For almost 50 years, a group of Sycamores have gathered each holiday season to share a meal, enjoy communion and exchange updates. Their core group, as you might expect, now includes two additional generations … and growing.
When Jan Sinn, ’72, graduated from State, she and husband Tom, ’74, wanted to make sure they stayed in contact with the dear friends they’d made at State through the Lutheran Student Center. So, the newlyweds hosted a dinner at their home the weekend before Thanksgiving.
“The intention was to just get together,” Jan Sinn said. “I guess there were about 20 to 25 of us.”
The next year, another friend hosted the dinner at her apartment.
The yearly reunion hasn’t skipped a year since 1972, a remarkable commitment to honor for so long.
How has the tradition managed to last almost a half-century?
“There’s a uniqueness of truly staying in contact with one another,” the Rev. Robert Stuenkel offered. Stuenkel was the pastor at the Lutheran Student Center from 1967 to 1974. “Virginia and Dennis Moats send out the ‘L.C. News and World Report,’” a newsletter containing information from group members, Stuenkel said.
The Moatses, both ’72, have compiled the report each year since 1972. They’ve shared the newsletter via email for the last 10 or 15 years, Virginia Moats said.
A communal meal
The dinner grew to include a weekend of activity and a larger group of people as children and grandchildren came on the scene. The home gatherings evolved into public settings, like state parks, primarily throughout Indiana, depending on the hosts’ location.
For the 40th reunion in French Lick, Ind., there were more than 60 people, Michael Hagemeyer, ’73, said.
The weekend includes a variety of activities, including a traditional Thanksgiving meal, starting on Saturday afternoon or evening, and running through Sunday, Jan Sinn said.
This year, Madonna and Craig Hummel of Terre Haute and Michael and Gwen, ’74, Hagemeyer of Brazil, Ind., hosted the weekend. That gave the group a chance to return to State for a campus tour.
“I think most of us have a little bit of a sense of pride in the way they’ve expanded (the campus), kept it up,” Tom Sinn said. “It looks good. It feels good to say that’s where we went.”
The gathering also includes a worship service, when each person is invited to share a Bible verse or other reading that expresses something important to him or her about the year.
“The big thing for me,” said Jan Sinn, “my daughter is one of those second-generation people who continue to participate. It’s just a real close feeling that you have with people who mean a lot to you.”
When their children were young, Virginia Moats said the weekends were like big family reunions, where the kids saw their “cousins” once a year. “Our kids all grew up together,” she said. “Now, they range in age from 43, and the youngest ones are in their 30s. And they’ve got kids. So, the remarkable thing is they’re coming back with their kids.”
The group’s sense of connection goes beyond the dinner. “It’s not just that we get together and party once a year,” Jan Sinn said. “There is just a sense among us to be of support and assistance to one another’s kids (and each other).”
Behind the decades of dinners and the dedicated contact is the foundation Stuenkel and his wife, Julie, laid for the former students.
“I think that Bob Stuenkel really instilled in us the need for community and mutual support of one another no matter what our differences,” Jan Sinn said.
The Lutheran Student Center offered a place where the students could meet, relax, have fun, play music and worship. It was a place where everyone was welcome, Jan Sinn said, including people of other faiths.
Stuenkel retired in Boulder, Colo., where he last served in campus ministry at the University of Colorado. He and his wife try to make it back to Indiana for the reunion dinner every five years.
Stuenkel offers another form of connection to the group: he officiated at the weddings of most of the couples in the core group, and the couples’ daughter and son — now 51 and 49 — were the flower girl and ring bearer for some of the weddings.
“There’s such a strong sense of friendship and community with them,” Julie Stuenkel said. “To form this bond in college,” she suggests, “The timing was right, the environment, the freedom to express themselves at the Center, and their force of friendship has kept them together.”
“We know we’re all part of that group,” Virginia Moats said. “Even the younger generations realize that they’re part of this, too, and that’s pretty special.”