Memories preserved

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 22, 2002

Tis the season for class reunions and family get-togethers. Here in Austin Mike Ruzek, a member of the Austin High and Alumni Association holds a workshop every September for class reunion representatives to plan a successful class reunion gathering. Ruzek explained how this workshop came about. "We saw there was a need for class representatives to see how to plan their reunions better and find out was available for a large gathering of people to do for entertainment. We work along with the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Austin."

The Alumni Association Workshop helps people that are new to organizing a reunion come up with creative ideas. Ruzek said, "Some classes have had sock-hops. Music for the gathering is particularly selected to reflect the year the class went to school."

The Alumni Association has also been extremely invaluable in gathering memorabilia and keeping the Austin High School Museum filled with items from days gone by. Touring the high school has been extremely popular with class reunions.

Email newsletter signup

"The longer the class has been out of school the earlier the tours are," said Ruzek, who has done some of the tours. "The younger classes of say 10 years don’t usually want the tours until 11 a.m. while the classes that have their 40th reunion will want to show up at 8:30 a.m."

Royce Helmbrecht, assistant principal of Austin High School, also conducts many of the tours of the high school for class reunions. Tours usually take about an hour, but vary depending on the class.

"It has been proven over and over that the older the class is that gathers for the tour we add a minute for each year they have left school," Helmbrecht said. "For example a fifty-year class reunion will take one hour and fifty minutes. This is inevitable to happen, I count on it happening with the tours."

Helmbrecht has been instrumental in getting items for the Alumni Museum at the high school. It is a step back in time seeing former band uniforms, Homecoming buttons, cheerleading outfits, past yearbooks, and a manual typewriter and old-fashioned school desk with seat attached.

Julie Espe started giving tours of the newly remodeled areas of the school after the renovations were finished in 1993, Helmbrecht said.

"With all the renovating we have found some interesting items," he said. "We found someone’s wallet and contacted this person and returned it to this person. We found another student's class ring and returned it to them. Another time a former student dropped off yearbooks from the 1920s that were in excellent shape. We have a good museum and are still filling it."

Getting classmates

to come to reunions

One thing about class reunions that organizers of them see year after year is that former students that reside in Austin or near by seldom attend the reunions. This is a phenomenon that was expressed over and over by organizers of the gatherings.

Sharon Burgess who is celebrating her 40th reunion this year has been active in planning all her class reunions. She and other representatives of her class meet to plan the reunion a year a head of time.

"We skipped the 35th class reunion," Burgess said. "Many of the class members' parents had passed on and other class members’ parents no longer lived in Austin. It just didn’t work out. We only had fifty responses returned that year. The ones that did respond were disappointed that it was canceled. The classmates started to realize all the work we put into having the reunions. We are all really looking forward to the class reunion this year. It is a time to celebrate that we are still alive."

A change in attitude

A comment mentioned over and over by organizers is that people are more accepting of each other the older they get and are happy to see former classmates and are concerned about each others health more than the size of their pocketbooks.

Burgess said about her 40th reunion gathering, "The main thing is the dinner we have on Friday night at the Austin Country Club.

Some of the classmates go golfing on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night we have the Sportts bar booked. We put together trivia bits about our class that will be announced throughout the night by a local D.J. We paid $100 for this happening. These trivia bits are only things that members of our class would know about."

The Austin Class of 1960, which Burgess's husband graduated from had a former classmate, Barry Rush play music for everyone.

It was so popular that classmates didn't want him quit when 1 a.m. rolled around.

Sometimes teachers are invited to class reunions and Helmbrecht and Burgess both said this adds an extra nice element to the gathering.

"One time a teacher was on a tour of the high school in an old section of the building and he found his former classroom.

"He said it was just as he left it. That's the great thing about these tours and gatherings all the stories that get told," said Helmbrecht.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2233 or by e-mail at