By Jackie Ruiz, Editor
Class of 1971 celebrates their 50 year anniversary after COVID-19 changed their reunion plans in 2020.
According to former graduates Tom Welch and Mary Beth Harper, they were supposed to have an in-person reunion in 2020 but ended up having to do an online reunion instead.
“Tom really grabbed the reins and took it upon himself to organize and plan our reunion,” said Harper. “He wanted our reunion to bring people together and focus on moving ahead.”
Welch spent his life being an educator. He taught English and French and was a high school principal in Kentucky. Now, he works as a consultant around the country in world languages.
“I went into education, primarily because I was lucky enough to get a great education in Grand Island, and had so many truly amazing teachers who inspired me,” said Welch.
Harper said she got into journalism because of her high school journalism teacher who became a mentor for her.
“Sometimes we would go over to his house and have a meeting. Everyone loved it because it was convenient and a lot of fun,” she said.
Harper added that she worked in a school teaching journalism before she left to work at the newspaper in Wichita, Kansas. There, she did newspapers in the classroom that mainly focused on education.
“After moving to Ohio, I started my own writing business where I produced newsletters, press releases, and other marketing materials for schools,” she said, “I never considered myself a hard-writing journalist; in a way I was more into writing and marketing.”
Welch said there were four events scheduled for their reunion.
On Friday, September 30 appetizers were served at the Fonner Park Bosselem Center from 5 to 10 p.m. On Saturday October 1, there was a Harvest of Harmony Breakfast and Viewing at W 3rd Street. This event was also open for the “friends” of the class: teachers, kids, and grandkids. That day, there was also a beef and chicken dinner at Tommy Gunz from 5 to 10 p.m. Lastly on Sunday Oct. 2, there was a tour of the new Senior High stadium at 10:45 a.m.
Welch said he and the Grand Island Committee members worked hard to line up activities and venues, blocking hotel rooms, and handling registrations.
“We’ve also worked really hard to try to get in touch with as many classmates as possible,” he said.
He explained that they’ve “scoured” other sources of media to locate people using postcards and letters.
“We wanted to let folks know that we still care about them and hoped that they can join us,” Welch said, “All of those efforts have paid off and we had over 25% of the class who registered for at least one part of the weekend.”
Welch explained that they were determined to have an in-person reunion even though there was a pandemic.
“Even though it’s been well over a year since our actual reunion year, we were committed to going forward,” he said, “However, during the Pandemic we held a series of four ‘ReZoomions’ where we connected over several months on Zoom.”
Welch explained that this was a way to get more people involved since anyone with internet could join. They have all Zoom meetings recorded and posted on YouTube available to the class of 1971.
“Zoom reunions are really helpful because, unlike being at Fonner Park or Tommy Gunz, you are able to see everyone’s picture on a screen and interact with people that you might have walked by if you were at Fonner Park,” said Harper.
Welch said he hopes the reunion helped people in his class reconnect with each other.
“For many of us, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over half a century since we were together as a class,” he said.
Welch said that the reunion gave them a chance to see one another, recall fond memories, reconnect with friends, and make plans moving forward.
“I moved away shortly after high school and I only get to come to Grand Island because of the reunion,” he said, “It’s been fun being a part of the planning process and getting to see friends.”
Welch said they tried their best to make sure everyone felt welcomed, engaged, and energized by the renewing of friendships.
He added that if he could go back to high school he would tell his senior self to be courageous and embrace who you are.
“Embrace new experiences and always, always, always keep learning. Stay connected with those who’ve been a part of your life in Grand Island, and forge new connections with people from all over the world,” he said.