A reunion recalls a wild and crazy time
by Jan Schlain
"I hate Facebook," says Candi Carver Dufek one early Saturday morning at Sweetwaters downtown. "It's a waste of time." But, she says, "Kit made me join it.
"So I joined it, and a thousand people want to be my friend. I don't know how to do this! I don't want to do this! I've got enough friends!"
Kit Mundus Steinaway knew that would happen--the people "friending" Dufek part, not the hating part. She got her real-life friend onto the social-networking site as a way to encourage people to attend the forty-year all-high-school reunion they're organizing for the weekend of the Notre Dame game. There'll be a golf outing Friday (Ed Shaffran captained the Huron High team) followed by a casual get-together at Fraser's Pub. The big party on Saturday will be a "tailgate" at Ann Arbor Golf & Outing--dinner catered by Knight's, a cash bar, and a giant TV to watch the broadcast from South Bend. That's the party where people will be on camera (everybody's cell phones) and someone will be providing running commentary--at past Huron High reunions former class cut-ups Jon Rowe and Tim Connors.
At those get-togethers, Steinaway says, they always welcomed grads of other Ann Arbor schools. "Those of us who were the core of the first [Huron reunion] committee went to Tappan Junior High back then--Tappan Middle School, it's known as now--and we were pretty much split half and half [for high school, so] we all have friends at both schools," Steinaway says. "Then Candi, [her husband] Donnie, and I also went to St. Francis for grade school, so we all had people at St. Thomas that we know."
They started out inviting grads of all three schools to this reunion. "Then one person said, 'My husband is all bent out of shape because he graduated from Greenhills,'" so they added the private school, and two of its eleven 1972 graduates are coming, too. They also added Earthworks, a short-lived alternative high school, and a
couple of its grads also signed up. That gave them five schools, and their name: the High Five Reunion.
Along with bringing together rival schools, the organizers hope to breach forty-year-old cultural barriers. Brad Thompson, now CEO of the Legal News, sketches the social packs at Pioneer: "You had the auto shop greasers, you had the intellectuals, you had the hippies, you had the jocks." If Kit and Candi were stereotyped, it probably would have been as "pretty" or "popular" (another organizer, Wendy Winkler, would have been, too--she starred in Huron's sold-out musical, Brigadoon). But it's not just the in-crowd who are coming. Keith Hefner, who won a MacArthur award for his pioneering publications for gay youths and kids in foster care, will also be there. So will Margo Freeland Selvig, who as a Huron student was what today we'd call homeless. Estranged from her mother--who, she says, "didn't do teenagers"--she worked at Big Boy and moved from one friend's house to another, sometimes living in her car. "Nobody [at school] knew," she says. "I still managed to hold a good average on grades. I was even a cheerleader for a while." But, she says, "I was always getting teased about my nose"--she'd broken it half a dozen times in accidents at play and at work.
"Well, I couldn't breathe, so I had to get it fixed," she recalls by phone from North Carolina. Around the same time, "a lady talked me into frosting my hair. I looked considerably different at my twenty-year reunion." People oohed and aahed over the single mom, and afterward, she and classmate Dave Selvig joined a group that went barhopping at Fraser's and other old haunts. Not long after, he phoned; she asked him to be her date at a Martha Reeves concert. "At the end of the night, Reeves ... says to the audience, 'Anyone who's gonna fall in love tonight, will to this song,'" Margo recalls. "It's 'Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things).' We got up and slow danced, and [Dave] kissed me.
"It was unbelievable. He was so sweet. We laughed. We had so much fun. That was it. A year later--it wasn't quite a year--he asked me to marry him." Tony Patrick, a classmate who'd become a minister, officiated, and another classmate, Cathy Chance, was maid of honor. Martha Reeves came. So did Margo's mom: "We were close by then."
Margo and Dave are still married, and still very much in love. But after that glorious twentieth reunion, she found their thirtieth depressing: she saw one classmate teasing another about her weight until the woman cried.
Margo confronted the bully right there at the reunion. "Oh, Freeland, I see you haven't changed any," said the bully. "'Yeah,' I said. 'I can kick your ass now just like I did then.' We didn't get in a fight. We all walked out. We went to Banfield's. I was in tears. It was horrible."
