Roughly 1,000 “alumni” from Newtown’s schools from the past several decades gathered at the Fairfield Hills grounds for the 12-hour Great Newtown Reunion on Saturday, July 27.
The event, which was held in a cluster of tents arrayed on a sprawling athletic field just west of Kent House, provided ample opportunities for people to meet again, reminisce, and talk about the future.
The 12/14 tragedy at Sandy Hook School was the catalyst for event planners to organize the multi-year reunion.
Steve Babasick, of the NHS Class of 1973, who served as the head of security at the event, greeted reunion-goers as the entered the grounds through the main gate. The event ran from 10 am to 10 pm.
Sharon Dest Pacenka, NHS Class of 1977, was one of the event’s co-chairs, along with Wendy Lee Hewitt and Una Lucey.
Ms Pacenka, a Merrimack, Mass., resident, said as reunion participants walked by, “It’s so nice to see everyone coming back home…This is not a regular reunion.”
People attending the event represented the NHS graduating classes from 2012 back to 1949, she noted, adding that many of those who attended were from the graduating classes from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.
The town government provided reunion organizers with much help in terms planning the event, she said.
The reunion drew NHS graduates from distant places, including China, California, Oregon, and Hawaii, according to Ms Pacenka. She noted that some of those attending had been in the Newtown area for days.
A number of local civic groups set up booths along the periphery of the grounds, explaining their work to those attending.
The party percolated hour after hour as the long summer afternoon turned into a long summer evening.
Twilight’s periwinkle hues washed across guests stepping out from under a tent where bands played.
Reggae, ska, and Celtic music filled the background as friends Kristin Trull, Class of ’88; Heather and Bob Satmary, Class of ’85; and guest Cathy Sauli, a Southbury alumna, linked arms for a photo together.
Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia, Class of ’83, found her sister Wendy Aurelia, Class of ’84, and Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz of the same class as the three mingled among a crowd of several hundred guests. The event, which began earlier that day, continued for several more hours Saturday night as the day faded.
Stars soon speckled the graying sky as Kevin and Christine Yacko showed off a painting they won at silent auction — one of many activities taking place as crowds found old classmates, and shared food and laughter during the weekend. The Yackos proudly held up the painted image of the flagpole as seen from above, with a ring of angels around the edges.
Beneath the enormous carnival-like tent draped in lights were Toby Cox, Class of ’87, Liz O’Brien Cox, Hannah Cox, and Suzy DeYoung. Although the women did not graduate from Newtown High School, they all live in town now. Behind them, with their heads bent together as they spoke of old friends, were Marilyn Matern, Class of ’74 and guest Alice Ladyko. The two later stepped onto the dance floor as bands played through the night. Ms Matern’s favorite performance came from Tennessee-based Tuatha Dea, with its Celtic sound.
Ringing the tent on the Fairfield Hills lawn were food vendors and clusters of guests including a few friends squeezed into a golf cart seat: Laurie Silber, Amy Edmonds, and Laura Smolen, all Class of ’80. In a clearing beside them, Class of ’05 graduate Sarah-Sally Lewis swung her hula hoop along her arms and body and around an outstretched leg for an impromptu acrobatic show.
Former classmates had traveled to town from across the country to join the Great Newtown Reunion.
First Selectman Pat Llodra thanked co-chairs Wendy lee Hewitt, Sharon Pacenka, and Una Lucey for their effort. In her remarks to guests Saturday, Mrs Llodra had said, “I believe Newtown is a special place. A place that loves children and families…a place that has great pride in its schools…a place that values every human life — is safe, kind, and nurturing.” She noted the “outpouring of love, support, and offers of help and prayers from many of you and other graduates of our schools over these past months,” strengthening her belief in the “goodness of our community.”
She said, “Among those far away, there is an urge to come home — to reach out and touch one another again — to show each other that we care. For those nearby, there is a constant presence and honoring of our town with sincere affection and value for what we are together.
“You have an opportunity to act on this sense of kindness and goodness wherever you live and work. You are Newtown seeds planted near and far — you can help change the world.”
She spoke of the pride of being from Newtown, and said, “Our future depends on the good will of those who will be our residents, families, shopkeepers, teachers, police, professionals in the decades to come — I know we will continue to thrive because of folks like you who know and understand the specialness of this place.”
She urged guests to “get reacquainted, laugh and dance a bit. Smiles and laughter are the tools we use to chase away the shadows, and doing that together multiplies its power and effect.”
On Tuesday, July 30, Ms Hewitt told The Bee that the Reunion Committee came in about $5,000 short of the funds required to cover the cost of the event. She will be establishing a way to offset that shortfall utilizing a post-event donation page on the reunion website greatnewtownreunion.org.