After over a year of planning and a weekend full of events, we had the chance to sit down with Brad Belz and Carolyn Vitale. Brad and Carolyn were both on the Golden Years Reunion Committee and played key roles in the planning and execution of Martin Luther School’s Historic Reunion. Weeks after the craziness and review of the event, we learned more about the experience they had seeing classmates for the first time in over 20-30 years, and almost 50 years for some.
Carolyn, a member of the Class of 1966, the third graduating class at MLS, has been reconnecting with the school for a number of years. “My church was everything to me. I liked small environments, so when it came time for us to choose where I would go to high school, I knew I didn’t want to go to a big public high school. Since one of our friend’s daughter from church was already enrolled in the school, it was an easy decision for my family to make…the rest was history.” Carolyn remembered her hour and a half commute starting at the Main Street Flushing hub catching the B58 with the other kids coming from her neighborhood. “We would get to the other stops, slowly but surely picking up more students from all the other areas. We made it for 8:15am chapel and I don’t remember anyone having complained about being in school so early. Many of the students, like myself, traveled an hour and even more to get here. With the small school, teachers truly got to recognize us and our work. They were our family away from home.”
Brad was a member of the class of 1968 at MLS. He remembered being a Senior and getting voted as the Senior Class President. “It was a great job to have. I got to plan all of our events including the prom and it was basically a popularity contest. I remember the impact that the Christian Fellowship that existed at the school had on me - it was the common denominator that helped us all connect!”
When we asked Carolyn and Brad about the individuals they remembered most during their time here, they both remembered Pastor Hinz as “having such a big presence in our lives and every person’s life here.” Brad especially remembered speaking about going to a Lutheran University with him. “We got to know each other through personal conversations about the future…he always made himself accessible “
Carolyn was excited to have the opportunity to come back to MLS to plan the events of the Golden Years Reunion with the committee. “You have to see to it that the goal is met and everyone is happy doing whatever it takes to get the job done. We had a great event and developed new friendships after so many years...” “You have to appoint a head baker to get through the process” added Brad, jokingly. "The reunion gave us the opportunity to reconnect with people we haven’t seen in fifty years…I wanted to help wherever I could,” she says.
Brad was overwhelmed with emotions walking into MLS for the first time in years, and remembers his first interaction with a student here very clearly. “I ran into a student on my first day back here for a committee meeting and he thought that I was a teacher and he started talking to me as though I was a member of the staff. I eventually told him I was an alumni of 50 years…and he put his arm on me and said “welcome” and introduced himself. I thought to myself “wow” I’m here and this is a good place to be.” For Brad, that cemented the idea that he was doing the right thing by coming back and working on this.
Planning the Golden Years Reunion was over a year-long process, involving brainstorming ideas for venues, communicating with alumni and really “putting all the pieces together.” In giving advice to future alumni/ae who want to plan an event like this one they say, “you have to know what you are committing to…have goals in mind. It’s all about reconnecting and making new friends – it’s time well spent.” Brad explained that, “all the renewed friendships I made after not seeing these individuals for 25-30 years made it all worthwhile.”
Brad and Carolyn laughed and smiled talking about all of the events of the weekend. “All of the events surpassed all of my expectations. When I walked into LaGuardia and saw the beautiful set up and then saw everyone start to come in, the time and planning was worth it,” says Carolyn. They both explained that it didn’t matter what class anyone was in, everyone was just happy to see each other and to be together after so many years. “We had a good time dancing. We brought in two dancers who were teaching us to salsa and line dance. Everyone could get up and have fun. From the cocktail party to the dancing to the ice cream social…the whole weekend was well received,” says Brad. They both explained how special it was to be a part of this year’s commencement after all of their events as well.
Brad and Carolyn recommend consulting with other individuals who have planned reunions before beginning planning their own. Communicate with people who are interested in attending, and have a committee with people who are dedicated to getting the job done. Brad added that, “it doesn’t happen overnight and we hope that our planning will help others plan.” Both of them want to thank Chris Brown for his involvement and constant support throughout the process.
Thank you to the Brad & Carolyn, the Golden Years Reunion Planning Committee and Chris Brown for putting on such a wonderful event at MLS. We can’t wait until the next reunion event!
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