OLEAN — The Olean High School Alumni Reunion will return this weekend in a way organizers say will be less formal than past years but hopefully more appealing to the younger classes.
The 136th annual reunion begins Friday with hors d’oeuvres, drinks and music at the William O. Smith Recreation Center as opposed to the sit-down dinner at St. Bonaventure University held in recent years.
The OHS Alumni Association, which organizes the reunion weekend, said this will give individual classes even more flexibility to hold their own parties and picnics throughout the weekend.
“We’ve really cut back on the formal activities because so many of the classes say, ‘We want to spend time with our own classmates,’” said Alumni Association Vice President Linda Edstrom. “They enjoy Friday night to see ones from other classes who may have been their friends or their siblings’ friends, but they really want to do things on their own, which is great.”
The Alumni Association first announced plans in November to scale back the Friday night dinner, as well as send out just one invitation letter as opposed to two, in an effort to cut down on the weekend’s $15-20,000 price tag.
The association’s Board of Directors said that while more than 1,000 alumni came into town for last year’s reunion, only about 250 attended the Friday night dinner at St. Bonaventure’s Hickey Dining Hall.
The decision was made to instead have a more casual meet-up at the William O. Smith Recreation Center, which last hosted the event about 15 years ago.
Admission to the event will cost just $18 when ordered online, or $20 at the door, as opposed to the $35 charged for last year’s dinner.
Edstrom said the Alumni Association has heard positive feedback.
“People are happier with the price, the informality, because we are a much more informal world now than we were 20 years ago,” she said.
It’s not the first time the reunion dinner has undergone changes in light of dwindling attendance.
There used to be a reception and cocktail party held Friday night prior to a dinner held Saturday night. In 2015, the Alumni Association moved the dinner to Friday night and let individual classes hold their own events Saturday.
“Most of the people, the younger ones, like that. The older ones didn’t,” said Edstrom, a member of the Class of 1965. “In order to keep this going we got to try to appeal to the younger classes.”
Edstrom noted it can be difficult to get younger alumni to participate; she expects fewer than 20 members of the honorary 10-year class, the Class of 2009, to attend Friday’s event.
“So many of them say, ‘Well, we keep in touch on Facebook and I see the ones I wanna see,’” she said. “The whole climate in high school is different than it was 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. Kids are working after-school jobs far more than we ever did. There a lot more sports, music and art. They tend to congregate with the ones that are interested in the same things they are. When we were in school, we didn’t have so many options.”
She also noted the younger classes are simply smaller than they used to be. While Edstrom graduated with 350 students, last year’s OHS graduating class had just 138 members.
However, while fewer younger alumni tend to attend the formal events, many participate in the weekend in some form.
“Last year, the 10-year class from ’08 had small attendance at Bonaventure, but then they had their own gathering somewhere else and there were lots of kids there for that,” she said. “They just didn’t want the formal. I guess I don’t understand that, but I’m old, so what do I know?”
While the Friday night event is changing, Saturday’s formal events will remain the same.
The annual tour of OHS will be held from 9 to 11 a.m.; the memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church; and the Red and Gold Golf Scramble will be held at noon at the Bartlett Country Club.
The names of all deceased members of this year’s honorary classes will once again be read aloud at the memorial service.
“In the Mexican tradition … you die three times,” Edstrom said. “The first time when your body dies, the second when you’re put into the ground, and the third when no one ever speaks your name again.”
Edstrom noted she’s excited the Alumni Association Board of Directors has three new younger members, including two who have graduated from OHS within the last 10 years.
“We’re hoping they’re going to be able to give us old fogies some advice,” she said.
Friday’s event will be held from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m.