It Started with Two
In 1975, Alice (Starner) Mowrer, a classmate and friend of mine, and I began meeting for dinner one night a month. We were both employed, however not for the same company. At our places of employment we dealt with the public affording us the opportunity renew acquaintances with many people we knew including classmates. Some classmates, to our delight, were people we had not seen since Junior High School. When Alice and I met at our monthly dinners, we would share the conversations we had with each classmate. We enjoyed these updates of our school contacts very much. It was exciting to learn that most people were leading a happy and successful life.
Eventually, Alice suggested each of us take the initiative to invite classmates to our monthly dinners. Both of us had attended Hanover Street Elementary school and we had not seen some of those class members in years. We thought it would be fun to see them again. We each invited one female class member to our very next monthly dinner. My choice was my dear friend, June (Smith) Clapper. We met most of the time at Bay City restaurant. Then these invited guests would invite others to attend the next month. This made our group grow and soon we expanded to inviting not just Hanover Street class members to our dinners but anyone from our class.
The number who attended each month was never consistent due to bad weather in the winter and family vacations in the summer, but the word was out. New faces were seen regularly.
Quietly at one of our dinners, Alice told me she had breast cancer. I was devastated. She often suffered from the effects of her treatments and the fatigue and weakness were obvious. She encouraged me to continue the dinners. She told me how much it delighted her to see our classmates and reminisce with them. Alice was an only child and had no children of her own. She was most appreciative of the opportunity to see her friends and classmates. She made special efforts to attend as many dinners as she could.
With her encouragement I continued the dinners. When Alice was able to attend, she would update us on her condition, and if she was too ill to attend, I would update the group on her current condition. Our regulars at that time were Patricia (Rebert) Duncan, Shirley (Eline) Bankert, Marie (Bankert) Miller, and June (Smith) Clapper. We had two others we considered regulars but their schedules would not allow them to attend every month. They were Sylvia (Reck) Sterner and Marlene (Sponseller) Strickler. We no longer met at just Bay City. Each dinner was at a different restaurant, however, we did establish a regular date within the month to meet. We selected the third Wednesday. If someone missed a dinner, it was necessary to contact those who attended regularly to learn the location of next month’s dinner.
Suddenly, Alice was no longer able to attend our dinners because she was confined to her home. She was being cared for by her loving husband, Ivan. He assumed all her nursing care and ran a complete household, efficiently. She was surely in capable hands.
I went to visit Alice once a week and Marlene (Sponseller) Strickler often accompanied me. Ivan always welcomed us into his home and Alice was always so glad to see us. Our visits were never long. Just long enough to bring her the current news or update her on the last dinner and who attended.
As our 40th reunion approached, Alice encouraged us to attend and then share all of the events with her. The day of the reunion, I decided to borrow a tape recorder and record the entire reunion for her, so at her leisure she could hear it all. I recorded all of the reunion. Monday night after the reunion, I took the tape to Alice’s house, only to learn that she had slipped into a coma. It was a painful departure for me that night when I left Alice.
On September 8, 1994, Alice lost her battle with cancer. The dinners continued several months after her death. For me, somehow it just wasn’t the same without her. The months soon turned into the winter season and the difficult weather prevented us from meeting regularly. In the spring I did not resume the dinners. So for approximately one year we did not meet.
Then one day I met Marlene (Sponseller) Strickler and she suggested and encouraged me to begin the dinners again. She told me how much she and the others enjoyed and looked forward to the monthly gatherings. So, with her assistance we began meeting again. Those were happy times. We talked openly about Alice and her illness and, in time, I healed.
In 1999 most of us retired. We decided to change our diners from the evenings to the noon meal, lunch. At this time classmate, Peggy (Kline) Duck, joined our group as a regular member. Having just retired myself, I purchased my own computer. We were meeting at a new restaurant every month which required updating the new location to members unable to attend the last lunch. My computer enabled me to email regular members with next month’s meeting location. This eliminated a lot of time and phone calls each month. I tried to collect everyone’s email address who attended and everyone cooperated.
At our 45th reunion, Charlene (Bankert) Meckley and Dolores (Kopp) Chappel became aware of our monthly lunches. Charlene began to attend regularly. Delores and her husband, Sam, live in Woodbridge, Virginia. She gave me her email address and upon receiving my email reminders of our monthly gatherings, they began attending when their schedule and weather would allow.
Charlene was engaged and her fiancé was another class member, Rodney Gobrecht. Rodney began attending our dinners with Charlene. He was the first man to join our group. And what an addition! Rodney made our lunches so enjoyeable. He shared his life’s experiences and often gave us the male viewpoint on many subjects discussed
within our group. Rodney had contact with many classmates that our group did not know or did not know how to contact. He invited many new classmates. Again our group was growing. Meeting at lunch time was not always convenient for new classmates. Some were still working, so we changed our monthly gatherings back to dinner time. We also instituted another change which was that classmates were encouraged to bring their spouses.
We met several times at Cactus Willie’s restaurant, and were pleased with the opportunity to have all of us together in the back room, isolated from other customers. This was a big improvement. Due to the size of our group, it was almost impossible to always be seated together at one table in other restaurants. Rodney and Charlene were married. At our next monthly dinner, they surprised us with a small reception in the back room at Cactus Willie’s. They wanted to share their happiness with us. What an exciting evening we all had together.
Seeing how well that meeting worked far away from the other customers at the restaurant, the group decided that Cactus Willie’s was the best location for our monthly gatherings. The separate room allowed us to speak freely among ourselves and to laugh and intermingle with each other. Our permanent meeting place was established, Cactus Willie’s, and we kept our regular meeting date as the third Wednesday of each month.
Then Ken Myers joined our group. Ken brought new and exciting ideas. He wanted to unite all class members. He was eager to create a web site with easy access for class members plus write a newsletter. His enthusiasm was catching. Ken was a welcome addition to our group, and he is currently working on these projects.
Most of the classmates attending our dinners are on committees preparing for our 50th reunion. Every dinner continues to be just as enjoyeable as the previous gatherings were. We see new faces all the time.
For the past two years, Peggy (Kline) Duck has arranged our reservations at Cactus Willie’s and is sending out the monthly reminders via email. This was a welcomed relief for me after taking care of this assignment for many years.
All classmates and their spouses are invited to join us. We meet the third Wednesday of each month at Cactus Willie’s. We meet at 5:30 PM in the back room. Please join us.
What began many years ago for two women who wanted to renew school acquaintances and school friends has accomplished that plus much more. All classmates who attend are our friends. With friends, we share our old memories, the good and the bad, our life’s experiences, and much more. We remember and mourn for each class member that we lose. We are the Eichelberger Class of 1954.
The following people currently attend many of the dinners at Cactus Willie’s
Shirley (LaMotte) Glass
Shirley (Eline) Bankert and Bill
June (Smith) Clapper
Pat (Rebert) Duncan
Bill and Arlene (Warner) Marsh
Bob and Betty Sheets
George and Barbara Miller
Dolores (Kopp) Chappel and Sam
Larry and Dolores Blocher
Bert and Joyce (Hamme) Elsner
Sally (Warehime) Yelland and Bruce
Carolyn (Crooks) Hooper and Charlie
Barb (Ebaugh) Mouring and Bill
Rodney and Charlene (Bankert) Gobrecht
Tony and Betty (Eiserman) Fulco
Bill and Natasha Hoke
Peggy (Kline) Duck and Bob
Marie (Bankert) Miller was a regular attendee for many years until she passed away suddenly on November 12, 2003