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69 years reunited

 

Reunion is host to 1,100

By DANIEL JACKOVINO, Contributing Writer
Published: Friday, July 11, 2008 7:20 AM EDT
THE CHATHAMS  The 2008 Great Reunion brought Chatham grads home again this past
Independence Day weekend.


More than two years in the planning, the get-together reunited 1,100 high school graduates to do some
catching up amid the annual and much celebrated hometown Fourth of July.

Chatham High School was divided into separate high schools  borough and township  from 1966 through 1988.
It reopened in 1989 as a regional high school serving the township and the borough.    

Classmates from as long ago as 1939 and as far away as New Zealand attended this third Great Reunion,
previously held in 1985 and 1997. Another Great Reunion planned for the next long Fourth of July weekend
coming in the year 2019.
 
“Even though the weather was a little shaky, it worked out well,” said Arnie Goetchuis, 1949, who supervised
the reunion’s database. “We tagged along with the Chatham Borough Volunteer Fire Department’s activities,
the parade and the fireworks.”

Activities for the Great Reunion included tennis and soccer matches, a picnic and a Saturday evening dinner-dance
under the big top  a tent large enough to accommodate 1,100 revelers erected on the Lafayette Avenue high school
field.

“The tent was spectacular,” said Amy Denecke, 1973, who helped coordinate the event. “The lights were shining up
and the ambience was really nice. It was just a glow. Everybody looked great, even the guys.”


Bell Curve Attendees

Denecke said that mapping out the attendance by class produced a bell curve. She indicated that there were few
people attending from the distant past; a swelling of the numbers when you came to graduates from the 1950s, 1960s
and 1970s and then a dropping off beginning in the late 1990s. She recognized that the earliest graduates were giving
way to old age and mortality and suggested a reason for the low numbers for the youngest graduates.

“It depends on how their lives turned out, I think. Some people are nervous because they’re not doing what they
thought they’d be doing or as well as they wanted,” she said. “When you’re young, you don’t appreciate as much
where you come from, being blessed and growing up in Chatham.”

Pete Steffens, 1966, chairman of all three Great Reunions, pointed out that earlier high school graduating classes
were also smaller.

The younger graduates, he suggested, had not yet had the necessary time to fully appreciate the meaning of a
“great reunion.”

Goetchius thought the biggest fear people had at a reunion was not remembering someone’s name. As the data
base manager, Goetchius produced the nametags.

“What I did was print everyone’s first name on their tag in 46-point bold. You could see it from 20-feet away,”
he said. “The people in Chatham have a unique spirit. They like to come home. Thomas Wolfe said you can’t,
but these people do.”

Creator

The first Great Reunion was the brainchild of Paul Harris, 1953.

Speaking from his home in Eureka, Calif., Harris recalled hearing a California neighbor gush about her high South
Pasadena High School class reunion in 1985.

“The next day, I was in the living room of the person who organized it,” Harris said. “I did research about what they
did and came up with a plan for what I thought the Chatham people would like.”  Harris said he was unable to attend
this year’s reunion due to illness.

According to Goetchius, the oldest graduates were from the class of 1939  Becky Allen Jarvis and Daniel Rice.
The two reunited at the fire departments picnic Friday, July 4, at the Chatham Middle School on Main Street.

“He reminded me about when we went roller skating in Florham Park,” Jarvis said. “We were the last ones on the floor.”

Rice said that it wasn’t until the two started up a conversation at the picnic that he knew he was with the Becky Allen.

Jarvis was a Chatham High School cheerleader and Rice was voted most handsome.

Jarvis attended the reunion with her daughter, Pam Jarvis McHugh. McHugh indicated that three generations of
her family are Chatham High School graduates, including two sons and a third in the class of 2011.

Also in attendance was television personality Dr. Robi Ludwig, 1983.

Traveling the furthest was James Thompkins, 1964, who came from New Zealand. Coming from Oslo, Norway, was
Babil Valen-Sendstad Stray-Pedersen 1962.

“The best part was not only seeing people they expected,” Denecke said, “But the bonus was running into people
they hadn’t even thought about seeing and getting reacquainted.

“We had FBI agents and truck drivers and you wouldn’t have known the difference because everybody was just
home in Chatham.”