‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” The answer was a long time coming, but for the class of ’64, it’s a resounding “Yes!”
The undertaking is audaciously ambitious: An all-school 50th reunion — every elementary school in Oak Park and River Forest, public or private. How many could there be?
“I was thinking 10 or 12,” recalled Tom Kerrins, one of the organizers. “It’s over 20.”
Fellow committee member Kathy Sullivan gives Kerrins the credit for coming up with the idea. Kerrins credits Miller Lite.
In 2008, following their 40th Oak Park and River Forest High School reunion, which they also worked on, Kerrins recalled, “We were looking ahead to our 50th reunion, but there’s also our 50th from grade school. So we said [over that bottle of Miller], “What if we had an all-school reunion, open to all the different grade schools in Oak Park and River Forest? How many could that be?
“Turns out it’s 1,800 to 1,900 people.”
The 40th high school reunion wasn’t the first — or last — reunion Kathy and Tom helped organize. They were involved in the grand 2000 birthday bash. All their high school classmates were turning 50 in the millennium year. The party was a hit and they got hooked on organizing.
The angle this time, however, was even more irresistible. Born in 1950, the class turned 14 in ’64 (with a few exceptions), the year they graduated from eighth grade. Fifty years later, they’re turning 64. And on top of all that, the Beatles invaded the U.S. during their eighth-grade year and produced the hit song, “When I’m 64.” Granted, the song didn’t come out till 1967 (Sgt. Pepper album), so the synchronicity wasn’t perfect, but close enough for school work. Kathy dubbed it the “When I’m 64” reunion and they were on their way.
The only other class (in our lifetime) that can boast a similar synchronicity is the eighth-grade class that just graduated this spring. Born in 2000, they turned 14 in ’14 and will turn 64 in ’64. So start planning ahead, kids. Of course, that applies to every year of their life, so by then the thrill will have worn off.
It’s more of a kick for the class of 1964, which turned 18 in ’68 (high school) and 68 in ’18, then 22 in’72 (college) and 72 in ’22. Very symmetrical.
Kerrins, who now lives in Darien, and Sullivan, who grew up in Oak Park, raised a family in River Forest and now lives in Forest Park, didn’t get to know each other until 2000, working on the 50th birthday bash committee. They were classmates at Ascension (until fourth grade) and classmates again at OPRF.
But Kerrins made the rounds in grade school, attending Ascension, St. Edmund and graduating from St. Catherine.
“And I almost went to Longfellow,” he recalled, “because the nuns at St. Catherine weren’t too happy with me at the time.” (the south Oak Parker later became a St. Giles parishioner when he moved to the north side of town but didn’t like it. “Too fancy,” he said. Some geographical rivalries never die.)
It’s not surprising, really, that Sullivan and Kerrins didn’t know each other. Catholic classrooms routinely packed in 50 students and OPRF in 1968 was bursting at the proverbial seams at the peak of the Baby Boom.
“At Oak Park High we had four lunch periods,” Kerrins remembered, “so it was hard to meet people at the other end of the alphabet. You would pretty much hang around with your lunch-period people or the people you went to grade school with.”
But they had a knack for organizing — and they definitely enjoyed the reunions (and the Miller Lite). After 2008, Sullivan and Kerrins worked on the Ascension Centennial celebration in 2012.
Then last year, Sullivan pointed out that the all-grade school reunion idea had fallen by the wayside.
“I may have ideas,” Kerrins said, “but Kathy’s the needle, the one who makes it happen.”
Others got involved — in several cases, re-involved. Myra Green (Whittier), who coordinated the 2000 event, joined up again. Doug Rohn (Irving and Longfellow) from Cincinnati put together the website (whenIm64.org). Gail Rummelhoff Milner (three schools, including Ascension), though she lives in Florida, turned out to be a wiz at tracking down hard-to-find classmates. Jackie Sbarbro Swiss (St. Edmund) and Jim Payette (Whittier) signed on. Nancy Boggess Jorgenson, Jeanie La Placa, Jan Even and Nancy Voorhees worked on River Forest.
They had a head start, thanks to the 2008 high school reunion, but the Catholic diaspora after grade school made the task more difficult. Oak Park Catholics in 1964 moved on to Weber, St. Patrick, St. Philip, St. Mel, St. Ignatius, and St. Joseph. Fortunately, Trinity and Fenwick fielded the most, and those schools were willing to share their information.
And vice versa. Their development offices will benefit from any alums the reunion committee manages to track down.
