Last week, Cliff and I attended my 60-year-college class reunion at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Harrisonburg, VA is a long way from north Florida, so we took a Delta flight. The distance measured in time: a 14 to16-hour car trip, or a 4-hour flight, allowing extra time for one layover.
Laden with luggage, we navigated the complex Atlanta airport, Cliff appropriating a modified wheelchair to make a tight connection. Although I’d sent copies of My Checkered Life on ahead, there was still a LOT to chug, running from Concourse A3 to D33. Phew!
In Charlottesville, we finally arrived at the friendly car rental kiosk. Friendly and casual, “We’ll help you load up.”
Famished, we found food at Macado’s, famous for stuffed sandwiches and such.
At last, on Friday, a leisurely stroll through the EMU campus, nestled “amid the purple mountains of Virginia,” the opening lyrics to our college song. Here, the college center, our former administration building followed by the logo for the prize-winning sports’ teams, the EMU Royals. Ten years ago, I visited the campus in 2013, but that’s a different story.
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The next day, Friday, I presented a PowerPoint story about writing Mennonite Daughter: the Story of a Plain Girl to residents of VMRC, the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Center. Before my talk, Arlene Leaman Kliewer (in red) surprised me by showing up. In our youth we were both members Bossler Mennonite Church near our hometown of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Here, Arlene and I catch up with a laugh as other residents begin to gather in the Strite Auditorium.
On Saturday, members of the Class of 1963 gathered at the Cline Community Center, festively decorated with the EMU colors, blue and silver. I met up with former room-mates, ate a delicious chicken & veggie dinner, and presented an homage to class member who have passed on. Three other class mates and I were able to display our books for purchase as well.
On Sunday morning, reunion attendees and others gathered in the Lehman Auditorium on campus to worship and to honor former graduates with distinguished service awards. I was dumbstruck by the presence of a gargantuan pipe organ, one of the largest in Virginia, enjoying pride of place in the right front corner of the sanctuary. Musical instruments were verboten in worship when I was a student. In fact, our class gifted the college with its very first piano, to be used exclusively for piano instruction, not to interfere with à cappella singing, so valued in Mennonite culture.
My, how times have changed!
Before leaving the campus, I snapped a photo of artist Esther Augsburger’s sculpture Guns into Plowshares from two angles. Formerly, the art piece was prominently placed In Washington, D. C., a peace monument fashioned from 3000 handguns, weaponry donated by the District’s police. Mrs. Augsburger’s son, Michael, assisted her in the logistics of creating this 20-foot-tall plowshare.
The morning was brightened when Verna Mohler Colliver and I spied each other after the worship service. She and I were room-mates at EMC/EMU, and after graduation both secured positions teaching English at Lancaster Mennonite School in Pennsylvania and became roommates again. Another EMU graduate, Dr. Stan Godshall, snapped our photo (below), and later we reminisced some more over soup and baguettes at Panera.
Our class treasurer, Verna is currently participating in a project to honor and to educate students and other citizenry about Indigenous Peoples. She will be part of a Native American event at Lebanon Valley College (PA) in November.
On Monday, our final day amid the purple mountains, Cliff and I visited with Melodie Miller Davis and her husband Stuart over a bagel breakfast. Melodie and I have read and reviewed each other’s books, but until now, had not met face to face. I have her to thank for all of the photos taken at VMRC. An editor and author of various cookbooks and at least two memoirs, she has recently published My Unimagined Career: 43 Year Inside Mennonite Media.
Some snafus. . . no trip is complete without them!
- I got very sick about 3 days into our excursion. Did I catch a stomach bug during the plane trip? Was my sickness a result of catching a late lunch at a not-to-be-named diner with questionable sanitation standards a day earlier?
- The audio-visual presentation I prepared to honor deceased class members did not project from the LCD camera as planned. Class members gathered around my small computer screen up front to view the tribute. Later, it occurred to me that I could transfer the presentation to YouTube where others could view at their leisure, multiple times. Even absent class members would not miss out!
If you are interested, you can click below. The video also shows plain hair styles of women graduates in the 1960s at EMC — and some men with plain suits cut in the Nehru style. Music: Ashokan Farewell
Meeting old friends and seeing haunts from long ago was a highlight of our trip. However, nature put on a glorious show, one blue and golden day after another.
Has my recent trip sparked memories of school days, college semesters, or other milestones in your life?
If you are an EMC/EMU graduate, are your memories similar to mine? different?