Class Dinner 2019 – a personal report

Class Dinner 2019 – a personal report

Judi and James Raben, guests of honor at the class dinner



Fifty-five classmates, five class widows, accompanied by 45 assorted spouses, partners, dates, family members and other guests filled the ballroom at the NY Yale Club on Friday evening, Oct 25th, to share the warmth of good company, a delicious dinner, and a stimulating lecture by Dave Martin. (Click for the Full Attendee List.)

According to Bob Leich’s records, our class dinner tradition started the year after our 25th reunion . The first speaker in 1991 was Bob Woodward speaking to the question, “Is it all downhill from here?” This year was our 29th annual dinner. Bob Leich started taking on the responsibility for organizing these dinners in 2000, with Chris Kinney volunteering to come on board as co-chair since 2010.

A very special feature of this year’s dinner was the surprise recognition given to Mrs. Judi L Raben, who is credited by those who in the know as being the real organizer of our class dinner for the past 20 years, and additionally for her tireless work on behalf of our last three class reunions. To our continued good fortune, Mrs. Raben has again agreed to deploy her invaluable talents and attention to the complex process of putting together our 55th reunion in May. Mrs. Raben has been associated with Bob Leich as his Executive Assistant for the past 31 years. Judi and her husband James thought they were in NY just to enjoy the evening until the unsuspecting Mrs. Raben was called to the podium by secretary John Pinney, who described her devoted contributions to our class while expressing our appreciation and heartfelt thanks, as he presented her with a commemorative plaque. Chris Kinney told me that according to the Yale Alumni office our annual class dinner elicits a higher response rate than any other class having similar events. So hats off to Mrs. Raben, Bob, and Chris. Clearly, for this team it’s a case of practice makes perfect.

Our ‘65 widows’ group continued their tradition of meeting in the lounge during the afternoon prior to dinner. Attending this year were Dorothy Armstrong (Forrest-2000) who spearheads the group and Dave Ralph (Cecile-2005). Suzanne Haaland (Carter LaPrade-2006) returned again from VA this time without difficulty (last year, when Amtrak unexpectedly canceled her train, Suzanne valiantly boarded a last-minute Greyhound bus from Richmond to attend the class dinner), Lois Petty (Henry-2005) an engineer lives in Westport,CT, Susan Finkel (Donald-1999), an educational consultant lives in Olympia, WA, and Patricia Lothrop (Mark-1983) . Patricia, retired from teaching literature at St George’s School in RI, now finds herself fully occupied and frequently exhausted providing daycare for her granddaughter lives in Bellmore, LI. Mark, along with Bob Kinderman and Oscar Mayer were my Trumbull roommates. Patricia has promised to come to the 55th. Mal Harris, passing by on his way for some refreshment, graciously accepted an invitation to join the conversation . Barb and I rounded out the group. Sharing memories and life’s continuing adventures with each other proved to be a positive experience in creating community. The group hopes to encourage more widows to participate in the upcoming reunion and would appreciate being invited to other class activities like the regional lunches. Dorothy proposed asking if widows might possibly be allowed to apply for membership in the Yale Club. At present, widows are only allowed to be members if their deceased husbands were members.

Efficiently chaired by the ever-capable John Pinney, the class council meeting at 5 PM was well attended. Plans for the 55th reunion, moving the listserv to a new platform, working on the class gift, and new horizons for the widows’ group were among the topics discussed.  As the meeting broke up I met Bruce Alexander, whom I hadn’t known previously. I recognized his name from reading about his many accomplishments during his 20 + years of revitalizing Yale and New Haven. It’s always nice to have a face to go with a name.

The tempo, enthusiasm, and volume picked up at 6 as the dinner crowd gathered and beverages were poured. Warm smiles, handshakes, mutually acceptable hugs and air kisses were exchanged as friends and acquaintances were enthusiastically greeted, assisted by occasional discrete peeks at name tags. Conversation bubbled around the room as folks introduced themselves. The hour whizzed by. I caught up with freshman roommate Carl Farrington who has again volunteered to be one of the reunion chairs. Carl lives Portland, OR, and was looking forward to having the opportunity to see his grandson play soccer in New Jersey over the weekend. I enjoyed a great conversation with Zick Rubin a fellow psych major. Zick was on the psych faculty at Harvard and Brandeis before switching gears mid-career graduating from Harvard Law School and currently practicing intellectual property law in Newton, MA. Waiting in the line at the bar I chatted with Bob Leich about his Viet Nam memoir that I am halfway through on my kindle app. I spoke briefly with Ellen Mandel who told me that she and her husband Michael Lydon had ventured up the Hudson Valley this summer to perform their music in Kingston. Subsequently I read that they had given a concert at the Triad theater in Manhattan last week. Burt Haimes, who I know through the listserv, stopped to say hello, telling me that he is working full-time as an attorney in NY.

