to his time with USAID. Idris’s work, life, and worldview were rooted in his experience as an African American growing up in Queens, New York, and his avid interest in, and study of, diverse faiths, the martial arts, yoga, and meditation. Idris was especially proud to become certified as a yoga teacher last year. A memorial was held this past fall. For more information email Sydney directly at: sydallyson@gmail.com

The challenges: Melissa Stern spent a year of “Zooming” in at various art schools and institutions as a visiting lecturer and guest critic including: The Everson Museum of Art, Pratt Institute, NYU, the Pelham Art Center, and Indiana University. She said it was loads of fun, but like many of us, she longed for true, in-person contact. She noted that after a terrible slip and fall on the ice in the spring of 2021, which required major surgery to repair and eight weeks in a brace, she emerged in June with a wonderful 20-year retrospective of her work in Kingston, New York. The show has garnered great reviews and was just what her body and soul needed after a year of quarantine and recovery from the crazy accident. Entitled Stronger Than Dirt, the show has a theme of resilience. Jim Friedlich ’79 and Melissa are back and forth to the city each week, she’s still in intensive PT, but they hope to be full-time back upstate for August 2021.

Alan Jacobs spoke of post-pandemic silver linings: finally reading Don Quixote, As I Lay Dying, Things Fall Apart, and The Tale of Genji and weekly Zooms with my three best friends from high school. “I had a lovely dinner in Tel Aviv in May with my daughter, Avia, my girlfriend Dorit, and with Jeff Green—all of whom live in Israel. It was the first night after the rockets stopped so we each had bomb-shelter stories to share.”

The milestones: Gary Gilyard and his wife are expecting grandchildren number 3 (August) and number 4 (September) and are enjoying living in the same state (Michigan) as both of their daughters. Gary hopes everyone is vaccinated! When asked how the doc (Gary is a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon in Bingham Farms, Michigan) made it through the pandemic, Gary answered “COVID was challenging. Everyone has stayed safe. We shut down for about four weeks, then started telemedicine, then after about three months, slowly started operating again. So far it’s very busy and going well.”

Amy Natterson Kroll now has two grandchildren Max, 3, and Eliana, born July 7th. Otherwise, she says all is well and life continues. She’s still practicing law at Morgan Lewis, gardening, exercising, trying to keep a positive outlook, and looking forward to vaccines allowing us all to return to a “new normal.”

Mark Zitter '80 and Tessa Zitter '21 with Prof. Szegedy-Maszak
Mark and Tessa with Prof. Andrew Szegedy-Maszak

Mark Zitter celebrated the 2021 Wes graduation with honors in Archaeology and Classical Civilizations of his daughter Tessa. Mark noted, “it brought back many memories of my/our graduation in 1980. Tessa’s honors thesis was on war wounds in the Classical and Archaic eras, and one of her three readers was Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, who was my freshman advisor 45 years earlier! After the ceremony we recreated a photo from 1980 where a hairier me was flanked by my parents versus one with Tessa between Jessica and me, with exactly the same buildings in the background. It was a very fun dual celebration of Tessa’s graduation and homecoming for me.”

Mark added, “BTW, although everyone joked that Tessa would never get a job in her obscure liberal arts fields, she confounded the pundits and did it. She’ll move from intern to a paid position for Julie Burstein ’80 on the podcast Live From Mt. Olympus that you mentioned in the prior Class Notes. Go Wes! Stay healthy!”

Frank White’s daughter graduated (in Philosophy) this spring from McGill and one son is headed to University of Colorado at Boulder in the fall; the other son is a rising sophomore in high school. Frank is taking an MFA in screenplay writing. Frank saw Christian Herold (in person) a couple of months ago.

Jay Borden said, “I spent most of COVID times hunkered down in my machine shop, welding and brazing custom bicycle frames (www.roulezcycles.com), my semi-retirement gig.  Everyone in the immediate family stayed healthy, and we’re all grateful to be vaccinated and on the other side.  With summer, I’m off to Vinalhaven until late September, kayaking and carpenting, and spending time with my oldest grandchild, who just turned five, and with the rest of our family.”

