Saturday, October 10, 2009

You're Going to a Class Reunion? Why?!?

Last weekend, October 2, 3 and 4, about 50 of my high school classmates got together in our old hometown. That means that roughly 10-12% of the class showed up for one or more of the class events scheduled for the weekend.

Ten to twelve percent is not a big turn-out. So I think it’s interesting to consider who came, who didn’t and – to whatever extent we know or can guess – why.

It was a class reunion, but the timing may have been a little ‘off’ for more than one reason. First of all, we finished high school about 45 years ago and ‘45’ is not a particularly common marker for big memory events. Twenty-five certainly and fifty; even thirty and forty seem more logical than 45. But some of our classmates did make the effort to organize a 45th.

In the past, we’ve usually had reunions in the summer, often near the end of the school year as if revisiting graduation itself. This time, we got together in October, on the weekend of Homecoming. That makes a certain kind of sense, but there are people who find traveling in June easier. Teachers and professors and school administrative types and anyone still responsible for school age children. (Not too many of us remain in that last group.)

So an October 45th Class Reunion might not be the biggest draw. Let’s assume a fair number of people simply decided – if they were interested at all – they’d wait for the big one coming up about five year from now. Particularly for classmates traveling in from out-of-town.

But what about that? Are people more likely to come if distance is no issue?

This is a bit of a surprise. A little over half of the class – maybe 55% -- live in and around the town of our youth – which, by the way, happens in this case to be Joplin, MO. A little under half – about 45% -- live outside the immediate area. Of course some live much further away than others.

Obviously, then, we would expect people living in the Joplin area to be ‘overrepresented’ at a class event. NOT SO! Just slightly over half of the attendees came from the Joplin area; slightly under half came in from out of the area.

If some people will come from a distance, why don’t lots and lots of people come from nearby?

I happen to have two friends who live in the Joplin area who did not come and I know why. In one case, she had direct conflicts with the timing; her spouse, not a classmate, had a birthday last weekend. In the other, she has less than no interest – she tried attending a reunion once and found the experience unpleasant.

In marketing research where I spent a fair chunk of my working life, we note that people can tell you why they do what they do, buy what they buy and so on. But they cannot as a rule tell you why they don’t do or buy something. In the case of class reunions, I suspect the opposite holds. If you don’t go, you probably know why and if you do go, it is rather harder to explain why.

Amazing things can happen at class reunions. My widowed mother found her wonderful second husband at a class reunion. Such hopes may account for some of the single classmates showing up. But it certainly cannot account for the majority, who arrived with spouses in tow.

I came – bringing my willing mate along – in part because I needed to make a trip to Joplin anyway. And I thought certain friends who matter to me greatly were coming in – didn’t happen to work out that way. And I just have this endless curiosity about the trajectories of lives – about the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the hopes and dreams we hold on to as well as the ones we let go of.

You rarely get what you came for, but it’s still interesting to see how we’re lookin’ these days.

Sitting on floor from left to right are:

Mardell Thomas Rouse, Stephanie White Everitt, June Johnson Shelton, Linda Hensley Evans, Linda Putnam Emmert, Carol Corbin Buck.

1st row left to right:

Phyllis Payne Sapp, Nancy Page Allen, Sharon Peters Arnold, Joyce Tillman Frey, Jeanne Looper Tighe, Janet Counts Severs, Janet Hale Tabin, Sharon Johnson Lawrece, Billie Lenger Stockam, Katherine Patterson Barnes, Charlene Veteto Jones, Sharyl Reece Barwick.

2nd row left to right:

Jim Christiansen, Jerry Brackett, Mike Clark, Paula Mills Barlett, Pat Aggus Noe, Donna Drake Helton, Betty Shanks Smart, Joe Cowen, Frank Metz, Martha Earhart Wright, Donna Powers Hansen.

3rd. row left to right:

David Knisley, Bill Cook, Tom Harrison, Bruce McCaw, Mitch Stevens, John Keeling, Ross Smith, Jay Campbell, Rick Sadler, Gary Flenner, Dennis Triplett, Bill Hunt, Perry Potter.

4th row left to right:

Butch England, Steve Campbell, Jim Anderson, Dennis Smith, Monty Gavin, Clyle Linam, Dave Stockam, Jim Krudwig, George Gagle, Micky Moore.

1 comment:

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