Waiting for the elevator to the dining room I ran into Mel Shaftel who told me he had spoken with Sandra Wilmore ( Ronald-2019) last week. Max Goldensohn was also waiting for the elevator. To my regret at that moment I failed to recall having read Max’s intriguing classbook entry about his 30+ year career managing agricultural and rural development projects in “Laos, Gabon, Congo/Zaire, Mauritania, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Colombia, Mali, and Ethiopia.” I hope there’s another opportunity to have that conversation. Speaking of other countries, I spoke briefly with Dennis Mack just returned from an extended trip to Indonesia and France. Dennis has shared his adventures with the listserv.

Moving on to the dining room the crowd sorted itself out in tables of ten. Barb and I sat with Susan Finkel, Kaz Kulikowski, his younger brother Hubert, and their nephew James Kuall who by the way is hoping to be an Olympic fencer, Mal and Karen Harris, Lois Petty and Allen Gilliard. Conversation was lively. Susan told us she was on her way to Spain and Portugal. Kaz related to Sue and Barb that he was born in Lithuania but grew up in Argentina before coming to Yale. Currently Chairman of the computer science department at Rutgers, specializing in Artificial Intelligence and Medical Informatics, Kaz proved to be engaging dinner partner with many fascinating experiences to share. Barb on my left was sitting closer to him and told me I missed some great stories. Mal and his wife Karen were seated on the opposite side of the table and even with my recently acquired hearing aids cross-table conversation was impossible against the background roar of the crowd. I had chatted with Mal in the lounge earlier in the afternoon about his serious study of musical theory and playing jazz saxophone while still practicing law in Seattle, but I didn’t get a chance to speak to Karen. Lois Petty explained that she is currently being consulted about a project involving raising the level of homes along the CT coastline to protect them from storm flooding. Allen Gilliard, seated on my right (which by the way is my good ear), is a loyal member of the class council and a practicing attorney in Madison, Illinois chatted with me throughout dinner about our similar experiences living and working in small town America.

The room quieted for Dave Martin’s talk, “Donald Trump and National Security.” Dave confided he found himself feeling more nervous about the prospects of addressing his classmates than he felt speaking on national television. Diverging from his announced topic, Dave reflected on the recent death of Harold Bloom on Oct 14. Dave has given permission to reprint that portion of his speech,

“SPEAKING OF THE OLD SCHOOL, I HOPE EVERYONE NOTED THE PASSING EARLIER THIS MONTH OF PROFESSOR HAROLD BLOOM, WHO THE NEW YORK TIMES CALLED AMERICA’S MOST NOTORIOUS LITERARY CRITIC – AND I CALL THE BEST TEACHER I EVER HAD. THE OBITUARIES ALL TOLD STORIES ABOUT HIS SUPERHUMAN INTELLECT – HOW HE KNEW ALL OF SHAKESPEARE BY HEART AND COULD READ 400 PAGES AN HOUR. BUT THEY SOMEHOW OVERLOOKED THE FACT THAT HE HAD TAUGHT ME FRESHMAN ENGLISH – THE STANDARD SURVEY COURSE STARTING WITH CHAUCER AND ENDING WITH T.S. ELIOT. THE FACT THAT AN INTELLECT OF THAT CALIBER COULD BE ASSIGNED TO TEACH FRESHMAN ENGLISH SAYS IT ALL ABOUT THE VALUE OF A YALE EDUCATION. WATCHING HIS MIND AT WORK CHANGED MY LIFE. I DON’T REMEMBER MUCH OF WHAT HE TAUGHT ME ABOUT CHAUCER, MILTON AND SPENCER BUT HE MADE A LIGHT GO ON FOR ME ABOUT WHAT LEARNING WAS ALL ABOUT.

I ACTUALLY TALKED TO BLOOM SHORTLY BEFORE HE DIED. WE WERE DOING A STORY ABOUT A FORMER NAVY SEAL NAMED JAMES HATCH WHO IS STARTING HIS FRESHMAN YEAR AT YALE AT THE AGE OF 52. HE HAD READ ONE OF BLOOM’S BOOKS AND SENT HIM AN E-MAIL ABOUT THE HELL HE HAD GONE THROUGH AFTER GETTING SHOT IN THE LEG ON A RAID IN AFGHANISTAN. BLOOM WROTE BACK ONE WORD — “SURVIVE” — AND THAT INSPIRED HATCH TO APPLY.

NATURALLY WE WANTED TO INTERVIEW BOTH HATCH AND BLOOM. YALE EXERCISED TOTAL CONTROL OVER WHEN AND WHERE WE COULD INTERVIEW HATCH BUT TOLD US WE WERE ON OUR OWN WHEN IT CAME TO BLOOM. SO I CALLED HIM TO PITCH THE STORY.

