Well, we’re here! First some thanks. Thank you Steve, Elizabeth, Paula and Karen, the rest of the reunion committee, our former teachers and my wife, Doreen, for all of her support. I’d like to thank Alan M. for putting together our slide show, (despite wrenching his back and winding up in the Emergency room).
And I’d like to thank an alumna, I’ll leave unnamed, who was one of my early contacts. When I called her, she said “I hated Madison. I graduated in January and only 11 others came to the graduation. I never want to hear about that place again.” Click. She had thrown down the gauntlet.
Now, everyone asks “How did the idea for a 50th reunion get started in the first place?” Blame Steve F. Steve, stand up so everyone can see who the culprit is. I had called Steve on his 65th birthday, September 19, 2009. As usual, we got to talking about Brooklyn and how we met in Madison’s mixed chorus. And then Steve (yes it was you old friend) who said, “We’ve been out of high school almost 50 years; someone’s gotta be planning a reunion.” My old buddy Steve had to be right. He’d fly from California, I’d travel from Virginia. I could almost taste the New York bagels, feel the juices from a hot pastrami sandwich running down my chin and suffer again a burnt palate from that fresh hot Brooklyn pizza. We’d just find the organizer and sign up.
Not so easy-peasy! Arlene Weingoz who organized the last reunion almost 20 years ago had passed away. No one had picked up the torch, and her contact list was long gone. I couldn’t let this happen; I’d grab that torch and run with it, despite my dearth of high school friends. All I’d need do was pull together a reunion committee and then track down the 834 alumni from the Class of ’62. How hard could that be?
The all-years James Madison Alumni Association appointed me as a class representative and shared contact information for two dozen or so Class of ’62 alumni. Almost all were interested in a 50th reunion. Now, I’d have to find the rest, twenty-six down, only 808 to go.
This was a challenge I could take on. I was retired, had previously organized a huge family reunion and as a former CIO, knew a lot about how to organize my search and use the tools that were available. And, I had just finished an 18 month stint manning a suicide hotline. Talking to fellow alumni would be a lot less stressful than that. And, hopefully, I wouldn’t be speaking to some of the same people.
And how did I find alums after 50 years you ask? In a nutshell, I took full advantage of online people search tools, Facebook, classmates.com, the addresses from our yearbook, Google, microfilmed phonebooks, online genealogical databases, property records, networking among alumni and a zillion phone calls. Luckily, I had switched to an unlimited calling plan and didn’t have to hide the phone bills from my wife, like I did when I researched my family genealogy several years ago.
Armed with a standard introductory script, I started dialing. Five percent of the time, the phone went dead before I completed my first sentence. For those still talking to me, there were memories to share - of Dubrow’s, the neighborhood and the school. “Remember the pizza joint on Avenue M. and East 16th Street, taking a date to Cooky’s Restaurant on Avenue U., a charlotte russe on Avenue J.?” “Whatever happened to Candy L., the girl selected as prettiest, Karen E. voted most popular, Toby F., the dancer? I usually had an answer. By the time I had found 73% of the class, I had dialed nearly 2,000 phone numbers and left 500 messages on distant answering machines.
The search for lost alumni became addictive. Finding each new contact was like adding a rare photo to a scrapbook. Our website was now allowing alumni to reconnect, and the images that were posted there were turning a bunch of alta kakas back into teenagers. I received so much positive feedback and had a chance to help facilitate perhaps a dozen lunches among alumni who had just rediscovered each other.
Our alumni have achieved so much, they became teachers, physicians, psychologists, lawyers, technicians, accountants, business leaders and a whole bunch of folks who dedicated their lives to helping others. Perhaps most rewarding was my growing friendship with the core committee. Our meetings were so full of laughter, sometimes it was hard to get things done.
I heard so many great stories about classmates’ lives, and their days at Madison. I especially like these two.
A few of you may remember a fellow classmate, who came to Madison after some terrible experiences at the very strict Xaverian Catholic High School, Erasmus and Lincoln, failing numerous courses along the way and getting left back in the process. As he told me recently, he should have graduated in ’61, not in ’62. Madison initially stuck him into non-academic classes.
In his words “the often dreaded Dr. (Anton) Serota was the agent of my change. One day at the end of a class he asked me to stay for a bit. After everybody made an exit, he shut the doors and slammed me into a blackboard. He got up real close and threatened me. He correctly guessed that my parents had little or no education (fact: my father had 2 weeks of total schooling; my mom three years) and thus no understanding of the trouble I was in. Said he, in so many words – ‘I'm giving you no choice. I am going to watch every day to see that you are studying and doing your work. If you slip up, I'm going to make life hell for you.’ He wasn't angry or violent, just motivated to put me on track. He and Madison changed my life. For years after that I'd send him letters with a progress report and my unending gratitude.”
This classmate’s teachers soon realized he was a good writer and had a knack for math so they moved him into academic classes that matched his talents. Duncan went on to college, then law school. He eventually wound up as General Counsel for Citibank’s card payment businesses for North America and Europe. He loved our school and was one of the few who kept his copies of the school newspaper, the Madison Highway. Two of the issues are now posted on our website.
And how many remember another classmate who had a host of health problems and was chronically late to class. He wasn’t allowed to use the elevator and he just couldn’t walk fast enough. He’d set his watch and count down the seconds until the bell rang. He had to be the first out the door to have any chance of arriving on time for his next class.
This fellow wasn’t so slow in other areas. He secretly married his girlfriend in his junior year and she promptly became pregnant. No-one was supposed to know. Except that he and his very pregnant wife ran into a Madison teacher at a Westchester restaurant. The cat was out of the bag. In those halcyon days, a married student, and especially one who fathered a child, would have been thrown out of school. But this teacher never informed the school and instead counseled Richard on his next steps. Despite his handicaps, he went on to Dance on the Richard Hayes TV dance show (some may remember that), wrote scripts for the Unicorn Tales, an after-school TV special, worked as an researcher for the NYC police, and finally, this Jewish boy became a non-denominational Chaplain.
Oh. And lest I forget, someone who made a large donation requested that I ask for a show of hands of those who are single and are looking for someone. She said she’d double the amount if it leads to a date and if she marries the guy, she’d invite me to the wedding, pay my transportation costs, have me walk her down the isle and triple the donation. Folks, I have a lot invested in this now, so my friends, raise you hands.
Now, before our toast, I have a confession; I was one of those who didn’t attend my January 1962 graduation. The only regret I have is that I never had anyone sign my yearbook. Folks, it’s over there on the memorial table. If you get a chance, I’d like a few signatures.
So, friends, let’s all join in a toast to Madison, our teachers and to ourselves. Thank you all and enjoy.