As Gerald and I entered Giant City State Park with the green of huge trees blanketing both sides of the road, I felt both anticipation and nostalgia. Here it was that we used to come for Baptist Student Union retreats from nearby Southern Illinois University. Memories of those days started as we arrived for the 24th reunion of Baptist Student Union. This event was begun by a few 1940s alumni in someone's kitchen having so much fun that they decided they ought to plan to meet again the next year and invite all their decade's BSU alums. Eventually the 1950 and 1960 BSUers were invited, and now the older alumni are mostly gone. We probably need to start recruiting 1970s kids! Gerald and I were relaxed because we were even a mite early after keeping my Carbondale dental appointment followed by some successful shopping.
We came to the lovely rustic lodge created during the 1930s Depression proving again that good things can come out of bad times. Beverly Walker and Betty Arnold greeted us with smiles as we entered and received lovely programs and even a memory paper full of questions to jog them. Name tags to hang around our necks had large first names to help our aging eyes recognize each other. I didn't immediately see anyone I knew. After a foray past the stuffed buffalo to check out the shelf of books by local authors, I returned to the leather couches. My seat mate was a Audrey Deppe, whom I had not met. That conversation was one of the reunion highlights for me as we found out we'd both lived at Woody Hall the year it opened, and we both shared stop and start careers interspersed with baby and child care just as so many women in our generation did. I learned that Roger had been in administration with the Saint Charles, MO, schools, and Audrey laughingly told me how she worked herself down (not up) from fourth grade to kindergarten, her specialty both by trainingand choice. That conversation gave me more confirmation on the importance of preparing children for a lifetime of successful learning.
When I became aware of a man on the opposite couch, somehow I heard he was Al Fasol. In Fall 1954, Al had been a student editor in George Dennison's journalism class as well as in Alice Hoye's speech class when I did my student teaching at West Frankfort High School. Al and the late Richard Darby, also an editor, were the only two student names I remembered. Al said he was in that speech class to overcome fear. He explained his family moved down from Chicago when he was in seventh grade and he was so shy that he took a lower grade in English class rather than read his essay aloud. (I bet it was an A essay too.) Miss Hoye helped him overcome that fear of public speaking, and later he began to preach as well as do radio announcing. He remembered coming down to preach at tiny Ware Baptist Church with the late Lucien Bozarth in 1960. He was dissatisfied with his preparation and consequently with his sermon, but he said he learned an important lesson about the need to prepare. Ware was our church then because Gerald was farming Lucien's mother and uncle's farm in the Mississippi River bottoms. Later Al was with Marion's Station WGGH from 1960-63. He left just as we came to farm in the Marion area. I was delighted to catch up with a former student, but he spoke with so much modesty that I did not guess his many degrees and his 32-year career in Fort Worth as an outstanding preaching professor and that he would be our main speaker on Friday.
As time for dinner approached, we were invited into the reserved dining room. The hall way was crowded, but I was able to visit a bit with Jane Walker Sims from Harrisburg. When I asked about Richard Stewart, she explained he had not been able to come because he had broken a leg in a golf cart accident. She'd been to see him before she came. She asked about my sister Rosemary Martin Parks, age 90, and her husband Phil, and I could tell her they were good down in Amarillo. (They still cook supper every Friday night for their kids and grand-kids and whoever wants to show up which can be 10-20 people.) Beside Jane were a younger couple whose name tags said Robert and Marilyn Parks, and he explained he was Phil's nephew. I was so disoriented that even when Marilyn said their son was named Phil, I did not catch on this was Dr. Bob Parks and Marilyn Scarborough Parks, whom I once knew as Curt Scarborough's teen-age sister. Later Ken Cannon introduced them since this was their first reunion and told us they would have to leave early since Bob had duty early the next morning. As they left, Bob handled the old joke about doctors practicing with good humor, and Ken hoped they would return next year.