I WAS VERY NERVOUS – FIRST BECAUSE I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER HELD ANYBODY IN AS MUCH AWE AS I DID HAROLD BLOOM; AND SECOND BECAUSE I KNEW WHAT A LOW OPINION HE HAD OF THE MEDIA. ONE OF HIS BOOKS IS CALLED “GENIUS” AND HE BEGINS IT BY SAYING THAT GENIUS IS AN ENTITY “UNKNOWN TO OUR CURRENT EXPLAINERS IN THE INTELLECTUALLY FORLORN UNIVERSITIES AND IN THE MEDIA’S DARK SATANIC MILLS.” THE PHRASE “DARK SATANIC MILLS,” BY THE WAY, COMES FROM PARADISE LOST. IT WAS MILTON’S DESCRIPTION OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION IN ENGLAND. SO I DID REMEMBER SOMETHING HE HAD TAUGHT ME, BUT I WAS SURE HE WAS GOING TO BLOW ME OFF AS UNWORTHY OF HIS VALUABLE TIME. WELL, HE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE GRACIOUS AND RECEPTIVE TO AN INTERVIEW. WE HAD IT ALL SCHEDULED AND THEN I CAME DOWN WITH A VIRUS AND WE HAD TO CANCEL. A REPORTER’S LIFE IS FILLED WITH STORIES HE COULDA, SHOULDA DONE BUT MISSING OUT ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN BLOOM’S LAST INTERVIEW MIGHT BE MY BIGGEST COULDA SHOULDA.

THERE’S ONE CONSOLATION. HE CLAIMED TO REMEMBER ME FROM FRESHMAN ENGLISH IN 1961. COMING FROM ANYONE ELSE THAT WOULD BE PREPOSTEROUS, BUT ANYONE WHO HAS EVER SEEN HIM SIT CROSS LEGGED ON TOP OF HIS DESK AND RECITE ENTIRE PASSAGES FROM PARADISE LOST AND THE FAIRIE QUEENE WOULD PUT NOTHING BEYOND HIS POWERS OF RECALL. I’M SURE THERE ARE CYNICS AMONG YOU WHO THINK HE WAS JUST HUMORING ME BUT I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE HE REMEMBERED ME AND I CHALLENGE ANY MAN IN THE HOUSE TO DISPROVE IT.”

Following his warm-hearted remembrance, Dave spoke seriously and at length about the background and consequences of the President’s surprise decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, noting that despite this development the US will continue to have hundreds of troops in Syria for the indefinite future.

John Pinney took the stage to recognize Ms Raben whose well-deserved award I described earlier, reported on the class council meeting, reviewed planing for the 55th, and announced that Steve Rockmore was again hosting a post-dinner open house at his home on the upper East Side to which one and all were invited. John closed by noting that every year he is thrilled and encouraged to meet classmates who are attending the class dinner for the first time and urged everyone to spread the word.

Ken Bardach in good voice led the traditional singing of “Bright College Years” and waving of the napkins.

After dinner Dave Ralph and Dorothy Armstrong hosted nightcaps in the lounge for a group that included Chip Marshall who faithfully makes the trek to the Yale Club every year from Huntersville, NC where he and Sharon recently moved into a detached condo community . Joining the fun were Helaine and Hugh Marshall, Sue Finkel, and the two of us. Hugh has retired from writing code and is enjoying auditing courses at SUNY Purchase using his “senior discount” while Helaine continues to mentor grad students in education. Good conversation and laughs were still going strong when Barb and I raced out at the last possible moment to catch the 11:30 train.

Bob Leich has put together a listing of all the class dinner speakers since 1991 and their topics which will soon displayed on the class website Yale1965.org.

Chris Kinney has provided a list of those who made reservations for this year’s dinner that will also appear on Yale1965.org.

Over the next few days following the dinner before heading home Barb and I caught up with a few other classmates. I spoke with Gigi and Nick Guthrie who couldn’t make the dinner. We had lunch in New Canaan, CT with Ginny Deering and Doug McPheters, who are in the process of getting ready to put their home on the market, pack up Doug’s tuba, and relocate to Prescott Arizona sometime in the spring. Doug and Dave Martin were co-authors of the memorial section of our 50th reunion class book. The next day we spent a lovely evening with Linda and Bob Popper in Mountain Lakes, NJ . Bob put together “Our Creative Works” a digital archive of 46 submissions for the 50’th reunion which by the way is still accessible on our class website Yale1965.org. (Please email me if you need the password.)

Hope to see one and all at the reunion

Bob Hammond ‘65
YAA class delegate (2017-2020)
sherrillbrookmd@gmail.com