We held our 55th Reunion of the Wesleyan Class of 1966 on Zoom. There were two sessions—the evenings of May 27 and 29—both totally enjoyable. Twenty-three of our classmates attended. Tom Broker, Larry Carver, Rick Crootof, Gif Lum, Dan Lang, David Luft, Dave McNally, John Neff, Sandy Shilepsky, and Sandy Van Kennen attended both sessions. Essel Bailey, Jack Beeler, Pat Curry, Jeff Evans, Paul Gilbert, Jack Knapp, Peter Monro, Barry Reder, and Bud Smith joined us on the first night. Bill Fehring, Steve Giddings, Tom Richey, and Hardy Spoehr tuned in on the second. Both nights were laced with good and often moving accounts of lives well lived, humor and good fellowship reigning. Jack Knapp, thinking about his grandchildren, opened with a question that resonated with everyone: What kind of education will equip the young for a future with so many challenges, any one of which would be enough for any generation? Essel, who sits on the Wesleyan Board of Trustees, talked about Wesleyan’s strategic plans to provide that education. He also caught us up with his staff’s remarkable success in dealing with COVID in his long-term care facilities, two cases among 1,600 living there. His venture in viniculture, Knights Bridge wine, is going well.
Professor Broker and his wife, Louise, are still conducting their important research on human papillomaviruses, and Tom has taken up racewalking. My account of not being prepared for Wesleyan, my struggles in the first few years, opened up e-mail discussions with Jack Beeler and Jack Knapp, the latter recalling “my first class on the first day, a lecture in philosophy that was part of the integrated program. The instructor, a newly minted assistant professor whose name I have forgotten, walks in, mounts the podium and begins with words I will never forget: ‘I assume you all know the difference between a priori and a posteriori reasoning.’ I stared dumbly into space for a moment and then wrote in my notebook ‘Jack, you’ve made a big mistake. True story; I used it in several commencement addresses.” Dave McNally recalled his class on November 22, 1963, and spoke movingly of having ALS. Dave’s mentioning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to campus sparked a conversation, many chiming in. Laughter flowed from Sandy Van Kennen’s ongoing story of becoming an entrepreneur of marijuana. Gif gave a harrowing account of his wrestling with cancer and a splenectomy, the good news being that he is on the mend. Bud Smith’s life is chock-full of good things, a wonderful marriage of 50 years, golf, fishing, and writing—he recently being the winner of the Midwest Review of Fiction Award. Sandy Shilepsky, while keeping up with mathematics, has taken up pickleball. Really! He also talked about his and his wife’s plans to move to a cottage in Charleston’s Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community (Paul Gilbert is planning on moving there as well). Dan Lang and his wife are keeping up their extensive gardening, having made their fifth trip to the Artic. Dan continues to teach one course at the University of Toronto. Barry Reder and his wife, Annie, also avid gardeners, live on an acre and a quarter outside San Francisco. Barry, recovering from a bad bout with strep, is enjoying family life, loves golf. The peripatetic Peter Monro continues his epic hikes. His work on carbon pricing to address climate change is gaining traction. John Neff, who moved to Winston–Salem in 2001, is keeping busy giving talks and completing a work on the watercolors of A.R. Ammons. Rumor has it that with COVID restrictions lifting, he has a date.
Rick opened our second session by paying tribute to those in our class who have died since the 50th Reunion, 2016: Michael Botein; Robert Killheffer; William Hauser; Alton Flanders; John Harter; Roland Crowl; John Baxter; Henry Lufler; George “Rick” Churchill; Thomas Francis; Richard Mastronarde; and Peter Spiller. Rick, who knows nearly everyone in our class, had words for all. Others chimed in with memories, Hardy on Thomas Francis, a football teammate and one incredible athlete who still holds the Wesleyan record for the hammer throw. John Neff shared a story that shed light on the enigmatic person Richard Mastronarde apparently was.
Then David Luft, Steve Giddings, Bill Fehring, Tom Richey, and Hardy Spoehr spoke of their lives, their memories of Wesleyan. David evoking Wesleyan’s liberal education as an ideal that has guided him; Steve recounting his 25-year career as a Foreign Service Officer with USAID, his three children, and heart surgery; Bill recalling a class with David McAllester and an evening and night spent in the presence and incense of Ravi Shankar; Tom, in that slow, beautiful, Georgia accent, recalling his early studies in philosophy, his becoming a lawyer, his volunteer legal work, his family being a Wesleyan one—his brother Russ (’63) a graduate along with Tom’s two sons; and Hardy telling us a startling story about hitchhiking back to Middletown in the night and being picked up by none other than President Butterfield. The discussions, the back and forth, were poignant and humorous.
Bill took away another valuable experience from McAllester’s class. Attending an African American Church at McAllester’s suggestion, he learned to play the tambourine. Years later, while working in the South, he used his music skills to connect with the community; this would go on to help him in working with African Americans on environmental stewardship. In a recent update, Bill writes: “Bianca and I continue to survive the pandemic by being careful. Now that we’ve both been vaccinated, we’re looking forward to a bit more freedom with other vaccinated friends. I spend much of my time hiking, flying my plane, and taking photographs. Until the pandemic I was teaching wetland biology, birding, and photography at a local preserve . . . I have visited with Rick several time over the last few years to attend Orioles spring training games or photography outings.”
