Old Schoolmates reunite after four year hiatus

Photo by Cindy Weeldreyer

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - Smiles, laughter and hugs filled the room as Cottage Grove Lions gathered at their alma mater to reconnect with classmates from multiple classes.

A dull roar initially filled the Cottage Grove High School cafetorium as 240 graduates and their guests greeted each other and chatted about the many life happenings that occurred during the past four years; the reunion was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some attendees traveled from as far away as Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington. The oldest graduate attending was from the class of 1942.

In 1935, the Pioneer Schoolmates began holding an annual reunion for multiple classes. In 1952, another group of alumni also formed to gather younger grads. In 1960, the two groups merged and established the tradition of meeting on the first Friday in August. Once a graduating class reaches its 50th Anniversary they are ceremonially inducted into the Old School Mates.

Each year a new class is honored and welcomed into the group. Members of past classes are also honored when they reach the milestone years of 60th and 70th anniversaries. This year’s honored classes were 1963 for its 60th and 1953 for its 70th anniversary.

Due to the pandemic, four classes were inducted into the organization this year: 1970-1973. Each class had a representative who told the group why their class was special. The Class of 1971 representative said they were proud it was their class that petitioned school officials to successfully change the dress code so girls could wear pants to school starting in the 1971-72 school year.

Inducting four classes, instead of one, created an extra challenge for the event planning committee, which was chaired by Jerry Settelmeyer (Class of ’66).

“Planning had some interesting challenges since the event has been dormant for four years due to our Covid events,” Settelmeyer said. “What fun it has been to welcome Lions from grad years 1970, 71, 72, and 73 as our ‘honored newbies’ in the Old School Mates.”

He added, “Our welcoming procedures were a bit challenging with the illness and absence of our expert and longtime leader, Dennis Chapman. Wow! He is important to our organization. We were also challenged with our decorating and greatly saddened as Noreen High, a longtime leader, recently passed.”

The high school food service staff prepared the full-course chicken dinner, which was served by members of Coach Ricky Knuteson’s Track and Cross-Country athletes. The Prospectors and

Gold Diggers Club served 131 guests during Saturday’s breakfast at the historic Dr. Snapp House.

CGHS Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Garrett Bridgens served as the liaison to the planning committee. He announced to the group the formation of the Cottage Grove High School Alumni Association and invited attendees to sign up.

One of the most important traditions of the Old Schoolmates is annually raising money from past graduates to offer $1,000 scholarships to upcoming graduates the following spring. This year enough money was raised to offer three scholarships to 2024 grads next May. The organization also has an Assistance Fund that is available to Cottage Grove High School counselors to assist students in need.

“Most certainly, one of the best parts of the evening was seeing all the precious sharing of time folks had for each other. Genuine smiles were everywhere to be seen,” Settelmeyer said.

With this year’s event in the history books, the planning team now looks to the first Friday in August 2024 to welcome graduates from the class of 1974.