Classmates Celebrate 68 Years of Friendship
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
November 17, 2022
ROCKFORD—“I tell people (about our reunions) and they say, ‘Your GRADE school?!’” says Vicky Blunt Oakley, a member of the Class of 1962 at St. Edward School, here, which celebrated its 60th reunion on Nov. 12 at Lino’s Italian Restaurant in Rockford.
 
Grade school reunions, while not unheard of, are much rarer than the traditional high school reunions. But then, this class, together since 1954 when they were first graders ages 5-6, is rare in marvelous ways.
 
For example, they are still in touch with their first-grade teacher, Adrian Dominican Sister Dorothea Bloom. She was, Oakley says, “special because we were her first class. She remembers all our names and faces.”
 
Sister Dorothea was at the school for all their eight years at St. Edward’s and is their last living teacher. She now lives at the Adrian, Michigan, motherhouse, where classmate Ron Gilbertson visited her on her birthday for three days this summer.
 
“Adrian is a beautiful place,” Gilbertson says, describing the grounds, the college next door and the circular cemetery. He notes that the nuns are included in the class’s Christmas tree angel ornaments in memory of deceased classmates, priests and teachers. 
 
“This year being our 60th reunion, Santa Claus is coming,” Gilbertson said beforehand. A florist for 54 years, Gilbertson says he tries “to make everything look very festive … It’s a fun party (and) a pretty party.” 
 
Also planned were games, a recall test on things that occurred in 1961-62 (Who was Miss America?) and a drawing to raise money to donate to the Adrian Dominicans and have a “leaf” on a memorial tree in the Adrians’ garden for the St. Edward Class of 1962.
 
Although the November reunion is the big event of the year, Gilbertson and others have organized almost-every-other-month class gatherings this year that included a St. Patrick’s Day party, an Easter Bunny party, an indoor picnic and a Halloween gathering.
 
Organizers’ efforts are appreciated by other classmates who attend events, including some who come from Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia … “They fly in, and we have a really good time,” Gilbertson says. “For people who never see each other, there’s never a loss for words.”
 
Pam Bakkelund has been a regular reunion attendee since about the first one, held 15 years after graduation.
 
“When we get together, it’s like time stopped,” she says. “To one another, we all look the same and are the same. We just have a special bond. (And) our spouses have come to know each other.”
 
She joined the class in eighth grade, she says, and “I was welcomed in like I’d always been there. It was not clique-y at all. Everybody is everybody’s friend. We’re very, very lucky to have this.”
 
Jim Herron says he had run into classmates from time to time, but “hadn’t seen a lot of them.” The reunions and other gatherings are “just a lot of fun,” he says. “It’s nice to see everybody.”
 
When the nuns came to their earlier reunions, “we thought it was great,” Herron adds. “They looked different when (we all) were older.”
 
The Class of 1962 are all around age 73-75 now, and some classmates have died. Three of them were “very instrumental to getting us going” with reunions, Glenda Collyott says. 
 
She and Gilbertson speak of their loss of those “very special classmates,” and note that siblings of a few of the deceased classmates come to the reunions in their stead, as does a representative of one teacher. 
“That’s kind of neat, too,” Gilbertson says. “They are treated just as if (those classmates and teacher) were there.”
 
Of course, Colyott says, “a lot of husbands and wives and siblings have passed. We’ve been though tough times … (but) we are a close-knit group.”
 
She adds that “now that we are older, we try to get together more” for breakfasts, lunches, brunches even when it isn’t a 60th reunion year. 
 
Reunions were held every five years until five years ago, Gilbertson says. They’ve been held every year since then and the in between extra gatherings have been “kind of neat,” he says, adding that for the 60th year reunion, “we’re going to knock it out of the park.”
 
“Sister Joline,” he says of another Adrian sister, “said of all the classes, there was something special about us. She told us, ‘You were a class that stuck together through thick and thin. I knew you’d always be friends.’”
 
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