The refrain of the Knox Hymn speaks of the ''long, long road to Alma Mater''-- and this year, it was really long for me. That ''road that calls us home'' called me in Budapest, Hungary where I was completing five weeks of travel in Britain, France, Germany, Austria and Slovakia with my wife Polly.
Of course, the call was also to Galesburg -- which I consider my hometown even though I haven't lived here for more than two months at a time since 1958.
All across Europe, I paced myself so that I could finish strong at the 45th reunion of my my class of 1957. It wasn't easy. Take the way that ''long, long road'' brought me home. From Budapest, it was three hours on EuRail's Franz Liszt Express to Vienna, where we rested up for three days, then two hours on a commuter jet to Heathrow outside London, where we spent the night under the flight path. Next morning, we flew ten hours to San Francisco (a package deal which required return to the Bay from London) to spend another night in another motel near another airport. The next morning, it was two hours to Denver, a four-hour layover, and two hours to Peoria followed by an hour's drive to the Holiday Inn Express on East Main. Talk about long hauls!
Still, I was in good shape Friday, Oct. 12 for the installation of Roger L. Taylor as 18th president of Knox. Sitting under the trees south of Old Main, amidst falling leaves and the omnipresent bees from the Seymour patio, I thrilled to the sound of the Old Main bell ringing once again. (Thank you, Roger, for getting the bell back into operation. Now if you can just find someone or some way to ring it with VIGOR!)
That night, it was a small but hardy group which meant for the 1957 class reception in Seymour Hall. Some of us had trouble remembering faces and names, but we were all glad to be on the green side of the grass for one more reunion. The evening broke up (for most of us) by ten, though some carried on, I hear, for a while longer elsewhere.
Convocation found most of us clear-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning. I got my picture taken with President Taylor, then roared as Bill Shaffer knocked the room dead with his funny class speech on behalf of 1957. Bill Colby represented 1977 wittily and well, and Joanne Lynch Rancich held up the distaff side worthily for 1987--but following Shaffer's stand-up routine was a tough assignment. A new element this year was the Senior Class president of 2003, Emmett Reidner, delivering a speech on behalf of his soon-to-be alumns and discovering what a tough trio he had to follow. As usual, Professor Laura L. Lane produced magic out of a combined Alumni and undergraduate choir. We even sang ''Hail, Knox, All Glorious''-- another of RLT's ressurections -- but remember, folks, to get in TWO ''we brings'' and TWO ''so bolds,'' as it was printed in the program. If you're gonna take away ''Old Siwash,'' at least sing all the words in our fight song.
Finally, it was picture-taking time; and the classes -- dominated by 1962 -- filed down front to be registered for posterity. Lots of waiting, lots of jokes -- then, for me, disaster! I was suddenly stricken with a nausea that made me sway on the risers. By the time the picture was taken, I was turning green. My wife Polly got me back to the motel; and I dropped off the world. Flu, food poisoning, trip fatigue, whatever, I was sick as a dog and stayed that way much of the weekend. I missed Knox's gridiron win, the Old Main bell ringing out a victory, the 4 o'clock gathering in Old Main's Common Room, and what's worst, my class dinner at Soangetaha Country Club (And corn-fed filet mignon!).
Still, when I weakly returned to California on Tuesday, I brought some nice memories. Trees changing color, the Central Church carillon noon mini-concert, the welcome from the gals at the Welcome Center (love that new, large-print Illinois map!), ham, beans and cornbread at the Gilson firehouse for the Knox County Fall Foliage Yard Sale (not much leaf color, lots of junk for sale), the slanting autumn afternoon sun over Lake Storey, the rain-washed blue sky over Knox County.
I'll be back in September 2003 for my GHS 50th reunion, and this time, I promise to attend it all!