|Won't you come out
- by Alice Marie Beard
40 years after high school, there was a party.
Donna, Lois, and I grew up together in Normain Heights on the north side of Mishawaka, and Donna and Lois were the best best-friends that any little girl could have hoped for. I wanted the three of us to have one more day together. We had not been together in more than 25 years. Donna lives in New York. Lois lives in New Mexico. I live in Maryland.
In 2007, I contacted both and said, "Next year will be forty years after we graduated from high school. I want us to get together in 2008." Both wrote back, "Tell us where and when, and we'll be there."
I decided to invite the others from Normain Heights who had been with us in school at North Side Elementary (from K through 4th), at Battell for 5th and 6th, and at Main Junior High for 7th and 8th grades. It had been a lot of years, and we'd all walked through many fires since we played at Normain Heights Park, or walked to the Dairy Queen with a quarter, or played in the woods, or watched the cows in the farmer's field behind Ardennes Avenue, or dug tunnels in Billy Hickey's yard.
Then I decided to rent Castle Manor for a day and gift the day to our old group from Normain Heights. It would allow Lois and Donna to see not only me, but also the rest of that old group with connections to North Side Elementary and/or Normain Heights.
Once the plan had moved from just Donna, Lois, and me to all of the old Normain Heights kids, it was an easy step to, "Hell! Castle Manor is big enough that I can invite anyone who ever was part of the MHS Class of '68. Donna and Lois and the Normain Heights kids had friends beyond Normain Heights."
There were 30 of us with old North Side Elementary School connections. Of those 30, fourteen came out for the party weekend on October 10th and 11th on those beautiful autumn days in 2008. Billy Hickey was the biggest surprise; he lives in Arizona, and I had not seen him since his family moved after 7th grade. Eve flew in from California. Alan flew in from North Carolina. Steve came up from southern Indiana. Glenda, from Lafayette. Kelly, Dave, Drenea, Pam, Phil, and Jack came from the greater northern Indiana area.
Once I'd decided to invite any and all who had ever been part of the MHS Class of '68, it was more than I could handle on my own. Michael Morrison was the first to volunteer, and what he did was crucial: The vision was for a weekend that began with an MHS home football game, and it had to be a game on a weekend with no Notre Dame game and no Notre Dame "move-in" weekend because some people would need hotel rooms. Those requirements narrowed the choice of date to one weekend. ... Renting Castle Manor is a game in itself. It is rented first-come, first-served on the first business day of the year. To get the chosen day, someone had to arrive early enough to be first in line. On January 2, 2008, the snow on the ground in Mishawaka was 16 inches deep. Michael arrived before 3 a.m. to be the first in line, and he stood outside until 8 a.m. in temperatures below 10 degrees. The day as envisioned could not have happened without Michael Morrison.
Then volunteers were needed to send postal mail to others from the MHS Class of '68. Over a span of four years, I had tracked down and verified postal addresses for over 350 from MHS '68. Donna and Lois themselves helped with the postal mailing, along with Randi Sue Baker, Carol Gramenz, Judy Greenlee, Marsha Honold, Becky McCoy, Mary Rhoade, and Peggy Sinkovics. There was an initial attempt to have individuals mail to specific elementary schools. For some, that worked; for other volunteers, they just said, "Send me 35 names and addresses."
Rosemarie Wilkins stepped up and volunteered to donate paper products for 200 (big & little plates, cups, plastic eating utensils). Mary Ann Pechi donated coffee, sugar, cream, and use of a huge coffee pot that she and Jerry Cavanah had been given as a wedding present when we were young and wrinkle-free. Debbie Parnell brought a Caveman-decorated sheet cake from West End Bakery for desert after the mid-day potluck meal. For evening desert, Donna's sister Bobbie Sue (MHS '70) provided birthday cakes for Eve Thompson and Henry Catalino; the day at Castle Manor served as a birthday party for both Eve and Henry, and Bobbie decorated the cakes herself. Mary Rhoade made a banner for the Friday night football game and for hanging at Castle Manor on Saturday. Michael Morrison brought a super-sized innertube for folks to play on in the river. Judy Greenlee pulled out her wallet and covered for soda pop and bottled water when folks realized just before our mid-day feast that there was next to nothing to drink; Alan Stafford made the quick run to the store. Bob VanArsdale organized a classic car show and classic cars came from him, George Roelandts, Terry Conway, and Chuck Hoffman. Spider Draves brought hot-air balloons to set off and release in the evening over the St. Joseph River. They were three-foot high paper balloons that he heated using a blow torch. Then he handed fresh hot-air balloons to anyone who wanted them, to take home for their own playing.
Michael Morrison had arrived in time to have Castle Manor unlocked by 7 a.m., and he had a fire going in the fireplace before others arrived. Alan Stafford stepped in and baked cookies in the morning. Pat McGee and Tammy Reed were on site early to help set up; Tammy brought her daughter's huge black Labrador Retriever. Randi Baker added the smell of home as she cooked her matzo ball soup in the kitchen. Darlene Lennox added Jackie Swonger's memory to the day with a balloon release for Jackie, and there were some tears from women who remembered Jackie as a young girl; Jackie died of cancer in January 2005. Steve Cunningham and Michael Morrison stayed to the absolute end of the day at Castle Manor, made sure the place was swept clean with all trash removed, and locked the doors to what had been our home for the day.
Two men besides Michael Morrison outdid themselves:
Henry Catalino, who has been a professional chef with his own restaurant, prepared an evening meal for us: Italian garlic roasted chicken with potatoes and green peppers. He did all of the shopping, prepared the food at his home, and brought it to Castle Manor where he roasted it in the ovens. He brought his own chafing dishes and everything that a professional caterer would provide, and he did it all for nothing but the cost of the food itself. [The $70 extra that was collected at supper time was handed to Father Bill at St. Monica's the next morning, and he was told that it was from the MHS Class of '68, money left over from a potluck day at Merrifield Park. See here.]
Dave Hoskins is the other man who outdid himself. After learning about the party in the park, Dave wrote, "My band will be playing at a bar & grill in downtown Mishawaka that night. No charge for admission. Maybe some people would like to come and hear us." In the words of Alaska's Sarah Palin, "You betcha!" ... Dave's band is called "M.G.B." He plays bass guitar in the three-person group, and they are GREAT! Dave has played in a band for more than 40 years. Many folks went from Castle Manor to where Dave was performing -- The Phoenix, in downtown Mishawaka at Main Street and Lincoln Way.
Forty years ago, I was an awkward geek girl who never dated or went to dances, and I had never learned how to dance. Dave's band put out such phenomenal music & magic & memories that everyone was dancing and having a good time. And -- surprise, surprise -- four men from the MHS Class of '68 kindly asked this middle-aged mom to dance. I warned each, "I can NOT dance!" Steve Cunningham, Alan Stafford, and Michael Morrison each assured me that they'd get me through the dance just fine and that I'd not look like a fool, and they did just that. Steve even twirled me around a few times. Just amazing, and thank you, gentlemen. Jim Shown's response to my "I can NOT dance" was classic Jim Shown, "I can't dance either! Let's just get out there and have fun!" And we did, even with Jim's new knee. ... Special thank yous to Dr. Cunningham, Dr. Stafford, Mr. Morrison, and Mr. Shown for being willing to stand up and dance with me, and a special kind thank you to Mr. David Hoskins for putting on such a fine musical performance that even this old geek girl was asked to dance!
The play day at the park originated as a gift to my dear friends Donna and Lois. By the end of the day, it had become a day of so much gifting to so many others. Thank you, to so many folks!
Alice Marie Beard