MICHIGAN CITY – Planning a class reunion was not something Anne Haddad imagined doing – especially a 40-year reunion for three different high schools, two of which no longer exist.
But thanks to social media, free conference call meetings, and an online ticket-selling platform, the Baltimore resident is doing just that.
Not alone, of course, several others deserve credit for the first-ever joint reunion of the Class of 1979 from Rogers, Elston and Marquette high schools on Aug. 10.
"I think those of us who live out of town want a reunion most of all," Haddad said. "We don't have the pleasure of running into our classmates on a regular basis. Michigan City was a special place to grow up, where a lot of the typical socioeconomic, ethnic, religious and racial divisions were not as severely drawn as in a lot of other cities, so we had true diversity among our friends.
"I love seeing how they've blossomed into compassionate and smart leaders in their communities, proud parents and grandparents."
The idea for a combined reunion came from the group that planned the 30th reunion in 2009, which included Elston and Rogers grads.
They included Carol Korn Forsythe, Bill Espar, Laura Schultz Menke, Robin Shipley, Gale Lilley Gonder, Bill Landing and Laura Harlib Therrien – "an early adopter and wiz at social media who tracked down a lot of classmates," said Haddad, who's "sure I left out some important people."
The 30th reunion was a huge hit, she said.
"The best part for me was seeing classmates from St. Mary's School who went on to different high schools. I hadn't seen some of them since eighth grade, or at least we hadn't all been together ... there were people reconnecting who never would've seen each other again if there had been separate reunions."
The 40th reunion almost didn't happen.
"There almost wasn't going to be a reunion, but many of us who live elsewhere, and miss our friends and hometown, decided to join forces with those who still live in town," Haddad said.
Some of the planners from 2009 got together for a meeting last fall, Haddad said, but no one had time to lead the effort.
"It takes a lot of time and legwork, and our 'sandwich generation' is dealing with elderly parents, children and grandchildren, as well as jobs and our own health issues."
Technology made it possible, she said.
"We could harness the power of social media, we have a Facebook group page, and platforms such as EventBrite to handle ticket sales. We could meet via free phone conference calls."
They also had about $800 left from the last reunion for a deposit on the venue – Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa; and to hire Dee Haddad, Anne's sister-in-law and professional event planner, "to keep us on track, find the venue, the DJ, the photo booth, etc."
After the 30-year reunion, they had a couple of spreadsheets of alumni names and addresses, and then "people from each school stepped forward to help," Anne Haddad said.
In Michigan City, they included Dawn Malwin and Kellie Cuyler Switalski, Haddad said.
Malwin said they had to adapt to new technology.
"Graduates from the Class of 1979 grew up in a much simpler world and have had to adapt to a quickly changing and evolving modern world," she said. "We didn’t grow up with cell phones, GPS, the internet, social media or Blue Tooth.
"We cruised the drag from McDonald’s to the lake and back to see our friends. We had beach parties and cross-town rivalries in basketball and football. The cars we drove, and the toys and bikes we grew up with are now considered retro."
But, she added, "I am so thankful to have grown up when I did, and loved my time at Rogers High School."
Agreeing to help plan the reunion was never in doubt, she said.
"If all of this group effort had not come together, I would never have taken it on," Haddad said. "I have lived in Baltimore since 1990." Charlotte Free MIller, another organizer who lives in Toronto, "traveled from Switzerland for the last reunion, and her twin sister, Almena, came from Alabama."
Others who live out of town but are helping out include Anne Kintzele Chen and Erin Janus Mule, "and a lot of people on social media are helping spread the word," Haddad said.
Planning was more work than she expected, especially finding alumni.
"There is really no one reliable way to find everyone," she said. "I'm realizing a lot of people are not on social media. We were hoping not to have to mail notices, but now we're leaning toward maybe sending a postcard, though I'm sure some will end up undeliverable."
In the past, that was the only way.
"One of my classmates, Vicky Kabacinski Wolf, said her mother used to plan her high school reunions – every 5 years! She had it down to a system. She had records, contact info she was diligent about updating, and she really enjoyed doing it.
"After Vicky's mother died, the class hasn't had another reunion, Vicky told me."
While the main event will take place at Blue Chip, there will be other gatherings that weekend.
"When we were informally polling people, the overwhelming sentiment was to incorporate our beloved beachfront," Haddad said. So there will be a pre-reunion get-together at Sunset Grille on Friday, and a Saturday morning meet-up on the beach at Fedders Alley.
"It's the first time all three schools have planned a reunion together, and we are hoping this will allow some mini-reunions of alumni from all the parochial and public schools in Michigan City and surrounding townships," Miller said.
Those who attended St. Mary's are trying to arrange a group picture in front of the school, similar to one taken when they graduated.
Malwin said a combined event will be fun, but she remains loyal to Rogers.
"I was a member of the Raiderettes and performed during halftime at basketball and football games. I had friends from different ethnicities, different backgrounds, different religions, and enjoyed getting to know them. Rogers will always have a special place in my heart.
"My daughter, Lauren Werner, graduated from Michigan City High School a year ago and I spent a lot of time in the building for her activities. The hallways are the same; the library is the same; the auditorium reminded me of so many great plays and events. It felt like I was home whenever I was there. Even though the name on the building changed, it will always be Rogers to me."
Haddad said what impressed her most through the process was the camaraderie among former classmates.
"To give an example ... one classmate contacted me privately to pay for tickets for three friends who might've had trouble affording it. This person wanted to do it anonymously. And this person is not wealthy – just generous and loving, and excited about reuniting with old friends," she said.
"On a sadder note, the list of classmates who have passed away has grown ... so we want to treasure each other while we can."
Miller, already looking ahead, is issuing a challenge to classmates.
“Over the next 10 years, before we meet for our 50th, we will create our greatest imaginable challenge – vision. Can each of us live our best lives by contributing to the earth and to all populations in ways they’ve never done before? The challenge begins and 2029 will be our avenue to share big!"
CLASS OF 1979 COMBINED REUNION
WHAT: 40th reunion for alumni of Elston, Rogers and Marquette high schools
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9-10
AGENDA: Sunset Social on the Beach from 7-11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, at Sunset Grille in Washington Park
Meet-up at Lakeshore Coffee, 8-10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10.
Fun at Fedder's Alley, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10: A day of fun at the beach (look for the MC flag)
Dinner/dance Saturday, Aug. 10, at Blue Chip Casino Hotel and Spa's Orleans Ballroom with cocktail reception/social hour at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m., dance 7:30-11:30 p.m.
ACCOMODATIONS: Special room rates available at Blue Chip Casino Hotel and Spa; Microtel Inn & Suites; Country Inn & Suites.
TICKETS: $69 per person, available at eventbrite.com/e/class-of-79-reunion-michigan-city-in-tickets-61533563545?aff=eac2