Tom Pulliam, who was down the hall from me on Foss Hill our freshman year, has lived in San Francisco since 1971. He has “just completed an undefeated season coaching my grandson’s U12 rugby team . . . have had an awful lot of fun with sports in my lifetime (including 48 years playing rugby that began at Wesleyan and four national championship teams), but nothing has given me more pleasure than helping these kids learn rugby skills, then watching them go out and execute them beautifully against much larger opponents. Aside from that, retired from law practice several years ago and find being a grandpa and rugby coach vastly better than trying cases around the country . . . daughter, husband, and four kids live about 5 minutes away . . . son and his girlfriend live about 20 minutes away . . . having them all so close makes life very, very enjoyable . . . especially during this past, exceedingly strange year. We really never missed a beat, spending lots and lots of time with the family. Married 51 years to Alice, still living in the one and only house we’ll ever own.”
In response to Tom’s update I wrote in part: “Though we shared the same floor on Foss Hill as freshmen, I did not know of your prowess in rugby and wish I had, those four national championship teams being impressive. My most vivid memory of you was one evening when I was going to take a shower around 10:00 p.m., having just finished a paper for our English class. I asked how your paper was coming along: ‘I haven’t started it yet.’ I got a B; you received an A.” This exchange sparked these memories from Tom:
“I remember freshman year on Foss Hill. We had quite a bunch on that hall with poor Jim Dresser trying to keep us in order—Jimmy Byrne, Steve Murphy ’68, Don Berger (my roommate) and assorted others. Yes, my work habits were not something to be proud of. The first paper I wrote freshman year I finished days early then proceeded to revise and revise to make it perfect—it earned me a C+. I decided then and there that I could do that well by writing papers the night before they were due and did exactly that the rest of my four years. I was very fortunate things worked out as they did.
“Coach Don Russell made a huge difference in my life. After playing freshman basketball for him, he made me a starting second baseman on the baseball team over a highly recruited teammate. I think he appreciated my determination (inherited from my mom). I ran into him in Oregon where I was traveling with my wife and little kids. There was some NCAA event at the same place we were staying; had a wonderful time talking with him. I went on to have a lot of fun playing baseball for years, then won some slow-pitch softball championships in San Francisco as a pitcher of nothing but knuckleballs, which danced in the San Francisco winds.
“Hiking is good, especially where you have sights like that in your photo—country like that is good for the soul. My family lived in Golden, Colorado, a few years. I loved waking to the sight of the Rocky Mountains, worked doing remodeling construction in the summer there, including building a cabin in Tin Cup, in the mountains. Loved it and would have done that instead of practicing law if it had paid as well. Got back to the Rockies years later, playing a few times in the Aspen Ruggerfest, winning a memorable championship in 1976 in the mud against a rep side (i.e., all star team) from Southern California. Very good to rekindle old Wesleyan memories, Larry.”
Clark Byam “will have 49 years with same firm in September and am retiring at end of year. Had first year of law school right after graduation from Wesleyan then went into naval aviation in summer 1967 and came back to Hastings Law School in 1970 to complete last two years of law school. Now enjoy golf, following stock market, and hiking in hills where I live about 5.5 miles per day. Stay healthy.”
“I am doing well,” Robert Rockwell writes, “but we are delighted the mask business is about to go away as is everyone. Retirement is calming but we miss in-person activities, don’t we? We mourn for our classmates and their families who lost members. There must be quite a few, certainly some fellow ’66ers. We extend a collective embrace to them. All is well here and trout season proceeds apace—the ultimate in social distancing. Lots of reading and the like this past year. But it’s time to start gathering again, and I wish a great summer to all.”
And this update from Barry Thomas, about life in rural North Carolina and his and Connie’s work in Burundi. “Here in the mountains of North Carolina, life seems to be rather quickly getting back to ‘normal.’ Although still a bit cautious, I am relying on the vaccine and the herd immunity which seems to be taking hold, at least, in this neck of the woods. The county in which I live has not recorded a new case of COVID-19 for some weeks. There are two existing cases who are in residential care. I became part of a research study soon after the pandemic hit and am doing a blood check by mail each month that determines if my antibodies (from the vaccine) continue to be active. It is an interesting process.
“In Burundi, great progress is being made on the construction of two school modules, each with two classrooms, for the preschool that began operating in open and temporary facilities in March 2020. Work began on the first module the end of May and then on the second module last week. The expectation is to have the new buildings available for classes and 112, four- to six-year-old girls and boys in September. The project also includes latrines and a kitchen.
“It has been very interesting and invigorating for us to get a sense of the commitment by the parents in the community to the project. Although there is a project manager with engineering credentials and a crew of ‘professional’ masons doing the brickwork, we are employing community people, men and women, on rotating two-week shifts to do the heavy-lifting type work. It provides an opportunity for local people to earn some cash income. One will see women with babies strapped to their backs working with hoe and shovel in hand. This little project is injecting significant energy into this subsistence-based community, and we hope the preschool experience will help launch these little kids onto a track leading to a better future.
“The challenges of covering operating costs (teacher salaries, classroom materials, security, etc.) lie ahead, and we hope to be able to electrify the new facilities in a next phase of development. The solar installation that is planned would provide the first electricity in the Butanuka set of villages with about 30,000 people.”