We had been blessed to find ourselves at table with Marc and Doris McCoy and Earl and Delores Dungey. Marc is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University and was active in BSU there. He began attending the reunion to bring his late father, but he has become one of our most ardent supporters. The SIU yearbook exhibit he brings each year is just one contribution. Marc works at an Indianapolis bank, and Doris is a nurse at the Methodist Hospital there. I so enjoyed getting acquainted with her and also with Delores Dungey. Gerald and Earl's paths cross, but Delores and I had never visited even though we live close in rural Marion. She is a sister to one of the Emery brothers I do know, and I learned more of the history of their earlier skating rink that burned down before we came and where her 16th birthday party took place. Earl had mowed their yard before they came because they were leaving next day on a bus tour to Maine. That is how they travel because Earl says every thing is planned and taken care of. Among other places, they've been to New Orleans, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
Music was an important part of the reunion as it was when we were in BSU. Even before the blessing, Barb Eidson played and introduced our theme song “The Way We Were.” In the absence of Darrell Molen, Marc led the blessing, and then table by table we chose from the bountiful buffet serving a country dinner menu, which featured dumplings and their famous fried chicken.
I had been looking forward to our annual visit with the Molens. Roberta Hollada, who graduated from Mt. Vernon High School with Betty, explained to me that at their recent reunion, somehow Betty's wheel chair hit a bump and she was so injured she had to be hospitalized. Roberta had talked to her this week on the phone and Betty has recovered enough for therapy.
We were also missing Wendell and Mary Garrison, and it was explained Wendell had to cancel as he preached the funeral for Keith Stanford. Copies of Wendell's fifth devotional book A Joyful Journey through Philippians were there. We came home with two to add to his others on our shelves, and Gerald is already reading his roommate's latest book.
A varied program followed dinner with Ken Cannon as master-of-ceremonies. Bob and Oleta Barrows led the Confessions Game, and Gene and Ginger Wells answered questions to see how much in agreement they were. We learned they agreed that Ginger was the better driver. Gerald thought perhaps this was the result of an extra long trip Bob took them on as they returned from the now annual school-year trek to Georgia where they enjoy helping out with grand-kids while their daughter teaches. Ginger asked for prayers for her she drive through Atlanta on Sunday.
Becky Searle, Ginger Wells, Roger Deppe, and Harlan Highsmith sang “All in the April Evening,” a hymn Becky remembered was sung by the choir each spring at Walnut Street Church. Oleta Barrow performed as “Eski Honey.” Then Nada Jo Fuqua explained that thirty-five years ago she had been Eliza Doolittle, Terry had been Professor Higgens, and his mother was Mrs. Higgens in their Kentucky community's production of My Fair Lady. Then Nada Jo sang “Wouldn't It Be Loverly” followed by Terry's masterful rendition of “Hymn to Him.” Ernie Standerfer performed his famous “Sam Shovel” routine before group singing of fun songs led by Bob Barrow and Charlie Baker with Barb Eidson at the piano. (Thanks to Doris McCoy for use of her electric piano for two days and to Marc who probably carried it in and set it up.) Barb led us in singing “The Way We Were” before Bill Eidson gave the evening address on “Memories of BSU.”
Bill, who had a career teaching history at Ball State University in Indiana, told of being a first generation college student who was welcomed into Doyle Dorm, where he found encouragement and life long friends. A job in the cafeteria helped finances but included mashing huge quantities of potatoes with equipment sending up steam in his face that did not help him stay awake as he went on to his first history class. Being a diligent worker, he and his roommates decided one Saturday morning to really clean their room. They moved furniture out of the way and prepared a bucket of hot soapy water, which they then splashed on their floor. Two irate resident fellows from the room below them appeared quickly at their door complaining about the water coming down and putting out their ceiling light. I suspect they left floor cleaning to the janitor after that. Bill shared other memories, and then he encouraged the audience to share theirs and gave us categories to prompt us. People told how the inspiring Chester Swor visited noon day chapel and how other chapel services usually by students provided peace and support in the middle of the school day.
Not all memories were serious. Johnson Hall girls made some confessions including rolling coke bottles down the hall to upset a strict house mother. Another Doyle Dorm story was about the room that put a bucket of water over a door to plunge down on a planned victim. Instead President George Johnson showed up to invite one of the young men to supply the pulpit in an area church. These mighty nervous boys did not want Dr. Johnson to know of their mischief, but neither did they want him to find out by bumping the door. They escaped calamity when Dr. Johnson left unharmed, but the ministerial student had to make a trip to his office the next day to find out where and when that supply sermon was to take place.
