CLASS OF 1956 | 2021–2022 | WINTER ISSUE

Our May Reunion was a qualified success. Owing to the pandemic, of course, we couldn’t gather together on the campus, but we did the next best thing—we met on Zoom. Participation was limited; 21 steadfast classmates on screen: Dick Bauer, Bill Bixby, Dick Boyden, Bob Bretscher, Bob Calvin, Pete Gardiner, Art Goodkind, Jim Gramentine, Al Haas, Dick Irwin, Jay Kaplan, Jim Katis, Larry La Brie, Sandy Mendelson, Mort Paterson, Phil Trager, Dave Thompson, Art von Au, Jim Wagner, Paul Weston, and yours truly had a lively exchange of news, memories, and aspirations for our post-COVID future. Unable to attend but sending their greetings were Bill Horrocks, Guy DeFrances, and Dave Wolf. I was impressed by the general sense of optimism from a group that has been around, as Bill Horrocks observed, for four scores and seven years. I also marveled at the number of classmates who have, like Ann and me, lived in our current residences for 55 years or more. A particular highlight of the event was Mort Paterson’s show of his recent paintings. Best of all was the prevailing attitude that “We ought to do this again.” Which we should—when the stars align correctly. Kudos to my fellow Reunion committee members (Boyden, Irwin, Thompson) who hashed out the format, and sincere thanks to alma mater’s stalwart staff for making it happen.

Dick Bauer’s assessment: “Like you, I thought it was a rather good reunion given the Zoom parameter. What pleased me was the number of our classmates engaged in public enrichment initiatives despite our advanced ages.”

Al Haas writes: “Thank you once again for your integral contribution to keeping the ’56ers connected. The recent cyber-reunion efforts on the part of the University staff with your involvement resulted in a wonderful walk down memory lane and surely a ‘bucket list’ item for many, including me. I am not sanguine that my classmates need to hear that I am still engaged fully with our business of working with high school students on the school and college application process, which is increasingly vexing, competitive, and wrought. Our interest from the outset was to provide guidance to qualified international students from around the world who wanted to study in America. I learned from living and traveling abroad that many top students were attending third-rate colleges, a clear mismatch not good for the American image worldwide. I intend to keep it up as long as I have ‘fooled’ our students that I know what I am talking about. After all, it takes a young one to detect a phony. So far, so good. Warm regards to one and all.”

From Jim Wagner: “Things are slowly returning to normal around here. The church my wife and I attend had its first full set of all ‘in person’ services on July 4, a dual celebration of our independence from Britain and COVID-19! Some of the nice concerts in the area are returning, either this summer or next fall. We hope to attend some with friends, as we no longer need a car and there are close to a hundred clubs and activities right here where we live!”

Tom Plimpton had “two things to report: I had my bladder cancer surgically removed in July. (2) On Saturday, July 3, my two daughters, Liz and Katie, went to Minnesota for one week to a resort owned by a cousin of ours. Keep up the good work—peace and joy.”

Get well, Tom. We’re all pulling for you.

Jay Kaplan’s daughter has informed us of the sad and startling news of her father’s unexpected death on September 1. We last “saw” Jay during our Zoom reunion in May. He seemed then to be, as always, energetic, enthusiastic, and fully engaged. He was a generous contributor to this column, because, of course, he had much to convey. It’s safe to say that in his 87 years, Jay didn’t waste a single one of them. He will surely be missed. His obituary can be seen in The Washington Post. Our hearts go out to Samantha, her brother Lael, and to Ann, his bride of 57 years.

Incidentally, I’ve retrospectively given our Reunion a handle: Fifty-six’s sixty-fifth [56’s 65th]. My spreadsheet tells me that a quasi-palindromic reunion is a once-a-century phenomenon! I’ll send you a copy if you need proof.

CLASS OF 1956 | 2021 | ISSUE 1

First, the bad news: We are all twice as old as Tom Brady, and collectively we have not won a single Super Bowl.

    Next, some good news: We are all twice as old as Tom Brady.