"It was like these guys had never grown up," Selvig says. "This is what I hope more than anything--that it [the fortieth] doesn't turn out like the thirtieth."
In their senior year in high school, Kit Mundus and Wendy Winkler were growing up in beautiful homes off Geddes, on Regent Court. Barbara Dawson lived on Anderson, off Packard near Fraser's, and worked after school at Jacobson's department store downtown. (Now, as Barbara Eichmuller, she's a Realtor and reunion committee treasurer.) Candi Carver attended a tennis camp in Detroit. Brad Thompson was meeting his then-girlfriend at Drake's Sandwich Shop on North University, which her grandfather owned, and making out in the back room.
It was a wild and crazy time. Pioneer had a rock concert committee, and got alum Bob Seger to play at the school dance. "We had the riots in the cafeteria," Brad Thompson says. "It got a little dicey, chairs through windows and stuff. There were certain bathrooms you didn't want to go in. There was smoking in the bathrooms, cigarettes and marijuana."
There were also doors opening for (and liberating) women. "There is a girl named Cindy Morris," recalls Candi Dufek. Her dad, physician Joe Morris, "built and started and owned Huron Valley Tennis Club." When Cindy wanted to play on equal terms with the boys, "they took it to court, and her dad fought, and she got on the boys' tennis team at Huron," says Dufek. Morris later became a sportswriter and, as Cynthia Starr, collaborated on a history of women in tennis with another champion of equality, Billie Jean King.
A state law lowered the age of majority to eighteen, effective January 1, 1972. "If you were eighteen, you could go into the school office, and say, 'Don't send my report card or my attendance records home,'" Thompson recalls. "So a bunch of us were, like, 'Well, that's carte blanche ...' I got my acceptance letter to college and I was like, 'I'm done [with high school].'"
Wendy Winkler was good friends with Betsy Fleming. "Her father at that time was the president of the University of Michigan. I slept over at her house one weekend, and that was right after the Detroit racial riots had occurred, and that's when John Sinclair started the anti-war protests and everything. They were rioting in Ann Arbor. I remember my mother had to come pick me up, and going through the police crowds [at the U-M president's house]--it was very, very scary."
She went to Western Michigan University, majored in communication arts and elementary education, and met her husband Dan Stuart. While she did do some voice-overs and commercials, she wound up as a teacher.
In theater, she had a lot of friends who were gay--but very few who were out. "I had a crush on a guy who was gay," Stuart recalls. "That didn't go really well. I think a lot of us supported it, but I think the people who were gay back then didn't talk about it as they do now ... Gary Post was gay, and he is gay now. He has a significant other who is wonderful. He didn't really tell me back then. When we reunited on Facebook, you have your status ... he has 'in a relationship, with Robert.'"
Eric van Valkenburg's story was much sadder. According to his twin brother, Rick, Eric married at eighteen, had a son, then came out of the closet and divorced, moved east, and started an acting career.
Rick emails that he also married young, was fired from a custodial job at the U-M after a "picket line fracas," got divorced, and started a literary 'zine, Beatniks from Space. After driving around the west selling his own and other 'zines out of the back of his AMC Pacer, Rick moved to New York City in 1982.
"Six weeks later, Eric and I were cast as twin characters in the Rodney Dangerfield film, 'Easy Money,'" he writes. The twins started getting commercials and modeling gigs, doing off-off-Broadway plays. But then Eric was diagnosed HIV positive. Rick remarried, had a daughter, tried being a real estate agent, and went into information technology. Eric died of AIDS at the end of 1995.
It's hard now to understand how different attitudes were forty years ago. "I remember one day wearing a gay rights button to school," says Keith Hefner, the journalist and MacArthur winner. "And I was then, like I am today, kind of a shy person, and I don't really like attention, and I mean, Oh my God! The attention I got from that was enough to make me not wear it another day.
"But that, just wearing that button ... s-l-o-w-l-y people began to come out to me. People I had no idea were gay, of course. [Gay rights] seemed like a good idea to me, but it seemed like, like it was in New York! Not my friends! But it really was, it turned out."
