By Cigi Ross '06
I could imagine it. Seventy some-year-olds seated around tables, sipping tea or coffee, and reminiscing about the good ol' days. That's the weekend I had in mind when Knox Magazine asked me to spend three days over Homecoming weekend with the Class of 1958 and other members of the Knox-Lombard Fifty Year Club -- a club for alumni who left Knox or Lombard Colleges at least 50 years ago. When I arrived at the T. Fleming Fieldhouse on Friday, October 31, for the Homecoming All-Class Reception, I wasn't sure what the club members' idea of fun would be. To be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of what one Class of 1958 alumnus later said to me -- that it'd be a bit like spending the weekend with my grandparents. I love my grandparents, but I wasn't sure how much fun a Homecoming weekend would be with a bunch of folks my grandparents' age. It turns out, the Class of 1958's version of fun was strikingly similar to mine.
The Knox-Lombard Fifty Year Club is now better known among Knox alumni and friends as the FYC. A new Knox class is inducted into the club each year when it reaches the 50th anniversary of its graduation.
The FYC works hard to remind alumni that Knox's relationship with them doesn't end after the 50th Reunion. Up until five years ago, the FYC met only three times a year in Galesburg. Today, the club hosts numerous gatherings each year in places like Florida, Michigan, and Chicago, and alumni celebrate their 55th, 60th, and 65th Reunions at various events.
"In years past, the Fifty Year Club was often seen as a Galesburg club," says Megan Clayton, FYC coordinator. "But recent members didn't stay in Galesburg after graduating from Knox. They left and moved to other parts of the country."
The FYC has accommodated the mobility of its younger members and the "snow birds" by expanding its events to Arizona, Florida, and California.
"We're changing (the Galesburg perception) with events all over the country," Clayton says. "Before, it was white gloves and very formal. We've tried to make it more fun."
Clayton's efforts have paid off. The Class of 1958, the club's newest members, "are a younger, savvier group. I had one alum say it's the Feisty Young Club," says Clayton.
After a few minutes of hovering around the Class of 1958 tables at Friday's reception, I was introduced to Mike Ruffolo, one of three Reunion co-chairs, along with his wife, Pat Craig Ruffolo, and Mary Peterson Potter. Mike, who now lives in San Francisco, immediately took me under his wing, leading me from table to table and introducing me to his classmates.
Megan Clayton told me that the Class of 1958 makes everybody feel welcome; she wasn't wrong. Despite the 48-year age difference, the members of the class talked to me like an old friend.
A recurring topic of conversation was the group's advancing age. Caroline Andrews Porter joked about it during her Saturday morning Homecoming Convocation address: "Our greatest nightmare is that we'll end up back in Whiting Hall. The male alums have wanted to get above the first floor for as long as they could remember, but this time they don't really remember why." (Knox's former women's residence, Whiting Hall, now offers housing for seniors and the handicapped.)
But many said they couldn't believe it had been 50 years since they left the school.
"The stereotype is that we're a bunch of old farts," Mike Ruffolo says, "but that's not the case at all. In this 72-year-old body beats the heart of a 35-year-old."
Roy Issacson's wife, Brenda (not a Knox alumna), may have put it best when she said, "Life begins at 50. We're not getting older, we're just chronologically gifted."
My only hint of age problems was an early lesson in speaking "into my good ear." But I also learned that the Class of 1958 is not only kind to young strangers but generous as well. The Class raised more than $570,000 from 56 percent of the class. Class President Mondo P. Lopez explained that the group made every effort to contact all their classmates and get them involved -- not just to donate money but to reconnect with old friends and with Knox. Their gifts refurbished three classrooms in Old Main.
"They reached out and reengaged their classmates," says President Roger Taylor '63. "If anyone in the Class of 1958 didn't get a phone call or an e-mail, they must have been in Antarctica."
Knox is People
For many Knox students and alumni near my age, I'm sure there seems to be an otherness between Knoxites of the '50s and ourselves. We do have different memories of the small community we called home for four short years. For one, I always cheered for the purple and gold Prairie Fire; my new friends from '58 carried Siwash banners for part of Homecoming weekend. I became familiar with the streets of Galesburg by driving my friends to Target and could never find a parking spot close enough to my residence hall; members of the Class of 1958, unless they were "townies," were prohibited from bringing cars to campus until the final semester of their senior year.
Despite those differences, I believe our experiences at Knox were the same. Members of the class made the same lifelong friendships that my classmates have formed. I saw that firsthand at the Reunion dinner at Soangetaha Country Club on Saturday, November 1. I sat with a group of men, including Donald Pizza, Starr Kirklin, William Baker, Robert Moist, and William Myers, who had met each other in 1954 and became Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers. They all live in the Chicago area, and their friendship has only grown with the addition of families and jobs.
Members of the Class of 1958 spent time learning and pursuing their creative and academic passions, just like we did. And now their pasts are the future we hope to achieve. Many have not yet completed their goals, like Richard "Dick" Duncan, who earned a degree in chemistry and worked as a rocket fuel specialist after graduation, won two Emmy awards for his work in television, and became an ordained United Church of Christ minister. Now that he's retired, Duncan teaches classes at his son's school in San Diego.
These new FYC members aren't going to stop achieving any time soon. At the Class of 1958 induction luncheon, Nina Allen told me that she had left Knox after two years. She wasn't sure if she would be accepted when she returned to campus for the Class's 40th Reunion.
"Everyone made me feel so welcome," says Allen, who came back for the 45th Reunion and helped lead the phone crusade to raise money for the class' 50th Reunion campaign. "Knox is people."
The rest of Allen's class has taken that to heart. They understand that their 50th Reunion -- and subsequent induction into the FYC -- is a milestone. But for this group, it's only one more step along the way.