     I asked classmates how they are coping with the coronavirus. Dick Boyden, John Foster, and Tom Plimpton probably spoke for most of us. They are keeping the home fires burning and biding their time.

     Ray and Jim Gramentine “are holding up well; had our first Moderna vaccination on February 11. To date we cannot have any visitors inside St. John’s (our large Milwaukee retirement institution), but our wonderful daughter brings us sustenance by meeting in the parking lot.”

     Loni and Al Haas report “Our family is well, and our two children and six grandchildren are all within driving distance around Boston. Needless to say, the pandemic has caused pain and strain for our close family. The oldest are freshmen at the University of Miami (Meteorology) and Dartmouth (Big Data) and the next is our only granddaughter who committed to Dartmouth a year ago for lacrosse. A fourth is considering Wesleyan for photography and film in 2022. We will be back on Nantucket for our annual reinvigoration this summer. It is a pity that we may not be able to convene for our 65th. I suppose, in the greater scheme of things, there are more important sounds in our lives than ‘the bells of old South College.’” Al sends “Warm regards to classmates and friends, one and all.”

     Jay Kaplan writes: “Ann and I are both well. I have hardly been out of the house for the past year. I have my trainer come to me via Zoom. Virtually everything is delivered. I have only gone outside for safe walks in my neighborhood and to go to the doctor for my annual physical. My doctor confirmed that I am healthy, and I feel that way.

The Library Committee of the Cosmos Club apparently enjoyed my last book, In Search of Beauty. They have invited me to give a talk to the whole membership on it, which I will be doing in several months. In the meantime, I am now working on another book. My new one will be a novel about an international lawyer. It is a disguised autobiography except the protagonist is young and a bachelor (so I could get a bit of bachelor romance in it). I spend some of my time listening to frequent lectures put on by my club via Zoom on a broad variety of subjects. I also have my periodic board meetings of the Explorers Club and committee meetings of the Cosmos Club and the Philosophic Society of Washington. All in all, I am keeping myself fairly occupied.”

     From Bob Calvin: “I always wear something red for good luck on the Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, there will be no dragon parade in Chicago.

     “Jane and I have had our two COVID vaccinations with no ill effects. Northwestern Hospital is vaccinating 2,000 people a day. It was a seamless event. We feel very lucky and relieved.

     “We have mounds of snow in front of our house and it has been below 20 degrees now for two weeks. I stay sane by going to the gym twice a week to swim and hit tennis balls. We mainly pick the balls up but it is good exercise.

     “Twice a week Jane and I tutor Spanish-speaking immigrants, some undocumented, in conversational English. We do this on Zoom. We are learning a great deal about their experiences and journey.”

     Gary Miller feels “very lucky to be here in North Carolina, out of the snow belt and enjoying a little less stress because Marge and I got our vaccination shots in February with almost no side effects. We made one phone call, got our first shots the next day and were given an appointment for our second shots, two weeks later. Each shot took 30 minutes including paperwork, shots and wait time included, to be sure we didn’t develop an allergic reaction. We were advised to continue distancing, masking, and hand washing until the coast is clear (probably late this year). We may also get to visit the grocery store later than seven in the morning.

     “We’re doing well and hoping to be able to get to our summer place in Maine again this summer for our 27th summer.”

      Our sincere condolences to Leatrice Fung, who wrote: “My husband of 62 years, Lawrence Fung, passed away on September 18, 2020 in our home in Honolulu. May this year of the ox bring your class good health, peace, and happiness.” Larry entered Wesleyan with us, but graduated from Boston University.

     And to Margo Jenkins. George O. Jenkins III succumbed on February 4, 2021. Jay retired from the family businesses in 1995 and settled on Cape Cod, where he pursued his loves of world travel, sailing, model boats, clocks, and entertaining fellow Eclectics. He will be missed.

