Forever friends

Published 10:36 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

“These are a few small ripples in the great pond of love, laughter and concern we have among our families. May the pond continue to grow. May we continue to be nurtured each by the other and may God’s blessing rest within each heart.”

Mel Vance, 25th Prologue, Annual College Reunion Memory Book, 1990

Five young women went off to Indiana State teacher’s college in the early 1960’s and found lifelong friends in their Burford Hall dorm mates. They have since met annually for 44 years — bringing first their spouses, then their children, and now, grandchildren.

Joy Garriott, designated group historian, said, “I recently took a head count and I believe the group now totals 52.”

Of the five, Arlene (Ikamire) Hecko, Janet (Rhude) Nehrt, Lois (Larew) Vance and Phyllis (Richter) Sweeney all still live near Greencastle, Ind. Only Joy (Smith) Garriott, and husband Randall, left their home turf, moving first to New Jersey and then to Birmingham, before settling in Helena in 1996. Randall is now retired from Bellsouth.

The families have been present for each other’s weddings, anniversaries — including Joy and Randall’s 40th in 2002, and retirement parties.

In the early years, they rotated homes for a Sunday picnic and in 1966, the gathering became a weekend event. The husbands, by necessity, developed a kinship of their own.

In 1980, the first out-of-state reunion was held — due to the Garriott’s move to New Jersey. The parents noted this was the year that the children, too, formed friendships among themselves.

Through the years they have convened at many a state park in Indiana and Kentucky, as well as New York City in ’80, Mobile/Gulf Shores in ‘84, and Opryland in Nashville in ‘95,

A plethora of photographs have been gathered — most arranged with the expertise former teachers bring to such occasion. Early documentation shows the Garriott’s son Greg, as a young photojournalist; to this day he is always seen with camera around neck.

“Our chorus girls kicks are not as high as they once were,” Joy Garriott said, “But our pose is still a classic.”

For the 25th–annual reunion in 1990, T-shirts were designed with each attendee’s name inscribed within a heart shape.

That year, also, the Memory Book was assembled with each couple and most of the offspring contributing remembered highlights. Lois’s husband, Mel, commemorated the occasion with a determinedly rhyming 10–stanza poem that concludes with:

“As body and mind become less fast, my most important memory is true friendships always last.”

The 45 reunion will be held at Orange Beach next September with just the seniors gathering for some deep-sea fishing.