Sarasota High’s Class of 1970 had looked forward to their 50th reunion. Elaborate plans were made for a weekend of dining, dancing, and most of all, renewing friendships. But COVID-19 forced them and other Florida alumni to cancel plans and reschedule once, twice and now a third time. Surprisingly, older alumni remain hopeful about future reunions.
“We haven’t had any 50-year reunions say, ‘Forget it,’” said Cyndi Clamp, owner of Varsity Reunion Services. “They say, ‘I’m disappointed, but it’s the right decision to make.’ They want a fun experience.”
Of course, it’s not just the Class of 1970. Reunions for other milestone years have also had to cancel or postpone long-awaited gatherings. And while the reunion committees and event managers interviewed said there was a consensus to wait, the postponements have taken a toll.
Liz Beahm, one of the Sarasota High School alumni reunion planners, said they originally planned their class reunion for April, 2020. When that was cancelled, they made new plans for May, 2021, then October, and now the reunion has been pushed to spring 2022.
They had planned a tour of their high school and a classic car show. A dinner at the Hyatt Regency on Sarasota Bay and dancing was also part of the weekend plans. They were eager to reminisce about their days as the Sarasota Sailors in 1970, when “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was the No. 1 hit, Pontiac Firebirds were hot and gas was 36 cents a gallon.
“We want you to relax and have fun!” the reunion website proclaimed.
And then came the pandemic. The Sarasota reunion committee was hit hard when the reunion chair died from COVID-19 in February. Beahm has the solemn task of updating the reunion memorial page.
“So many have left us,” she said.
Older alumni remain hopeful despite challenges
Then there were the practical challenges. The committee is still battling with the hotel about returning their deposit or forwarding it to next year.
But Beahm seems to speak for other alumni across the state who have been faced with the same disappointments.
“There is even more reason to get together,” said Beahm, who is especially looking forward to reuniting with classmate and childhood friend, Paul Reubens, best known for his character Pee-wee Herman.
Some reunion groups opted to have a virtual reunion. Mimi Kuriger, a retired nurse living in Vero Beach, told “The Palm Beach Post”, “We were all probably sitting in our pajama pants, but we were dressed to the nines up top.”
While virtual reunion provided a way to reunite safely, they were nearly impossible for large groups. And not everyone wanted to sit staring at a screen for the time it took for everyone to share updates.
Clamp, the reunion manager, said that most older alumni prefer to wait. It could be that older people are just more patient and resilient. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that during the pandemic, adults 65 years and older had significantly lower rates of anxiety and depression than younger age groups.
Clamp has other theories about why older alumni remain hopeful about future reunions.
“So much of your life up to 18 was a shared experience,” Clamp said. “Everybody’s dealing with their parents, school rules, boyfriends, girlfriends. Seeing people hug and greet each other after 50 years – it’s unlike anything else.”
Clamp and Beahm agree that when alumni are able to get together, it will be a reunion like no other.
“I think there has been an awakening,” Clamp said. “Being stuck at home, when we couldn’t see family or friends and do the things we took for granted – now people are looking for those opportunities.
“Whether reunions are this fall or postponed till next year, people are just thankful for the chance to get together.”