It was as if the campus had decided to outshine even the sunniest memories of the many Dartmouth alumni who gathered in Hanover on June 8–17 for Reunion 2007.
From sun-up to up-late, from the Connecticut River to Chase Field, scores of Reunion events unfolded over 10 days of Upper Valley springtime at its most glorious, each day seeming even lovelier than the one before. There were just a couple of playful rain showers—for the start of Commencement, natch—and the occasional roll of thunder, adding momentousness to alumni speeches around campus, through skies gilded with evening light and peach-colored clouds.
Taking it all in were 4,066 people from the Classes of 1947,1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1977, 1982, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 2002. Bringing record-setting crowds were the 55th, 30th, and 25th Reunion classes: The Class of 1952 returned 111 alumni and a total of 197 people, both records; the Class of 1977 brought 148 alumni and 329 people total, both records; and the Class of 1982 brought a record 390 alumni.
At any given moment, you might find the fireworks of the Class of 1982 throwing a backdrop to Baker Tower, or parents and teens from the Classes of 1977 and 1982 rowing the river, or the '47s belting it out around a piano in the Hanover Inn, or the '62s swinging golf clubs and tennis rackets, or the Classes of 1991–1993 and 2002 partying late-night with a little pong and song, or any of the classes enthralled by a faculty presentation in an Alumni College at Reunion class. And on and on.
But all the Reunion classes had one thing in common: an interest in forging new links among themselves and between the Dartmouth of their past and the Dartmouth of today.
Sam Ostrow, Class of 1967 president, may have said it best in describing the ‘67s' approach to Reunion: “Many years ago we decided to have as much as time as possible in conversation about things that count, just to be together, to talk about important things.” The class adopted Nancy Smoyer '67a, the sister of Bill Smoyer '67, who was killed in Vietnam soon after graduation; Nancy has spent many years working with veterans.
Wishing to extend their conversation into future generations, the '67s also adopted the Hood Museum of Art's “Space for Dialogue,” a project lovingly supported for several years with annual gifts by the Class of 1948. “Dialogue” allows Dartmouth undergraduates to curate a mini-exhibition from among the Hood's vast collections, carrying out all the steps a professional curator does. It's one of the things, museum director Brian Kennedy said at a reception for members of the two classes, that makes the Hood “different from other museums.”
Bud Elliott '48 was looking for a younger class to take up his class's cherished project, and with the support of Ostrow and Hood Board of Overseers member Hugh Freund '67, the '67s jumped in, raising an endowment of more than $200,000 to support the project in perpetuity.
Among several Reunion class exhibitions and programs devoted to the creative careers of Dartmouth alumni were the readings and presentations organized by photographer Nora Odendahl '77 for her classmates' 30th reunion.
Presenters included two architects, Roger Wolf '77 and David Torrey '77, who exhibited examples of his own watercolors and photographs of “beach cryptoarchaeology,” or, as he put it, “the study of unknown and possibly unreal civilizations.”
Gary Rogers '77 read a chapter from a novel by his friend John Mugglebee '77, resident of southern France ever since a postgraduate bicycle tour 29 years ago. Professor, psychiatrist, and author Kathy Phillips '77 shared her research on body image disorders and perceptions, which has shown “that nearly as many men as women dissatisfied with how they look” and that “men overestimate how muscular they think women want them to be, by 10 or 20 pounds of muscle.”
Sports biographer John Bird '77 recounted how his 1995 biography of Pittsburgh Pirate Bill Mazeroski helped the second baseman finally make it into the Hall of Fame. Actors Jennifer Warren '77 and Richard Stillman '77 gave a moving reading of Jay MacNamee '77's one-act play, Do I Look Like Your Wife? Portraying two strangers contemplating a leap from the roof of a doomed skyscraper, the play is based, MacNamee explained, on 9/11 and “all the personal stories that may or may not have happened.” It won first prize at the 2007 State University of New York at Brockport Festival of Ten.
At their dinner next to the Friends of Rowing Boathouse, the Class of 1972 cheered Charlie Nearburg '72's acceptance of a Dartmouth Alumni Award from the Dartmouth Alumni Council. Oil producer, professional race-car driver, and aviator, Nearburg has contributed in many ways to a long list of Dartmouth causes. The Texas native said that Dartmouth had been the last campus he'd visited as a youth looking at colleges. “When I saw the Green and the student workshops at the Hopkins Center,” he recalled, “I was just astonished.” With the help of then dean Carroll Brewster '57a, Nearburg put together a modified major of engineering and studio art: “It's now the most popular modified major at the engineering school,” Nearburg noted.
