|by Jim Amidon • June 7, 2009|
In a year when there were a million reasons to stay home instead of returning to Wabash for the 2009 Big Bash Reunion Weekend, alumni lifted the spirits of all at the College with a new all-time reunion attendance record.
The "Alumni Register" that chronicles the loyal sons of Wabash who return to campus for Big Bash Reunion Weekend has been closed for 2009, and Alumni Director Tom Runge may need to add some pages after a record 389 alumni signed the historic ledger.
The record turnout bested the previous record of 356 returning alums in 2007. This year Wabash men returned to campus from 35 states plus Greece (Steve Miller ’64), Hong Kong (Ray Javonovich ’84), Switzerland (Ted Wachs ’69), Scotland (Wally Shaw ’56), Chile (Ron Waugh ’74) and Canada (Richard Elson ’69).
"Heck, that makes Ken Crawford’s flight from California look like a cab ride," said Runge at Sunday’s Big Bash Awards Brunch. "To be fair, I should also note that Joe Malott of the Class of 1959 had to go almost 1,000 feet for his reunion!"
Click here for photos of the Big Bash Awards Brunch.
The weekend — backed by glorious sunshine by day and cool evenings — belonged to the men of the Class of 1959.
That class nearly swept the reunion awards — and set a new all-time record for highest attendance for any 50th reunion in Wabash history.
After thanking his staff, members of the Advancement Office, Campus Services, and Bon Appetit for such great meals, Runge moved quickly to pass out the hardware — the awards for the weekend.
And it wouldn’t have been a record-setting year without another unique event — there was a tie for the Class of 1909 Trophy Cup, which is awarded to the class with the highest percentage of alumni returning for Big Bash. By coming to Big Bash for his 75th reunion, Atwood Smith ’34 represented exactly half of his class. That 50 percent tied the Class of 1959, which boasted half of its class back for the 50th reunion. Reunion Chairmen Sherm Franz and Hoyt Miller accepted the Cup on behalf of their class (photo above).
Awards for percentages are tough, though, so the Class of 1928 initiated an award that recognizes the class that has the most men back on campus. The record was set a year ago when 80 men returned from the Class of 1968. Still, the Class of 1959 made a run at the record with 71 alumni signatures in the Alumni Register.
The highlight for many from the weekend was Saturday morning’s Alumni Chapel Sing, when each class — some with 70 men and some with only a dozen or so — took turns singing "Old Wabash" on the steps of the Chapel (with a panel of Sphinx Club members as judges). After the last class had sung, over 350 men gathered to sing "Old Wabash" — not as Betas, Sigma Chis, or even classes — but as a College.
The Big Bash award for the class that steals the hearts of the judges is called the Robinson-Ragan Award. This year, the competition was particularly keen — especially when the Class of 1959 arrived in John Horner’s antique fire truck and Bob Wild’s 1959 Edsel.
In the end, the top three places, according to Runge, were separated by a total of three points. And in a surprise, the Class of 1984 — which sang with speed, volume, and outright enthusiasm — took the Robinson-Ragan Award. The Class of 1959 finished second and the Class of 1969 was third. Bill Havlin and Todd Glass accepted the award on behalf of the class (photo above left).
The award presented by Runge that is truly special to him — and the folks he works with in the Alumni Office, Mike Warren, Michele Tatar, and Heather Bazzani — is the Dorman Hughes Award.
"One of the real benefits of our job is to be able to work with men of all ages who love Wabash and whose tireless efforts, in many volunteer roles, demonstrate a love and appreciation that few other institutions ever garner," said an emotional Runge. "A few years ago, we decided to include an award at the Big Bash named for Dorman Hughes, long time class agent for the Class of 1943, to honor the men who did the most work in organizing their reunion."
In a year when all sorts of attendance records were set — and good feelings and warm hearts abounded throughout the weekend — Runge said it was tough to pick a winner.
"It’s really tough to not give the award to guys like Dave Coates and Craig Higgs from the Class of 1999," he said. "With over 30 guys returning and as the only winners of the Annual Giving Challenge, well, you couldn’t ask for more.
"Then there’s Ken Crawford," Runge added. "Ken’s class doesn’t have a class agent but it didn’t matter. Ken jumped in there and elevated the Class of 1969 to 63 attendees. To give you an idea of that performance, that’s 14 more than they had at the 2004 Big Bash and they won the trophy for the most alumni back that year!"
But by late Saturday evening there was no way to ignore the tremendous effort put in by the men in the Class of 1959.
"With a year’s hard work, countless phone calls, and a lot sweat, the award goes to Hoyt Miller and Sherm Franz from the Class of 1959," said Runge.
Runge, who constantly insists that his reunion planners "work the phones," joked about the work of Miller and Franz, saying, "I’ve watched these guys in action and spent the entire year making payments for all their conference calls."
The final award presented was the Edmond Hovey Awarrd, which is given to the class agents for the class that has the highest percentage of alumni who make gifts to the Annual Fund. And once again, the Class of 1959 blew the other reunion classes out of the water with 58 percent of the class making Annual Fund gifts. Gift Chairman Tony Dowell, who on Friday night presented President White with a reunion gift check of over $1 million, was unable to attend, so his classmates Roger Billings and Bob Wedgeworth accepted the award on his behalf.
"I hope that you have been revitalized by this weekend," said President White in his concluding remarks. "I hope you can as as you walk around this campus, 'That's the Wabash I know; that's the Wabash I love.' Wabash lives not just in the memories we have, but in the memories we continue to make... You see Wabash alive."
And in echoing a familiar theme among the reunion staff, President White thanked the alumni for returning, saying their presence was a shot in the arm for the College.
"Wabash College needed you this weekend," the President said. "You leave us your encouragement... which means literally placing courage in someone else. You give us the courage to do the work to make this great College even better."