Kimberly Peterson wrote, "I am trying to set up my high school's ten-year reunion and I don't know where to start. I want to find the right company to do it but I am not sure I even know the right questions to ask. How can you tell good companies from bad? What can I expect a good company to do and for what price? Is there a good place look for this information?
Paula Sheagley* responds. Start with your local school district(s). Call a high school and ask them which company(ies) are reputable and stay in good communication. Professional reunion planning companies should register each reunion with schools and operate on good working terms with the local school offices/alumni associations.
Ask for references from the company. Then, call the references. Ask references to be candid about the good and the "bad" of working with that company.
Look for a fair price. Expect the fee to include all catering costs, rentals, entertainment, optional memory book. Then expect approximately $20 to be added as over-head charges; labor, research, printing, phones and postage plus a little profit.
*About the expert
Paula Sheagley wrote many class reunion articles for Reunions magazine several years ago so we turn to her expertise when faced with class reunion dilemmas. She is the former owner of a reunion planning business in southern Colorado and was a charter member and past president of the National Association of Reunion Managers. Paula is presently the event coordinator and marketing representative for Holy Cross Abbey, home of Benedictine Monks in Canon City, Colorado, which she describes as "beautiful grounds with wonderful reunion and retreat facilities built around a turn-of-the century."
To bring spouses … or not Q? When planning a 20-year high school reunion, we are considering whether to go with spouses or no spouses, do you have an opinion on this?
That's a great question and one that changes as reunions get older: 10th year you want to show off your spouse, by the 60th you're joined at the hip so for the 10th and 60th spouses are essential. But 20-year, who knows? Perhaps it’s more fun going solo, which is often fine with the spouse-who doesn't want to go anyway.
My own reunion and my sister's a couple years later have been having Friday night gatherings that are for classmates. Some spouses who are really close to class members come along. But spouses who know no one in the class should be spared one uncomfortable party.
I think the question can be answered from the point of view of the classmate, who is eager to see former friends, and the spouse, who knows no one and does not look forward to being ill at ease. The classmate is either reconnecting with old friends or duty bound to hang on to and introduce the spouse over and over again. Spouses not related to the class are all in the same uncomfortable position. They can form a cadre of uncomfortable others so if one of them is a cheerleader, they can soon bond, if only for a couple of hours … every 10 years. They may, as often happens at military reunions, form their own group who look forward to seeing one another at the next reunion.
Note: these are only opinions: there are no rules!
We also asked expert members of the National Association of Reunion Managers (NARM) what their experience is.
Many people have different feelings about bringing a guest or spouse to their reunion, wrote Joyce Capolino of The Best Reunions in Tequesta, Florida. To make everyone happy, we always invite all alumni with a guest and it is their decision if they would like to bring a guest or spouse. Some alumni will not attend without their spouse; many people do not like to travel or attend functions alone. We let it be the individual’s decision and the more the merrier.
Typically, whether a reunion event is “Classmates Only” or not is specified on the invitation. The popular way to hold a reunion is to have a Friday evening classmates-only event, and a Saturday event with spouse/significant others, and then sometimes a family picnic on Sunday, wrote NARM’s Administrative Assistant, Renee Mead, Renton, Washington.
Byron Davidson of 1st Class Reunions, Loganville, Georgia, said his experience has been that if a class is close and has had reunions, spouses have formed at least a casual relationship with other alumni and spouses. So by all means invite spouses but have some activity or recognition involving them. For example, use the DJ to get the spouses dancing together, then possibly line dances (Electric Slide, etc.), as long as there is something for them to do. Also, there’s a practical aspect to having spouses there. Alumni may “party to excess,” so when it comes to leaving, the spouse is a designated driver.
Gayle Rapoport, Reunion Organizers of Minnesota, Minneapolis, agreed that some people may choose not to bring their spouse or significant other, but there are those who do not go anywhere alone.
Carolyn Moore of the late Reunion Planners of Texas, asked whether our reader/questioner is trying to increase the divorce rate for their class. “Without spouses, you will lose about half the class attendance.”
T. Stevens, Reunions to Remember in Manhasset, New York, says to definitely include spouses, as long as they are willing to come! While Greg Hollander, Class Encounters, Sacramento, California, suggests that, on average, about 50% of classmates bring their spouse or a guest to their reunion.
I feel this info is very helpful and who ever plans the next one I would like them to still get this info. I've set up the Appleton West 1996 e-mail account specifically for this purpose. So I could hand it off to the next person and they don't have to duplicate any of the work I already did. They'll just have to maintain it.
-Mandy Wachtendonk, Neenah, Wisconsin, Appleton (WI) West High School Reunion
It's our 50th! what do we do? Q? The dilemma
A California Class of the 1950's faces its golden anniversary reunion and pleads “We need new ideas, new formats for activities, new means of announcing the event and new presentations for ‘the big night’ program.” To start, we asked what they’d done before to avoid replaying old songs. Here’s the response:
Friday evening there were one or two get-togethers at classmates’ homes for reacquainting, drinking and chatting.
