Reunion - What Were We Thinking?

When Saint John’s announced two years ago that it would host class Reunions in the summer, some alumni questioned it. What about the longstanding tradition of Johnnie class reunions at Homecoming in the fall? How could we possibly exceed the autumn beauty of Collegeville, trees glowing orange and yellow, sweatshirts on and cocoa in hand, taking in a Johnnie Football game?

This past weekend, the Johnnies showed us that they can’t stay away from this place. That may be in part because this time, the event was fully joint with their female classmates from the College of Saint Benedict.

The weekend was, according to those I spoke with, a resounding success. The earliest attendees began arriving Thursday evening, including several from the 50th Reunion who wanted to find out what this summer thing was all about. Alumni were invited to stay in the residence halls, with students gone for the summer. And of course the 50th Reunion was granted the most luxurious spots, which at a humble place like Saint John’s, means they were air-conditioned.

Friday kicked off with Alumni College sessions on both the Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s campuses, taught by current and retired faculty members. Topics ranged from Shakespearean analysis with Fr. Hilary Thimmesh to choir rehearsal with Dr. Axel Theimer. Other favorites were tea with Richard Bresnahan and U.S. history with Dr. Ken Jones.

That evening our presidents, Dr. Michael Hemesath ’81 and Dr. Mary Dana Hinton, welcomed alumni and alumnae at a light-hearted reception at Saint Ben’s. At the 25th Reunion “Old School” House Party later that evening, Johnnies and Bennies let loose a bit. A number of younger graduates crashed the party, and were greeted with warm hospitality anyway.

Saturday morning’s Reunion Rally took a poignant note when Bill Olson ’91 presented the 25th Reunion class gift to alma mater. Before he did so, Bill told his own story of the scholarships that allowed him to become a Johnnie. He then asked those in attendance who had contributed to the Student Fund between 1987 and 1991, to stand so he and his classmates could personally thank them. More than 100 donors stood and received a rousing ovation. Edwin Torres ’16 also shared his more recent scholarship story, and Stan Suchta '66 then announced that his 50th Reunion class has given lifetime commitments to Saint John's amounting to an impressive $3.75 million.

Johnnie class dinners, reconnection with Bennie friends, nostalgia sparked by the dorms and bus, and Lake Sagatagan beach time all featured prominently. But among the most heartwarming responses came from those alumni who affirmed that, without detracting from fall's Homecoming, summer's class Reunion has become a tradition in its own right. To them, the extended time to slow down, engage in deep conversations and relax with friends was priceless. One even called it the most enjoyable thing he's done in decades.

Reunion 2016 drew more than 1,300 alumni and alumnae to campus, exceeding our goals by over 300 people. Of that number, more than 60 percent made gifts to their alma maters in the past year, showing how loyalty and generosity go hand-in-hand.

As is the case with all true major accomplishments, this was a team effort. Nearly 60 Institutional Advancement staffers from Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s played roles in the weekend, and that doesn’t count the hundreds of catering and events staff, student employees, coaches and faculty and most importantly, class volunteers. These volunteers made calls, sent emails, mailed letters and shared photos that inspired and welcomed their friends back to campus. These volunteers also made it possible, through their generous advocacy for the Student Fund to their classmates, for the next generation of Bill Olsons to attend Saint John’s and Saint Ben's.

25 years from now, I’ll be interested to see how the tradition of joint Reunions in the summer has evolved. I’m confident that the Class of 2016 will be presenting a big gift to alma mater, just in time for the close of another fiscal year, enabling the Class of 2041 to do great things.

[Editor’s note: This fiscal year closes at midnight on Thursday, June 30. Please encourage your friends to make a gift to Saint John’s before the year comes to a close. All gifts to the Student Fund go directly to student scholarships for current Johnnies. Watch the video below to learn more about these young men.]