CLASS OF 1956 | 2020 | ISSUE 3

How to describe 2020? Weird? Scary? Boring? Lonely? Frustrating? Challenging? For Ann and me it’s been all that and more—I’ve rarely left our house except to walk around our block. But we celebrated our 60th anniversary at home with our daughter Judy ’84 and our granddaughter Jeannette. The next weekend we gathered our whole family—all eight of us. The “kids” (all masked) played a board game named Pandemic. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Other stay-at-homes included Walt Ebmeyer: “I’m in ‘The Home’ and not an awful lot goes on here. But I did make contact with my old roomie, Phil Crombie, who seems fine and busy. My kids are fine, 

and their six kids range from 16 to 7. I don’t know who’s going to Wesleyan. A few months ago they visited New York and now talk about nothing but NYU.”

And Tom Plimpton: “The COVID-19 kept us at home. No Minnesota vacation with our cousin; no Civil War trip; no visiting our daughter in Bloomington, Indiana—just staying very close to home. We do have a state park in Indy, and Judy and I go picnicking once or twice a week.”

Dick Bauer is “maintaining sanity, but succumbing to what I’ve dubbed ‘COVID-19 Irritability.’ Trying to make my peace with Zoom, but not always succeeding. Most recent experiment: having residents request songs from the American Songbook that have special meaning for them, then playing them on the piano. Interesting stories  . . . and a little different way to at least attempt to foster connecting in this isolating era.”

Just before COVID-19 shut everything down, Betty and Jim Wagner moved into a nice senior living community that has excellent protocols for protection and has had very few cases. What’s more, the food is excellent, and Jim has “a superb view of the sky for spectacular meteorological and astronomical observations!”

Anne and Bill Moyle “left our retirement community and moved to our nearby lake place in March and stayed for 5½ months. We had anywhere from no one else there to up to eight other family-member escapees. That included a NYC granddaughter, her husband, and their two-year-old son, our first great grandchild. No way we would have gotten to know Will as well as we did except for COVID-19!”

     Jay Kaplan used the COVID-19 recess productively, “reading some of those books I should have read years ago. I started with British writer Ian McEwan, and loved his work so much that I read 20 of his books. My favorite was The Children Act. (A wonderful movie based on this book was made, which you can find on Amazon Prime.) I then turned to J.M. Coetzee and read a good number of his books, including Disgraced, which was my favorite. I then turned to Saul Bellow, who I am enjoying very much. Thus far, Herzog is my favorite.” Jay’s book Secrets and Suspense is selling well; his In Search of Beauty, about his art collections, a little less well. Zoom lessons have enabled Jay to maintain his fitness.

Bob Calvin has been reading, too: Caleb’s Crossing, Spying on the South, and Eric Larson’s book on Churchill, The Splendid and the Vile. He reports no medical problems and staying fit with swimming, tennis, and walks with Jane. They have taken a few car trips to Western Illinois to walk along the Mississippi River and commune with nature. Once a month, they have a delightful four-way telephone conversation with Ronna and Art VonAu. Bob adds, “All the violence in Chicago and the U.S. is very upsetting. It’s interesting to see the Civil Rights movement in which so many in our class were involved is emerging with some changing issues.”

    From Jim Gramentine: “Our first great grandchild, Boden James Finke, was born on July 19th. Weighing in at 9 lbs, 3 oz, he mastered the fine art of eating and figured out the political landscape quickly.”

     Our best story came from my one-time roommate, Whit Rusk: “I went to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, in late January with a sore, raspy throat and came back home with a plan to remove my entire voice box—diagnosis: cancer! Not really wanting that, we went to Greenwich, Connecticut, where son Rob lives. His wife Alice, who is chief of neurology at the Yale New Haven Hospital System, sent me to Sloan Kettering in New York where she interned. The tiniest doctor there immediately told me, ‘You don’t need surgery; you need treatment.’ So—chemotherapy, radiation, and 36 visits (every weekday) to the New York Proton Center—plus a bout of pneumonia thrown in—and I’m now said to be cancer-free! All this during the COVID-19 debacle! For six months we didn’t leave our son’s house except for treatments. We are home now just waiting for the chemo and radiation effects to wear off—but I am regaining strength, and I can talk! I suppose you could say that 2020 has been pretty good to me.”

Way to go, Whit!

George Chien | gchien@optonline.net