It is always fun to hear stories of romance, and some were shared. My favorite was Delores “Dee” Barrow's telling of deserting her girl friends to sit by herself in the cafeteria hoping Tom Gwaltney would take the bait. Her plan worked, and they have had many years of marriage as a result. Someone remembered Bill Fulkerson and Carol Stuckey's unique story from last year. Bill climbed a tree, and when Carol walked under, he began a spooky rendition of Carol, Carol, Carol, Carol Stuckey. That plan worked also.
After many more memories were stirred, Bob Barrow and Carol Smith presented “Spirit of BSU” written by Archie Mosley and Bob Entrekin, our state BSU director who meant so much to many. The choir for the next day gathered to practice with Barb Eidson while the rest of us had a chance for a few more visits before we left for our homes or park cabins.
Memories of so many people and so many long ago events came into our minds during the evening that I figured if a neuroscientist had invented an instrument to record all the ding, ding, dinging in our brain cells, we would have probably exploded the thing with overloaded synapses as those rusty memory cells raced down neural pathways. Back at the farm, I was tired. I usually sleep well, but I was over stimulated from the evening and wondered if I could sleep. Fortunately, soon I was out of it. However, at 2 a.m., I am not sure if it was fortunate or unfortunate because memories surfaced and flooded my brain. Maybe I needed to remember those things. In a notebook filled with letters from those who could not make the reunion, I had read my Johnson Hall roommate Fay Eddings' note saying she could not come. Of course, she couldn't drive that far with neuropathy. My mind reviewed her successful Illinois career teaching Spanish among other things, and how I read about her being awarded newspaper faculty sponsor of the year. She told me once by phone about a mission trip to somewhere in South America and chatted excitedly about her participation in her local church and, yes, she still supports the Cardinals. She is now living with a niece who works for Asbury College in Wilmore, KY. That led me to thinking about our other roommate Alta Ruth Smith, who was one of the sweetest girls I ever knew. Her wardrobe was limited, but her closet was as neat as she was. I remembered her letter to me from the nursing home in my hometown when we were still fairly young asking me to let her come live with us, and I had to write that was not possible.
I thought I should go back to sleep. Silently I mentally said: Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. But instead I found myself recalling Warren Littleford. He had just graduated when I arrived, but I soon heard much about this football hero and passionate young preacher. Later he came for a revival at our chapel and I was able to hear him preach. He visited dorms, and I believe Dick Gregory, another campus standout, may have come to that revival. The only other off-campus speaker I remembered was a woman who had just been named Illinois mother-of-the-year. I am sure she gave us good advice on marriage and rearing children, but I only remember her saying as she sniffed her little nose that it was far better to be single than to be married to some people. I have quoted that on more than one occasion to a young woman. Noon day chapel gave many of us our first experience giving a devotional. I cringed as I remembered that for some odd reason I once chose to speak on Peter's and Judas' failures. While I have always identified and learned from Peter, I've remain puzzled by Judas. Certainly I was not theologically prepared to talk about Judas (then or now) , and I have no idea what I said about him in that devotional, which maybe is for the best.
Sleep, sleep, sleep I chanted again and again but I kept remembering dear long ago people. One BSU retreat at Giant City a gang of us went hiking with flashlights as we hiked through the streets between the giant rocks. Sitting on the lichen covered rocks, someone pointed a flashlight up the limbs of the nearest tree, and we had a spontaneous devotional service. The only one I can remember on that hike was the lateGail Crockett, who went by Dave after he came back from studying in France. He had a successful music career and once came back to Marion to live. Our daughter Katherine was blessed to take voice lessons from him. Gerald and I went to the open house for Dave and his bride, and they came out for dinner at the farm. Dave realized that as a child he had once come with his parents for a prayer meeting in that house. His twin Dale taught at Berea College in Kentucky and wrote a book while there. After retiring, he and wife Ruth (Bays) lived in Florida, and I caught up with them on the Internet. When they moved north, I lost tract again. Ruth asked me to write the story of their wedding for the society page in Marion's newspaper. Sleep, sleep, sleep.
I watched the clock go to 3 and to 4 and later. I am blessed that I can rest in bed awake and not hurt even though I get up stiff and in pain every morning. So I told myself to relax and enjoy the memories and that were probably from spots in my brain used for the first time in years. What a good mental exercise! Finally I fell asleep and woke with a strange dream when it was time to get dressed and hurry to Friday's reunion. Fortunately, Gerald knew a short cut through the country and we arrived in time for the coffee and breakfast goodies.
