Class reunion is a town reunion in Glennallen
September 1, 2023 | View PDF
After making the 140-mile drive from Palmer to Glennallen, I parked my car, gathered the coleslaw I'd made from cabbage from my garden, and I walked with anticipation to the picnic area of the Pinneo Ballpark. Fifty years ago in May, 22 other classmates and I had graduated from Glennallen High School, and I was curious as to who I might find to visit with at this class reunion.
There had been no communication between me and any of my classmates about marking this milestone year, so I could only hope that some would show up. The night before, I dug out our yearbook and the four prior years and looked at all the photos and names of the seniors, hoping that would help jog my memory. I had no doubt I would recognize my classmates (even with grey hair), but I wasn't as sure about the others who might attend.
In 1993, I helped organize our 20th reunion and it was a big deal. Eight of us gathered for dinner at Tolsona Lake Lodge and then again for lunch the next day at the Caribou Café in Glennallen. We only invited the 23 members of our graduating class. I lived in Palmer at the time. Then 10 years later when I lived in Slana, I helped one of our classmates (who lives in the area) organize a picnic at the Pinneo Ballpark for our 3Oth. That time we decided to open it up to the classes before and after us, as well as teachers. I think we used 1980 as the cut-off year, but it wasn't set in stone. There hadn't been much of a reunion of any kind in several years and we had a great turnout.
So much so, that a local girl (class of 1978) decided to keep it going these 20 years since. It always takes place the last Saturday of July at the ballpark. Hamburgers, hotdogs and drinks are provided and alumni are asked to bring a potluck side dish. The 1978 graduate stores all the reunion supplies and makes sure it happens each summer.
Back in 1973, I married Gary a week after graduating and we immediately moved to Anchorage for his construction job. Since we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary this past May, I was very aware that it was also 50 years since my graduation. Since that, too, seemed like such a milestone, I decided I wanted to take the time and make the effort to attend the annual reunion in Glennallen, a town I called home beginning in 1963.
On the drive to Glennallen the morning of July 29, I'd had plenty of time to think and consider my expectations. I do correspond with three of my classmates regularly, but only once a year at Christmas, and one of those lives out-of-state. I knew she would not attend. Another of our classmates married a guy from Tonga not long after our graduation and has lived all of her married life in his home country. Others live in Maine, Florida, Texas and California, scattered with the winds. Four are local and many live in other Alaskan towns. Four of our classmates have died. I hoped at least five of us would show up to celebrate this 50th.
Arriving at the cooking area first, I immediately recognized a guy from the class of 1971 grilling hamburgers. We greeted each other and his wife and I chatted for a few moments, before she offered to take my salad to the food table. Just then another lady (I didn't recognize) caught my eye and we began to talk. It turned out she is the wife of one of my brother's good friends. (My brother graduated in 1980.) And so it went. I just kept speaking to first one person and then another, introducing myself and asking who others were, engaging in so much conversation it was hard to stop long enough to get a plate of food, which I took to a picnic table in the shade.
I enjoyed talking to the mother of the lady who makes sure the yearly reunion happens – a dear lady from my mother's generation. I also enjoyed exchanging memories with a friend of Gary's, who knew him even before we married. I don't know what year he graduated, but did learn he is now 79. Then I had a great conversation with a 1971 graduate, whose son I knew from my years working at the Slana School where he did his first year of teaching in 2002. I laughed with a lady from the class of 1966 as she talked about her experiences being our family's babysitter, taking care of me and three younger siblings – two sisters and a brother. Growing up in a small town like Glennallen, you not only know your classmates, but also their siblings and parents – pretty much the whole town.
By this time, I was aware that two guys from my class who still live in the Copper River Valley were present, so I joined their group. We talked a little of health issues, but mostly of memories: specific teachers and particular incidents. I so enjoyed the spirited conversation, the laughter and the joking. I look back on my high school years with fondness, unlike some people. We caught up on what we knew of the whereabouts and activities of other classmates.
Later that night, I made a list of everyone I could think of that attended and came up with 32. And yes, several were from out-of-state. There were only two people I absolutely did not recognize and had to ask their names, but they were quite a bit older than me, graduating before I became a freshman.
I was among the last to leave, staying until almost all the food had been cleared away and the supplies had been packed up in the boxes for another year, wanting to soak up enough nostalgia to last a long time. Then I took a leisurely drive around town, taking photos and reliving childhood memories.
I marvel at how quickly 50 years passed. Then I purposefully change my mindset and look toward the future and wonder about those years, too, as I continue on this journey of life.
Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at email@example.com.