Monday, July 25, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Back in May, flush with the success we had with Linda's Reitz Class of 1967 Spring Get together with 30% attendance, and after having seen the magical buzz that was woven by making class information available on the website that was built for them and the continuing demand for the comprehensive class directory with all 368 graduates, I said to myself, "Self, would't it be great to do something like that for my own Wayne Valley Class of 1967?" If we've made the time to do this for Linda's class, that's the least we can do for my own, and it will help make up for all the years I neglected my own classmates for the things I thought were important (many of which turned out to be mirages in retrospect).

So I looked at the class website, so well assembled by Pete Milano, and saw that there were many classmates that were NOT LOCATED. Fine, I said to myself. That's a good place to start and start we did. We found 25 in the first week. by the time  8 weeks rolled by, we were up to over 40. We reported this information to the Reunion Committee including some classmates we had discovered had passed away in the ensuing years. They initially thought the help was great.

I was so happy and gratified by the conversations I had with people I hadn't spoken with in many many years, some of whom I really didn't share classes with, except maybe gym, but it really didn't matter. With a couple of rare exceptions, documented here, everyone was happy to hear from someone too and everyone wanted to know about someone else. I sent them to the website. I encouraged them to come to the 45th reunion. I did notice that it was taking a while to get the information on the website, and I just attributed it to the build up for the reunion, which I figured would be in full swing, but I wanted to make sure that the folks I was finding would get included in the contact campaign.  I also notice that none of the deceased classmates were posted on the site like the existing ones. I didn't give it a second thought because they were busy and Linda and I were in the thick of it, finding classmates, waiting for return phone calls etc., etc.

I then started to notice that a lot of the folks I was finding were local (Wayne that is.) A lot of them were highly visible on Facebook. Huh? Hey, the committee is busy, I'll ask them about outreach some other time. That time finally came when I asked Pete about it. He said that the committee sends out an emailing and a post card mailing and if anyone really wants to, they know how to get in touch. The committee had no obligation to contact everyone. I thought, well, I'm new to this and how they do things. I've got more people to find anyway.

Well, I got slammed by Victor Quinn a while back, and blogged on not so much the actual substance of his comments which were hateful enough, but more on what positive lessons could be taken from this episode. I posted them on the Class Facebook group, and got slammed again, for being negative. Alrighty, this is odd. But I had plenty of people to find. I protested politely that I thought my message actually put a positive spin on a bad experience. That strange little tempest in a teapot died down.

But I have to admit, I was a little put off by that whole situation. Not to say that it dampened my enthusiasm any. There was still plenty of names on the list to find. We continued to find people who had passed away. We asked the committee why they wouldn't acknowledge the information we were finding. We were told that they would only accept a local newspaper obituary as evidence of death. No other proof would do. Now, Linda and I are genealogy folks. We know how to verify information. In fact, much of the heart of genealogical research is verifying death dates by getting either public death records or photos of headstones. There is actually a website exchange service that allows you to post headstone photo requests for which you reciprocate by taking photos of headstones in cemeteries in your area. It's a great exchange, and you run into members of different branches of your family looking to research the same people from a different family perspective. Your aunt is a cousin's mother, etc. We had headstones of some of our classmates, because the obituaries in local papers aren't available in many cases after a span of time. Not good enough for the committee

We also had conversations with families. Just the other day, I called John Chichin's dad in St. Augustine FL. not knowing that John had died in a horrible hit and run accident in 1975 on Route 21, not far from where I used to live in Rutherford. His dad told me the whole terrible story, how the driver eventually turned himself in because a friend had gotten the plate number, and we wondered together what John would have done and accomplished had this not happened. I was devastated for a couple of days. I suspected that not even this would convince anyone to update John's information on the website. The rest of the class would think everything was just fine. They wouldn't know that John never got to do the things we have, to raise a family, to have a career, to look forward to retiring; to reminisce with old friends about those old high school days, to mourn classmates gone forever.

This is getting too long. Let's break it up into a couple of pieces.

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