ANOTHER FABULOUS ETHIOPIA II (1963–65) REUNION
by Gloria Gieseke Curtis (Asmara 1963-65)
EVERY GREAT EVENT starts with a fabulous idea and leaders bursting from the pack to pull it off. Since quite a few of our “twos” group have homes in Florida, Ed Lynch invited anyone interested to celebrate the 50th anniversary year of our training at UCLA with him in Englewood.
Where the Hell is Englewood, Florida? Who cares? If that is the destination for an Ethiopia II reunion, then it shall be found! Fly into Tampa, go south past Bradenton (home of Dannie and Daryle Russell) along the Bay coast to Lemon Bay, and look for a pastel cluster of buildings named “Wanna-B Inn.” What a beautiful location, right on the shore, to meet and greet dear old friends. Every reunion, we are joined by at least one person who has never been to an Ethiopia II event, and this year it was Moe Rosen and his lovely wife, Jackie.
Thanks to the hard work and creative planning of our fabulous “hosts” (The Russells, The Hillenbrands, and the Lynch Team), we were treated to a long weekend of food, drink, fun, sun, water, music, stories, laughing, crying, nostalgia, book reviews, Ethiopia updates, and more food and drinks. Dannie’s event-planning experience really showed with her gourmet food and fun “extras” like the Ethiopia-Eritrea bracelets and souvenir palm tree drinking glasses, which were well used all weekend. I’m always amazed at how hard the non-PCV spouses work to make these events a success, and they deserve our sincere thanks.
The original plan was to start with an evening reception Friday, April 19, and end with a goodbye brunch on Sunday, April 21. Of course, that would never be enough time for the fanatic “Twos” who needed more reunion time. So many folks decided to come in early and stay later that our flexible hosts kept adding activities. The extended weekend ended up with an open house, abundant food and drinks, and a “meet and greet” at the Ed Lynch vacation home in Englewood Thursday afternoon into evening. Then Friday morning was a scenic boat trip out of Sarasota.
The Friday evening poolside reception was a special treat. First, the “Private Party” sign went up at the hotel pool area. Ed arranged for musicians to play songs from “the good old days” of our 1960s Peace Corps experience. The big surprise was hearing the wonderful solo voices of Ted Vestal, former PC Assistant Director in Ethiopia, and Pat Bailey (Addis Ababa 63–65), one of our own, singing their specialties and then leading the group in some favorites. We ended with a rousing version of “We Shall Overcome . . ..”
Saturday morning is usually set aside as the “business meeting” for reunions, but for our group there is always some experience that keeps us from getting too serious. We heard very thorough and thoughtful updates of life in current Ethiopia, plus some wonderful travel stories from recent visitors. Our leaders were Prof. Ted Vestal, Dane Smith, Haskell Ward, and travelers Marvin Vinande and Doug Worthington and their wives who went on the “Return to Ethiopia” trip last September. A special treat was viewing the beautiful scrapbook that Lynn Worthington made up to remember their trip. Some told of what must be one of life’s most exciting experiences for RPCVs — finding former students from the 1960s, especially when they are healthy and successful in their work and personal lives. Others spoke of the support they are giving to projects in the homeland that benefit students and educational projects.
Elias Wondimu from Tsehai Publishers, a guest of Ted Vestal, brought literature describing the many interesting books about Ethiopia already published by the company, or will be published later this year.
While our outstanding grill cook, Barry, was doing duty for lunch outside at the Englewood Community Center, the rest of us told stories inside the clubhouse. We ranged from cheers to tears as Dannie led us in a round of informal story telling. Although this was our group’s official 50th anniversary year reunion, it really did seem like we were back in Ethiopia as Volunteers. We are an emotional group. The memories are so strong. Of course, the stories continued around the seaside picnic tables as we devoured the lunch prepared by our hosts.
Saturday night was a really fun time at the official farewell dinner held in a funky beach bar and restaurant.
The farewell brunch at Ed and Aud Lynch’s home was really fun. Even some of their neighbors dropped by to meet these strange folks who went to a strange place with Ed and stayed for two years already! Of course, we can’t part company without planning the next reunion and we all agreed that the Fall of 2015 would officially commemorate the 50th year of our LEAVING Ethiopia. Warren and Marti Fritz stepped up to suggest Traverse City, Michigan, their home area — and a cheering vote confirmed the deal. Our Peace Corps banner and the Eth 2 Party Sign were passed to Warren to make the plan official.
Over the years I’ve met so many returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have never been to a reunion or who have lost contact with everyone in their group. This is always a shock to me and a source of great sadness. Barry has suggested that as a project before 2015 we “Twos” make an effort to contact every person in our group. Hopefully, other Ethiopia groups will try to do the same. Someone needs to VOLUNTEER!