Randal Barron wrote in, “After having survived COVID in February of 2019, my partner and I have now both retired. We are taking a number of trips to see the USA and finally will be getting back to Europe in October. This last year has been an amazing roller coaster. I am grateful to have survived and that our democracy survived and that we are finally starting to address racism. I have learned so many things this year. I have been taking Zoom courses on Michelangelo and Leonardo as “gay” artists, Jewish Morocco, the architecture of Basilicata and Puglia, and a host of other obscure subjects that can now be found online.”

New ventures: Dan Connors shared that “after 20 years in retail, I launched a new career as a Certified Public Accountant in 2008.  Through all of that time I’ve also been a freelance writer, publishing articles and essays in magazines and my local newspaper, the St. Louis Post–Dispatch. Now I am in a new chapter of my life, publishing my first book, Skunked.  This book has been a labor of love and taught me a lot about writing, publishing, and storytelling.  The editing process has taken several years, but it’s been a blast. I continue to practice accounting during tax season and am amazed at the complex stories I’ve observed coming from my clients.  Thanks to all of you for letting me serve you. I’ve actually been more in touch with Wes folks via Zoom than in past years.  Regularly Zooming with classmates Ken Freeman, Jon Nimer, Joel Tillinghast, Rick Levine, David Engstrom and Master of Ceremonies Will Rowe. Saves a lot of money on airplane tickets!  Still thankful for my health and family and blogging on my website, authordanconnors.com.

Andrew McKenna left solar, which he worked in since graduating Wes, and just before the onset of the COVID pandemic, invested in with friends and started running Journeys Aviation, a private business providing all the services to the Boulder Municipal Airport (flight training, fuel, front desk/radio, facilities). He said that Journeys thankfully survived the pandemic with assistance from the federal programs (PPP, EIDL). And he’s still searching for Amelia Earhart with TIGHAR!

Wendy Davis Beard provided the following update: “My husband John and I rebased ourselves in the British countryside in October 2020 in preparation for his two solo exhibitions locally in Tisbury, Wiltshire. I have absolutely loved being in the country  and we are now planning to sell up our Wesleyan Chapel studio residence in Greenwich, London, to move around here. We have already met an interesting mix of writers and artists, some with ties like ourselves to Australia. While being in lockdown is not so different for us, as we both work in a kind of isolation wherever we are. I have found a market for my writing about disability and travel that has in turn circled back to creating a website as a vehicle to reach stroke survivors their caregivers, friends, family, and even medicos. This sharpened practical focus has diverted my attention from finishing my memoir of recovery, but then it adds to the content as well! We were both double jabbed by Easter, enabling us to see our 23-year-old daughter and her boyfriend for Easter (both had mild COVID in the first lockdown). I am leaving today for a short trip to Greece, possibly extended by quarantine upon return in the UK. We hope to return to Sydney in October for another exhibition—if Australia will let us in. . . then if the pandemic doesn’t clip our wings from flying into Boston, we hope to celebrate Christmas in Cape Cod with my 90-year-old mother, brothers, and our extended family! Until next time! Recently converted into a football fan of Euro cup and English supporter like London-based Peter EisenhardtSpace!(Who knew!?) Keep rolling!”

Contributions to the Wesleyan: Scott Price, CEO of Fort Construction in Fort Worth Texas, says, “I’ve been fortunate this summer to employ a future Wesleyan basketball star. Jared Langs (’25) is six foot ten and will be a freshman this coming season. He has worked for me as an Assistant Superintendent during the summer. It has been great fun to stay in touch with Coach Joe Reilly and provide a little support for Wesleyan basketball. My two boys both live in Colorado and are enjoying the lifestyle I hope to retire into—they outsmarted me!

And finally a blast from our past: Scott Hecker let us know that the combined personnel of Praxis and Urban Renewal joined forces and rocked the house with a two-night reunion concert July 23–24 at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Under the musical direction of Robert Levin, participants included: Matt Penn, Bill Yalowitz, Dave Samuels ’79, Doug Cuomo, Billy Hunter ’78, Paul Spiro, Joe Galeota MA ’85, and Bryant Urban ’81.

JACQUIE SHANEBERGE MCKENNA | jmckenna@indra.com