We held our 40th class reunion for the 1982 Branson High School Class June 17th and 18th at The Paddlewheel on Lake Taneycomo, and then at the home of Jeff and Heather Michel in their wedding barn.
I got to be on the planning committee for the event. I myself spent my entire life as a student at Branson Schools, from kindergarten to my senior year. Memories came flooding back from Mrs. Trimble in Kindergarten to accepting my diploma from principal Lonnie Spurlock.
Several classmates made the trip to the reunion, even some students who moved away before graduation. Missy Mayberry Hollander moved to Chicago with her family long before high school yet traveled from her current home in Connecticut to be with us. Several classmates couldn’t make it to the reunion due to health issues, either with themselves or family members.
Other classmates I talked with did not come to the reunion because their high school years were not pleasant ones due to bullying. This broke my heart hearing this, hoping the years after graduation would have dulled or healed the pain.
I thought about this as classmates from years ago appeared at the reunion. Many I recognized. Some I had to look at their nametags. Forty years changes the appearance of people, along with the ups and downs of life. But as I talked with classmates whom I spent a lot of time with growing up, and others I did not as much, I found much goodwill and genuine connection. Recollections of funny memories, Branson as it used to be, brought smiles and laughter. We remembered teachers we had in elementary school, junior high and high school.
Teachers and coaches who we had in school showed up at the reunion. Mr. Swaffer, Mr. Verburgt, Coach Godfrey and Coach Russell walked in, and our hearts were instantly warmed. Sherman Cogdill, our principal in junior high who could whistle with the best, came with his son. All of us students from our class and neighboring classes looked at these teachers and coaches and thought of others who either could not make it or had passed from this life and realized what a profound impact they had made on our lives.
I was sad so many from my class did not show up for our reunion, wondering if this would be the last time our class got together. The little boy and teenager in me from yesteryear longed to embrace friends from a time long ago, but a time long ago that helped shape me into the person I am today. Spending time at the reunion with fellow students whom I hadn’t seen in some cases in forty years, I found myself wishing I would have not worried so much about what others thought of me back in those days. Instead, I wish I would have enjoyed getting to know many more of my classmates.
I was also sad that some of my classmates could not be with us because they had died over the years. Some from sickness or accident—some from suicide.
My faith holds me today, giving me a solid foundation of meaning and purpose. Growing up, that foundation was still forming. God used many teachers, coaches, and fellow students to help firm up that foundation. Friendship, shared adventures, and meaningful conversations over the years rooted me in the story of my life to a story much broader and greater. I pray for classmates and their own stories, some I got to hear updates at our reunion, and many others I did not get to hear who were unable or unwilling to come. I pray for healing for hurt hearts, for renewed hope and direction for others, and for families of those no longer with us.
Here's to the Branson Class of 82. I pray for each of you who remain with us that you will find peace, purpose and joy in the days and years ahead. And thank you to all the educators who impacted our lives over the years. Thank you for your investment in our lives. You made a profound difference.