Tables were decorated with candles and autumn items given for our use by Ramona Ambrose, Sharon and Cal Reynolds' daughter. We returned to our same table with Doris and Marc and the Dungeys. Joe and Nellie Claxton of Mount Vernon had missed Thursday because of the Stanford funeral, and they joined us as did Joseph Hargis of Ellis Grove,who has retired from teaching in the Cobden high school and knew Gerald's cousins there.. The Claxtons had both Cobden and Grand Tower connections, so there was no shortage of conversation topics. They knew Elaine Dickson's and Jay Hauser”s parents, who were close friends of Gerald's parents. I am always fascinated by the web of connections that strangers often have.
The morning session started with more time for shared memories led by Marc and Lora Blacwell-Kern carrying the mikes. I loved Lora's stories of high school life in Carbondale. She did not go to teen town but rather played ping pong and hung out with BSUers at the Foundation. College students at Walnut Street Church shared after-service social time with the teens. Lora was our first leader to work with internationals at SIUC, and she later had a career teaching in Anna. She lives a nature-filled life on a farm at the end of a rural road near Anna. I visited her once to take books she had recruited at our reunions to send to other nations.
After the memory sharing, we worshiped with music led by Bob Barrow and Charlie Baker with Carol Smith at the piano. Barb Eidson and Carol gave us the reunion choir singing “Precious Memories” and the less familiar “And Can It Be.”
We were ready for Dr. Al Fasol's message. He talked a bit about his work encouraging young preachers in their careers and his emphasis on preparation. And then he told a story. One of his Doyle Dorm roommates was shot down over Viet Nam and was imprisoned there for five years and seven months until his release in March 1973. Tom was not a Christian and could not believe there was a God. When Tom was finally back home, they met and talked, but Al mostly listened because Tom needed to talk. Down through the years, they met up as often as possible, and Tom continued not believing. Al continued to talk, listen, explain, and encourage. Finally Tom came to believe there was a God; but after what he had experienced, he did not want anyone controlling him. So while he liked the part about being saved, he did not like the Jesus as Lord part. Years passed as the roommates stayed in touch. And then the day came when Tom decided to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He and Al became brothers in Christ as well as dorm brothers.
After “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” was sung by Bob Barrows and Carol Smith, Ken Cannon led us in a short business meeting. The current reunion committee with co-chair couples, Ken and Jo Nell, Cal and Sharon Reynolds were retained, along with members Lora Blackwell-Kern,, Bob and Oleta Barrow, Marc McCoy, Carol Smith, and Gene and Ginger Wells. Ken invited anyone who wanted to join the committee for next year to do so. People discussed the pros and cons of meeting at Giant City rather than at a church. It was agreed to let the committee choose next year's location. Before we were dismissed to give those in park cabins time to check out, every woman was able to pick from the lovely colorful circle of flowers on a display table, and we learned these were actually a holder for a candle. Betty Arnold had made two tiny pumpkin flower arrangements as door prizes for each table.
A very good soup and sandwich lunch was served us in the public dining room at noon before we came back together for the final session. As Carol Smith played softly, Gene Wells led our memorial service honoring the names of those who died during the past year. People were invited to mention memories as names were announced. To conclude, Bob Barrow and Carol sang “Precious Memories.”
Finally we heard the afternoon address “Keep Making Memories” by Ginger Wells. In a short time,she presented much wisdom and inspiration encouraging us to keep engaged in service and life. I needed this since now that I am old and tired, I really do not relish change and new experiences as I used to. Ginger gave us practical suggestions on achieving new memories. She noted we might need to overcome shyness in new surroundings and be willing to make the first move. She told how as they left their beloved home and church here in Illinois and started a new life style, she and Gene determined they would make new friends and live life as fully as possible in Georgia. Proof of the value of that decision came when Gene received eight birthday cards from new friends. As we continue to age, we may have to be more open to change in order to keep making good memories.It was time to go home, and Cal Reynolds led our closing prayer, Barb Eidson once more presented our theme song “The Way We Were” as the postlude. All that was left were goodbye hugs.
I felt reaching into the past and resurrecting old memories buried in my brains was helpful to my mental health. I liked hearinng others' good memories from BSU days. Remembering who I used to be perhaps makes me a little more knowledgeable of who I am today. I did make new friends and new memories at this year's reunion. Next year's reunion promises opportunity for making more.