Herb Hobler ’44 has attended every one of his reunions save for 1945, when the event wasn’t held. Twenty-two of his classmates never had the opportunity to return; they died during World War II. So Hobler, class president and reunion chairman, devoted his class’s 65th reunion May 28–31 to bringing back the memory of those men.
From a moving memorial service on Friday afternoon to a stunning P-rade procession of large black-and-white Freshman Herald photographs of the men, the lost classmates and others who served in the war were front and center throughout the weekend.
Because of Hobler’s efforts — 18 months spent in Mudd Library doing research and locating the relatives of eight of the 22 — the class broke the attendance record for a 65th reunion with about 340 people, including 53 classmates plus widows and other family members.
At the start of the memorial service Friday in Trinity Church, 22 empty chairs formed a semicircle around the altar, representing the classmates who died in the war. Hobler eulogized the men one by one, as a Princeton ROTC student held up each class member’s poster-sized Freshman Herald photograph and then placed it against an empty chair. The ceremony brought tears to people’s eyes, said Hobler, who noted that 89 percent of his classmates served during the war.
The excitement of the P-rade might belong to the 25th-reunion Class of 1984, which led the procession, but the emotion belonged to the Class of 1944: After the U.S. Army ceremonial band known as Pershing’s Own and a group of World War II re-enactors marched by, a solemn line of members of the N.J. Army National Guard, ROTC students, and relatives of class members who died carried the large photos, which were labeled with information about the soldiers’ service and deaths. Buddy Ackerman ’44 was killed in Budapest in 1944; his grandson, who closely resembles Ackerman, carried his grandfather’s placard and was accompanied by his father, who was born after Ackerman was killed, and some eight other relatives. People lining the P-rade gave steady, respectful, and loud applause as the procession snaked by. Some cried.
Reunions is a time for remembering, but it is also for reveling in the company of old friends and discovering how Princeton has changed. Alumni did just that, with about 20,600 graduates and friends converging on campus for the weekend. They flocked to alumni-faculty forums on topics ranging from investing in uncertain times to the changing landscape of higher education. More than 2,270 people attended 14 panel discussions on Friday and Saturday. “Change We Can Believe In? An Obama Report Card” — where Sen. Bill Frist ’74, Rep. John P. Sarbanes ’84, columnist George F. Will *68, and others debated the new administration — was the most popular, with 700 people in attendance in Alexander Hall.
There was standing-room only in McCosh 50 Saturday morning for the PAW-sponsored panel “Money, Greed, and the Economy: Views from the Fourth Estate,” featuring alumni journalists who debated the role the government should take in the economic meltdown and how the developments have been covered in the press. Reuners also chewed on questions raised in alumni-faculty forums titled “Is There a Post-Racial United States?” and “Can the Profit Motive Coexist with the Hippocratic Oath?” and, at an event sponsored by the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni, they learned how Galileo changed the way we see the universe and about developments in astronomy.
Alumni took advantage of a host of other activities, some athletic, some artistic, and some for kids. Thursday morning started with the Princeton Shakespeare Company’s version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and ended with a Quipfire! Reunions show in Hamilton-Murray Theater. On Friday attendees could rock-climb in Princeton Stadium and watch magic tricks at the Class of 1969’s “Magical Mystery Tour” headquarters, while younger Tigers could take juggling lessons in the Class of 1989’s circus-themed headquarters. Other events included Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye’s discussion about navigating the college-admission process, several religious gatherings, and a “Pro-life, pro-family reunion” gathering of alumni in Butler College, with Professor Robert P. George as guest speaker. The Class of 1964 held a ceremony to induct Gen. David Petraeus *87, who later would give the Baccalaureate address to graduating seniors, as an honorary class member. Petraeus received a jacket, tie, and hat, and then thanked the Vietnam-era veterans in the class for their service.
Through the partying, panels, and pyrotechnics of the weekend, the best part of Reunions for many was reconnecting with old friends, said Juanita Duckett ’84, who was catching up with pals she had not seen in a quarter-century. “In some ways, it’s like we’ve never left,” said her friend Susan Price ’84, before the women stepped into the P-rade.
Pleasant, sunny weather seemed a perfect fit for the procession, Reunions’ most popular tradition. Many members of the Old Guard traveled the route in golf carts decorated with orange crepe paper, and got lots of hoots and hollers from the crowd. The classes brought along rock bands, bagpipes, and everything in between. They carried signs recalling news events of their time on campus, songs of the era, and humorous indignities of the aging process. Koke Kokatnur ’47 proudly carried a sign noting his flawless Reunions attendance: “I’m back for my 62nd consecutive reunion.” The Class of 1979, with its “show your stripes” theme, had the largest tiger — mounted on a float — in the procession.
All weekend, old traditions got new life. At the Old Guard luncheon Saturday in Forbes College, President Tilghman presented the silver-topped cane, awarded to the oldest alumnus returning to Reunions, to Malcolm Warnock ’25, shortly before his 104th birthday. (Warnock is believed to be Princeton’s oldest living alumnus.) This was the fifth time he carried the cane during the P-rade. Warnock accepted the cane from his seat, noting that standing would be difficult and joking that “This is a great ceremony because you don’t need to stand up — all you need to do is show up.” But moments later, when the Nassoons led the gathering in singing “Old Nassau,” Warnock rose with the audience and belted out the tune, to everyone’s delight.
Celebrating its 50th reunion, the Class of 1959 resurrected another Princeton tradition when it smashed clay pipes on the buried cannon on Cannon Green (in the past, the tradition symbolized the breaking of ties with undergraduate life). Classmates also mounted a plaque on Nassau Hall and planted a small sprig of ivy underneath it. “I’ve been walking around [Nassau Hall] for the last 50 years looking at all the other classes [with plaques] and seeing no place for ours,” said class president Tony Cotter ’59. “I wanted to leave some artifact to say ‘we were here.’”