"It gave me empathy--to have to cover that up. So over the next, like, four years, a friend and I combed the underground press and other resources, all over the country, looking for stories by gay teenagers about their experiences. In '76, I published a little booklet called, "Growing Up Gay," which was the first collection ever of stories by gay teens." Because he's straight, Hefner recruited "a committee of gay people in the community" to read the stories, "so I wasn't inadvertently putting something in it that was horrible." Today, that might seem like an honor, but back then, he stresses, "not one person on that committee would be identified. That is how different things were--to be identified with supporting gay teenagers was to be called a pedophile at that time."
Hefner went on to found Youth Communication, a nonprofit that publishes nonfiction by "marginalized youth." In 1993, it added a program specifically for kids in foster care. "In 1993, to be in foster care was like being gay in 1955," he explains. "You did not disclose it. It was a serious stigma. Now it's coming out of the closet, and part of the reason is because the kids in the magazine took the leadership, and with their stories, they described their experiences."
A 2001 article in the New York Times notes that Hefner "never got a college degree, although his psychologist parents have PhDs. He got his inkling of his calling as an 11th grader, before he became editor of both his high school newspaper and an underground student activist paper." Hefner's inspiration, the Times wrote, was a story he read in the Pioneer's student paper, the Optimist, "exposing the tacitly accepted practice of rigging the football team's lineup to avoid having a black quarterback. He says the principal locked up the newspaper issue for a couple of days before allowing it to be distributed."
"This was the earliest influence on me," Hefner confirms. "Wow--they made a difference! There was a black quarterback not long afterwards."
Many years later, he told his wife, fellow Pioneer grad Diana Autin, how inspired he'd been by that article--only to learn that Autin had written it. "I didn't know her at the time," he says, "so it hadn't registered!"
In a way, a reunion is a little like psychoanalysis--a reliving of youthful experiences with people who know us so well they can, if only for an evening, make our lives seem more whole, allowing us to re-enter adulthood more confidently.
Keith Hefner knew the Dufeks before they were the Dufeks--"Don was my best friend when I was a little kid, and I knew Candi through middle school." They've invited him to stay with them when he comes from New Jersey for the "High Five" reunion.
Despite Margo Selvig's bad experience at the thirtieth, she and Dave also are coming. Dave "is driving his motorcycle up, and he's sticking me on a plane," Margo says. Even in Ann Arbor, they'll travel separately: "I don't want to get on the back of that motorcycle and mess my hair."
Now that Candi Dufek has joined everyone else on Facebook, of course, there's no need to wait until September. Grads are already getting in touch, even if it's just to extend regrets. "I probably will not be able to attend," Gordon Rizor posts, "once again because of expense, and this year, distance."
Bill Rousseau impishly suggests, "let's just meet at the arb, byo, smokem if you gottem, remember it was the 70's and we're from ann arbor.. ps that's all I remember from the 70's!"
And Vicki Isett adds a reality check for those who still think of one another as teenagers. She won't be at the reunion she writes, because "My first grandbaby is due in September."
Yet as of mid-August, Barbara Eichmuller says, 125 people had paid the $55 registration fee, with another five to ten reservations coming in daily. Why do so many people still want to see folks who, for the most part, they haven't been close to in forty years?
Asked that question, Tim Connors waxes poetic. Known to most Ann Arborites as a circuit court judge, to the Huron High Class of 1972, he'll always be a cut-up, a long-winded reunion MC, and the guy who did the sword dance in Brigadoon.
The classmates are "same souls," Connors says. "We're all walking this road. At some point, we're done walking it."
When Connors and the other fifty-somethings gather this month, they'll revisit 1972, weaving a tapestry of wild and crazy memories, and maybe some tears. Hopefully, good feelings will be had by all. And if anyone feels bullied at this reunion, the judge adds, they can come to see him.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the September 2012 Ann Arbor Observer. Kit Mundus Steinway's name has been corrected.
[Originally published in September, 2012.]
On September 25, 2012, Dennis Skupinski wrote:
doesn't that say it all!
" she wound up as a teacher"