Saturday morning, weather permitting, there was a golf outing for men while women visited, shopped and lounged at home or their hotel. Saturday afternoon there was a picnic which very few attended or visits to the high school, museum or other places of interest. Saturday evening the big bash was dinner at a place large enough to accommodate 100 graduates plus spouses and guests. The program rarely varied; an MC paid tribute to the reunion committee for their hard work [Editor’s note: Let’s not change that], recognized deceased classmates, and introduced a program of a monologue, skits, and awards for who came the furthest, had the most grandchildren, etc. Finally, the evening was capped off with dancing to recorded music from the past which attracted very few people and a lengthy session of group and individual photos taken by a hired professional.
Sunday morning breakfast was followed by announcements and a short church service.
“People are becoming bored and there are always problems finding lost classmates and with funding. Funding was charging each attendee a one-time fee which invariably left the committee to make up shortages in the general fund. No wonder volunteering is declining.”
A! We found this dilemma about a 50th class reunion somewhat universal for all reunions. Therefore, any class reunion organizer will find intriguing ideas from these experts. We turned, yet again, to members of the National Association of Reunion Managers (NARM), who make their livings organizing class reunions. They are paid to keep reunions from boredom.
Nikki Anderson, Reunion Specialists, Inc., Carlsbad, California wrote that several classes she’s working with invited a representative from the high school to do a “then and now” presentation. They included things like school enrollment, number of staff, classrooms, parking spaces. One class invited a school group (band, dance team) to perform. This season they have several classes doing Sunday events that include a “Day at the Races.” Football or baseball games with tailgate parties are also popular.
Deirdre Marvin, ReunionTeam.com, Vernon Hills, Illinois,reported “a big hit at an older classmates” reunion. The reunion committee made a contribution to the high school and their marching band made an appearance at the reunion playing the school fight song as they marched into the ballroom. Cheerleaders, pom-pom squad or flags add to the presentation. If space does not allow a marching band, a jazz band is a smaller alternative. It makes for a very festive and fun presentation.
Carol Riley, Owner of Reunions Unlimited in Olympia, Washington and past president of NARM, suggests that reunion attendees have expectations and like to have a format to follow. They expect to have one main dinner event which can be changed by having a theme party (’50s, Hawaiian, etc.) and/or a change in menu (BBQ, pig roast or international food stations).
Keep the golf, Riley says, open it to women and move it to Friday afternoon, followed by an informal cocktail party open to all golfers and non-golfers. Or have an informal non-alcoholic reception at the school. On Saturday, “nix the school tour if the school has not had a remodel.”
Cancel the DJ at the main event. Keep the program short, skip the skits and pass around a cordless mike from table to table for classmate introductions. Or maybe offer an open mike for anyone who wishes to share something with the entire group.
Put together a slide show from kindergarten through the 50th year reunion. Make a video or CD of it and offer it for sale.
For a donation, ask current cheerleaders, majorettes or band to perform, adding to the excitement of the event. They run in dressed in school colors with pom-poms, mascot included, and do some cheers or songs. They may also sing or play the school anthem.
Don’t do individual photos. One large group shot is fine and offers classmates a chance to mingle. Or take it a step further and break down into grade school groups.
Offer something totally unique on Sunday. If you live close to a large body of water, secure a large boat (walk-on ferry or something similar), bring onboard light finger food and a bar and go out for a three-hour cruise.
Chris Clishe in Riley’s office, who is midway to her 50-year reunion, suggests an additional event after the reunion. Work with a cruise line or vacation center and offer a class cruise or trip a day or two after the reunion weekend, giving classmates a longer and less scheduled chance to be together.
And finally, Riley makes a surprising conclusion that finding missing classmates is easy. The answer? Hire a NARM reunion professional in your area!
Beth A. Miller is president of Reunited, Inc. in Weston, Florida. She gave careful consideration to the reader’s question to do a golden anniversary reunion a little differently from past reunions.
First, I’d suggest shortening the menu of events to two— at most three. On Friday, a “happy hour” ice-breaker at a local bar or club may be a nice change. It can be done inexpensively by starting early before the “regular” crowd arrives. Try to arrange a drink special (ie: 2-for-1, a drink named for the school mascot for a reduced price or even one hour of open bar) whatever the establishment is willing to provide in exchange for an early-arriving crowd. Ask the establishment to provide hors d’oeuvres and light munchies. Remind management reunion attendees are mainly there to see old friends and not to consume the free drink and leave. Such an event could also provide publicity for the establishment and expose it to potential new and repeat customers.
For the Saturday “big event,” why not change things a bit and dress down, make it casual, they’ve done the dress-up thing before. Take it a step further and ask alumni to dress in school colors. It’s pretty cool to still have spirit after all of those years. Add to the spirit by having a trivia contest throughout the night. Give the DJ/emcee a list of questions about old hang-outs, teachers, who had what kind of car, who was voted best dressed, Homecoming King, etc. Provide token prizes or maybe divide the group into “teams,” for a team prize. Solicit token prizes from local businesses.
Offer an informal Sunday event for the “die-hards,” such as a poolside gathering. Anyone who wants to can order lunch or drinks on their own and it doesn’t raise the ticket price.
Put extra thought into the content of events and really bring people back to the “good ‘ol days” without the pressure of big ticket prices and fancy outfits.