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Hadley: The Value of Coming Home

Sep 26, 2021 10:41AM ● By Suzanne Hadley
Editor's note: Suzanne Hadley is a Manhattan Beach City Councilmember. She recently completed a 9-month term as mayor of Manhattan Beach.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man,” wrote Heraclitus in 500 BC.

I was mulling those words as I approached the bowling alley. I was heading to my hometown in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin—a beautiful lake resort with a year-round population of 7,000. My Badger High School Class of 1981 was gathering for our 40th reunion. Some classmates lived blocks away. Some drove from Texas and Ohio. A handful like me flew in from the two coasts. It was predicted to be the best turnout yet of 70-some classmates from a graduating class of 200.

Earlier in the day a couple dozen of us enjoyed a guided tour of the high school. We were happy to learn most of the school’s layout remained as we remembered it. Parking lot and semi-circular drop off—check. Principal’s office and attendance desk—check. Senior bench—check. Gymnasium—check. History, science, and English hallways—check, check, and check.

Nonetheless, the school has lovingly been renovated and modernized. A huge new library complete with 3D printers and laser cutters. A second lunch room (lunch is indoors in Wisconsin). Beautiful new sports fields. An extensive new workout facility for PE and team sports. An expanded theater, and greatly enlarged music rooms for band, jazz band, orchestra, and choir. A beautifully refurbished gym. My classmates and I were impressed.

I’d be proud if my children had attended Badger High. Motivational messages hang from the hallway ceilings expressing Badger pride, and exhorting students to work hard, strive for excellence, and be kind.

Recycling bins are sprinkled throughout. Red-and-white Bucky Badgers decorate classroom doors and the walls of the gym. There’s a real—and fierce-looking--stuffed badger on display in the lobby. I bought Badger apparel in a school store stocked and managed by students.

Most interesting was our tour of the renovated and expanded classrooms for technical education. The formerly named “home economics” classroom was impressive. Gone were the kitchen-size ovens and family-size cookie sheets. In were restaurant-sized ranges, ovens, and refrigerators. Shop class was about what I remembered (not that I darkened the door). But the ceramics and art studio has enjoyed a significant upgrade since 1981 with more pottery wheels and a bigger kiln.

"Stay at least one cow length from others"

The huge agricultural-science classroom was my favorite. Banners for FFA (Future Farmers of America), and 4H decorated the walls. In one corner of the huge classroom students raise small animals like guinea pigs and rabbits. A farm-animal area was fascinating with its “calf simulator” and a wall poster depicting American Purebred breeds of swine. Probably most surprising was a new, semi-outdoor area for aquaculture. In large fresh-water vats, Badger students raise tilapia which they sell to the community. Same with two greenhouses where they grow and sell fresh vegetables and flowers.

Later that day we gathered at the town bowling alley—the same Lake Geneva Lanes in which I threw a lot of gutter balls (and a few strikes) while on dates and outings of our church youth group. On the walls hung this fall’s schedules for the Chicago Bears and of course our beloved Green Bay Packers. New Glarus is the bar’s favorite local brew. New Glarus beer can only be purchased in Wisconsin. Labels include Spotted Cow, Moon Man, Two Women, and Totally Naked.

Our reunion organizers outdid themselves. Class photos and yearbook pics were generously displayed throughout the venue. They brought in scrapbooks, trophies, memorabilia, and even some old spirit wear. We munched on piles of Italian beef sandwiches, Swedish meatballs, macaroni salad, penne, and tossed green salad. For dessert there was a white-frosted sheet cake with “BHS Class of 1981” piped on with red icing. We mourned the loss of 17 classmates who have died, one fairly recently; their yearbook pictures were tastefully displayed on a table of honor.

As the hours passed and the beers flowed, the years melted away. We hugged, we reminisced, and we read name tags and yearbook mottos with reading glasses. We talked and laughed—and laughed some more. We were 18 years old once again: We were young and full of energy. We had thick hair, thin tummies, strong legs, original knees, and laser-sharp eyesight. Dreams for our future once again filled our heads.

Arriving for the weekend I had thought Heraclitus had a point: the river would be different. And I was different as well. Four decades is a long time. I love California; it’s been my home for 25 years, and I’ve lived in Manhattan Beach longer than I lived in my home state. How could I have anything in common with these classmates from so long ago?

Driving up to the event also brought to mind the words of author Thomas Wolfe: that “you can’t go home again.” Who was I kidding to come back for a reunion? This was a mistake. As I pulled into the parking lot, my heart beat a bit faster with nervousness and anticipation. The doors opened, I recognized some old friends. And… I had a blast.

So take that, Heraclitus and Wolfe.

My husband and I are empty nesters now. Our children are college age or older. They all live out of state and one out of the country. Will my children return to a reunion at Mira Costa High School? I hope so. (Of course I’d love if one or two might move back to SoCal permanently.) Looking ahead, even if they move back to Manhattan Beach, I do hope they’ll attend at least the big Mustang reunions. I want them to discover the mystery--and the value--of coming home.

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