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Reunions Sweet as Capitol Rolls

Today there are offices on the fourth floor of Sutton Hall, but Elaine Tselepis Sheetz ’71 remembers when it was her campus home. It was the place where she and seven other young women went from strangers to lifelong friends, forever linked by the college memories they shared.

Together they witnessed, in 1968, IUP’s dress code change that allowed female students to wear pants to class. They’d circumvent another rule by eating in the cafeteria in their nightgowns, hiding them under their coats. They rearranged furniture together, moving all the desks into one “study room,” and took turns on phone duty for the single telephone shared by the entire north side of the fourth floor.

“We’re really tight,” she said. “It’s always been that way. We’ve grown up together.”

The Sutton Girls

The Sutton Girls celebrated their sixtieth birthdays at Delaware Beach in 2009. Left to right: Kathy Meade McKean ’71, Helen Wloczewski Londergan ’71, Nancy Dezort Suttenfield ’71, Elaine Tselepis Sheetz ’71, Barbara Borkowski ’72, Sharon Roorback Lopes ’71, Diane Hambright Thomas ’71, and Patricia Johnson Orner ’72. Photo courtesy of Elaine Sheetz

Every year, they celebrate and renew their long-lasting friendship with a reunion. The reunion that marked their sixtieth birthdays was extra special—a week at a beach house with special touches that stirred IUP memories. “It’s always just the eight of us,” she said. “It’s really a special time to be together.”

There were flip-flops made by one of the group’s art majors that featured oak leaves and each graduate’s name. Someone brought Oak Grove wine with special labels made just for the reunion. To help set the scene, they put together a big Pennsylvania puzzle and renamed one evening’s pasta dinner “Bruno’s night.” One woman even had two dozen Capitol rolls shipped to the beach, fresh from Indiana, Pa.

IUP graduates are reconnecting somewhere at least once a week, according to Mary Jo Lyttle, director of Alumni Relations. “No two reunions are alike,” she said.

In IUP’s early years as a teachers college, reunions were much more routinized. They were based on graduation year and took place in early June, after school was out, explained Mary Morgan, associate director of Alumni Relations. “There’s such an evolution now in alumni connections— from class year to groups,” Morgan said.

“It’s a great thrill to have two people show up who haven’t seen each other in forty years.”

This shift has led to a change in 2011. Those marking the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation are traditionally brought into IUP’s Pioneer Society during “reunion weekend” in June. This coming year, the Class of 1961 will instead be inducted during Commencement weekend in May.

One of the 1961 graduates, Sam Scavo, has been an active force in a popular reunion in Florida for years. It draws about a hundred graduates each year from an invitation list that Scavo estimates has more than three hundred names.

“It’s a great thrill to have two people show up who haven’t seen each other in forty years,” he said. “Each year, we have these things. You just never know who is going to show up. That’s what it’s all about, sharing the experiences we all had. The stories get better as you get older.”

Jim Perry ’71, a Kappa Delta Rho fraternity brother, feels it’s important not to pass up the chance to see college friends. “Three of the guys who came to the reunion in 2008 had passed away by the 2009 reunion,” he said. While the loss of friends is hard, he’s very thankful he had the chance to see them because of the reunions. “These are lifelong friends,” he said. “These are the best friends I ever had.”

Chuck Sabatos `65 and some of his Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity brothers got together about five years ago after losing touch for more than thirty years. Sabatos said a friend started a sort of e-mail chain of brothers sharing stories, which stirred interest in having a reunion. The Alumni Office helped them get the word out, and close to seventy people came to the first one. Several other reunions have taken place since then, some including a group of younger brothers from the fraternity. “We tell the same stories over and over and laugh more each time,” Sabatos said. “It’s been fun.”

Brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma

Brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma enjoy a reunion. Left to right: Andrew Stephenson ’72, for whom IUP’s newest suites were recently named; Jim DeMark ‘70; Chuck Winwood ’69; Mont Mattocks ’70; and Mike Sakash ’70. Photo: Frank Olma

Sara Lawer, assistant director of Alumni Relations, explained that the office staff can help in so many ways, from mailing invitations and organizing tours to planning dinners and reserving campus facilities.“We have a wide variety of resources to make each reunion special,” she said.

When the track and field and cross country alumni came back to IUP, running was naturally part of the festivities. In 2009, when Coach Edwin Fry and Coach Robert (Doc) Raemore retired, some IUP graduates organized a weekend-long tribute to the two highly respected coaches. One of the organizers, Jenny Stumpf Sassaman ’92 said many alumni were already coming back each year for an annual Alumni Run planned by Coach Fry. “Coach Fry still is like a second dad to a lot of us,” she said. “They [Fry and Raemore] both had an impact on a lot of people.”

Sassaman credited Mike Higgins ’79 and Rett Galbraith ’89 with being instrumental in planning the reunion weekend, which drew several hundred people. It started with an informal get-together Friday night, followed by an Alumni Run, a “disc-off” using flying discs at the College Lodge, and a formal dinner in the Blue Room on Saturday.

Don Howe ’79 and a group of friends hold an IUP reunion each year by going to a football game together in different National Football League cities. The group of about a dozen men graduated around 1979 and were all former members of a campus group known as the Players of IUP Social and Community Service Organization. The students got their name from the fact that some of the early members played football at IUP as freshmen.

“That’s the one trip I won’t reschedule,” Howe said. “It’s just that important to all of us.”

As students, the members of the group, which also had included a few women, helped the Indiana community with service projects. As alumni, the group has continued to mix fun with service by forming the African American Alumni Scholarship Fund at IUP, which they oversee. As alumni, the group also organized two Philadelphia reunions, open to all African American alumni of IUP. Each event drew close to one hundred graduates.

Reunions can be many different styles, from a casual lunch at a restaurant to a weekend full of activities. An annual event organized as a golf fund-raiser has generated more than $100,000 to support advanced technology for the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology. In addition, it has attracted numerous affinity groups that continue to participate in this event.

Another reunion with unique style is the Alumni Jazz Weekend, which has been postponed this year and will take place next in November 2011. Normally held every other year, it draws alumni of all ages, who practice together to create a complete line-up of big band jazz music in a single weekend, culminating in a performance. While on campus, the alumni have many chances to share their experiences and memories with current students.

The event was started by the late Daniel DiCicco ’54 in the 1980s and continued in the 1990s. After a few years without the event, some alumni asked music professor Kevin Eisensmith ’78 to resurrect it, which he did in 2002.

For more information on starting a reunion, visit the Alumni Relations office.

More from the Fall-Winter 2010 Issue of IUP Magazine

A Sense of Hope

A Sense of Hope

IUP’s Promise Plus program brings Pittsburgh students and their parents to campus for an exercise in imagination.

Double Vision

Double Vision

IUP’s University Museum hosted Paint & Pixels, an exhibition of identical twins Ron Donoughe’s oil paintings and Don Donoughe’s graphic design.

Above the Caption

Stephenson Hall, Pratt Plaza, Heritage Garden, and a view from the sky

Mentors

Highlights about IUP faculty members, past and present

Namedroppers

Athletic Hall of Fame inductions, sports update, and the Coal Bowl Trophy

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August 21, 2010
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Professor Shari Robertson and her daughter Brianna Robertson ’09

Diphthongs and Dahntahn

June 30, 2010
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