“We do have an ulterior motive for all this,” Kerrins pointed out. “In four years, it’s our 50th high school reunion. So we’re putting together the list now. And, truthfully, it wouldn’t be bad if we had a 50th reunion for all three high schools, too.”
They learned a lot working on those previous get-togethers — and decided to do this one differently. It will be decidedly casual, in fact. Two restaurants within a block of one another will form the hub. Not coincidentally, they are owned by members of the class of 1964: Goldyburgers, 7316 Circle Ave. (Mike Sullivan), and Kevil’s, 7228 Circle Ave. (Frank Kevil), both in Forest Park, just west of Harlem.
But no formal sit-down dinner, a staple with most reunion planning, is planned. Goldy’s and Kevil’s will host on Friday and Saturday nights, Oct. 10 and 11. Revelers can go to one or the other or move between. Very loose.
Also unlike most reunions, there is no attendance fee. In fact, the organizing committee’s budget, according to Kerrins, is “close your eyes and what do you see?” No mailing, no hiring a professional reunion organizing company. The budget is zero, zip.
“We wanted people to come in and have total freedom to do what they want,” Sullivan said. “If they want to eat at Goldy’s or Kevil’s, OK. If they don’t, OK.” (You do have to pay for your food and drinks.)
“But there’s no cover charge,” Kerrins added. “You can have a glass of water if you want. We’ve been telling people, ‘The only cost is a memory. Contribute your memories.'”
Sullivan compares the traditional reunion to speed-dating. “OK, you have five minutes. Tell me everything you’ve been doing. Bye,” she mimed. “That’s why we wanted two nights with a day in between. You can catch up with a few more people.”
Instead, a number of optional activities are being offered. School tours have been arranged on Friday afternoon (grade schools) and Saturday morning (OPRF High School). Saturday afternoon, the Historical Society is holding an open house on the second floor of Pleasant Home (217 S. Home Ave.). Bound Oak Leaves volumes will be available for alumni to jog memories from 1963-64. Information about family homes and other memorabilia will be on display as well.
“Reunions are not just to see your old friends and hang out,” said Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest. “You can swing by the old family home. If they come here, they can still take the tour, but it’s meant to be more of an open house.”
On Friday night, both Fenwick and OPRF are playing football games at home (Fenwick plays at Morton West, south on Harlem). Tours of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historical District are also available.
The committee settled on the second weekend of October because Homecoming is the weekend before. The weekend after is St. Catherine/St. Lucy’s 125th anniversary celebration.
The only problem with the informal approach is getting people to commit.
“It’s just like seventh grade,” Sullivan said. “‘Who’s coming?’ Nobody wants to come and not know anyone.”
Kerrins tells them, “Now you know me, and I’ll make sure I introduce myself and introduce you to other people I know, and I’m sure you’re going to find five other people you know who are there. Is there anyone you’re in contact with from the high school? Why don’t you give them a call and see if they want to come in.”
Thus the word spreads. Social media, they say, has been “hugely helpful.” They have a Facebook page (50yr Reunion 1964 All Grade Schools Oak Park & River Forest IL) and the website (whenIm64.org), both of which feature graduation photos from most of the schools. There’s a sign-up page, and it’s open to non-’64ers as well.
“We keep telling people, ‘Just register so we have an idea who’s coming,'” said Kerrins.
So far, people are coming from Florida, New York, California, Texas and Arizona.
This kind of reunion meets a need that isn’t filled elsewhere, they say. “You can keep up with some people on Facebook,” Sullivan said. “‘Here are my grandkids.'” But to really visit, she added, you have to do something like this.
Beyond Facebook: face to face.
“As we get older,” Sullivan said, “there seems to be an inevitable desire to go back to our childhood and connect with friends. When you’ve turned 60, you’re ready to say, ‘Whatever happened to …?'”
“Everybody remembers their youth,” added Kerrins, “easier times, simpler times.”
“You have so much life experience,” said Lipo. “When you’re younger, you don’t quite have that sense of personal history. You haven’t gone through a whole cycle in life, so that you can say, ‘I get it now.’ It’s that broader experience that gives people a keener interest in history.”
“My mom spent all of World War II at Oak Park High,” said Sullivan, “1941-45. Looking back now, I see how life-changing our eighth-grade year was: Civil Rights, the Kennedy assassination, the Beatles phenomenon, the escalation of the Vietnam War and where that was going to take us. My ex-husband died of long-term exposure to Agent Orange. It’s a whole different perspective looking back.”
It’s a chance, she said, to see how your lifetime fits into history.