Among the most gratifying of his many postgraduate Dartmouth activities over the years, Nearburg said, has been hiring some sixty Dartmouth undergraduates: “Seeing what they can do, noting their attitude towards life, learning again the difference Dartmouth still makes.” And, he joked,“Since they're not your kids, you can send them home at the end of the summer.”
When Robert Binswanger '52 suggested that, for their Reunion the Class of 1952 revisit with three events the much-loved Great Issues course of their Dartmouth days, some classmates wondered whether the events would attract much of an audience. In fact, the events were standing room only.
The legendary Great Issues program, which brought nationally prominent speakers to Hanover biweekly to speak to the whole senior class, “was probably the most maturing course we took,” said Bill Montgomery ‘52. “We had the head of the AFL-CIO; someone from the French government, which was changing practically every week; and it was the time of strong anticommunism, the McCarthy era. And the time of Korea—some of us had to worry about being drafted.” He added, “I would say we didn't have to wait 30 years to learn the value of what we learned.”
At their class meeting, the Class of 1947 focused on the continuing life of Dartmouth—support for the Presidential Internship, a John Sloan Dickey Center intern, the Tucker Foundation, and athletic recruiting; on their work in mentoring Dartmouth undergraduates and recent graduates; and on their next reunion—in 2013! “Yes, dear, there is life after the sixtieth,” quipped class president John Trethaway '47.
At lunch the '47s unveiled a portrait of Allen I. Bildner '47, '48Tu, and his wife, Joan, in honor of their extensive contributions to Dartmouth, including many in support of tolerance and diversity, as well as funding for the new Bildner Hall dorm.
Bildner, an All-American soccer player in his Dartmouth years, as his classmates are fond of recalling, has contributed to Dartmouth every year since he graduated. He concluded his thanks to his oldest Dartmouth friends by saying, “It is my duty every five years to tell you: you haven't changed a bit.”
Determined to keep her own classmates that way too, Gail Sullivan '82 organized a two-part class symposium titled “Living to 100”—especially appropriate, she said, “as we approach that age that rhymes with ‘nifty.'” Dr. Bradley Fanestil '82 presented the first part, “How to Live to be a Ripe Old Son-of-a-Bitch.” Among his recommendations: Eat dark chocolate, red vegetables, and food “close to the ground.” He said, “I'm a fan of turning us all into Italians. Have olive oil every single day.”
Dr. David J. Winchester '82 spoke about detecting, treating, and preventing common forms of cancer. His prevention recommendations: exercise, fruits and vegetables (the fresher the better), less stress, more sleep. (It was clear they'd have to take care of the last part after Reunion.)
Another '82 symposium, organized by Rebecca Ambrose '82, prompted a lively comparison of experiences balancing work, family, and community among class members from Lyme, N.H. to San Francisco. Has social capital diminished because of two-career families, long commutes, diverse communities, lack of planning, the increasing consumerism of middle class life? “You don't get to complain unless you're involved,” Ambrose concluded.
Gathered for their 50th Reunion luncheon, the Class of 1957 looked forward to their traditional Commencement march with the Class of 2007 the next day and also back to their own Commencement half a century ago. As class president Randolf Aires '57, '58Tu looked out at the packed West Gym audience and called for the singing of the Dartmouth Alma Mater, he noted that its composer, Harry Wellman, was a member of the Class of 1907, whose 50th Reunion class marched with the '57s at their Commencement.
“There is something about the place that draws us back through the generations,” said teacher and author Mike Lasser '57 during his 50th-year address. Yet “each of us possesses Dartmouth in our own way.”
Quoting Robert Frost, Lasser noted that his “poetry keeps you off balance … letting you find your own way in. A good school is like that, always inviting you in.
“Despite our innocence, our ignorance, and our bluster, Dartmouth took us seriously,” said Lasser. As a result, he said, “This class is part of Dartmouth, and Dartmouth is part of us, together and for all time.”
Peter is a freelance writer who writes frequently for Dartmouth Life and lives in the Lake Sunapee area.