Setting up a tent at Reunion 2019

Countdown to Launch

By David Schimke and Kayla McGrady ’05

Among its institutional peers, Carleton’s reputation for remarkable reunions is the stuff  of liberal arts legend. Just the size of the endeavor is tailor-made for the record books. This year’s four-day event, which began on June 20, attracted nearly 1,500 alumni from 16 classes. Another 241 non–reunion year Carls were on hand, along with 619 friends and family members. Fourteen of the oldest alumni were from the Classes of ’44 and ’49. At 260 attendees, the Class of 2014 fielded the largest group. This year, 121 student workers joined Alumni Relations staff members, countless other staff and faculty members, and several outside vendors to make sure every Carl would have a Reunion to remember!

Raw numbers alone don’t do justice to the spectacle’s scope, however. The catered receptions and dinners. The class lounges scattered across campus. The lectures and tours. The carefully curated exhibits. The campus-wide scavenger hunt. The legendary golf tournament, Parade of Classes, and kids’ activities at Camp Carleton. And the fireworks. Don’t forget the fireworks!

To celebrate these efforts, we spent some time behind the scenes before and during Reunion to see just what it takes to plan this killer gathering. We discovered that the people who work so hard pull off Reunion have almost as much fun as the Carls who attend.


WEDNESDAY // 1:30 P.M.

Setting up a tent at Reunion 2019Setting up a tent at Reunion 2019 Photo: Sara Rubinstein ’98

Under the Big Top

Twin Cities vendor Après Event Decor erects 13 tents of varying sizes on campus for Reunion. Some are just large enough to cover a couple of tables; others host 200 guests or more for dinner. The largest tent, next to Skinner Memorial Chapel, is nearly as long as the building itself and seats more than 800 people.

A crew of 14 people spend four days setting up. A big part of the time commitment is simply getting the hundreds of pounds of equipment to campus: the Après box truck makes 13 trips between the company’s headquarters in Minnetonka and Northfield. Each tent is secured by dozens of poles and foot-long stakes that can be drilled into grass or asphalt.

Depending on the size of the tent, it can take up to two hours and a dozen people to raise just one; then there’s the time spent running electrical cords, installing lighting and fans, and hanging draping. This year’s fair weather helped the process go faster and, for the first time in memory, no one had to work late.


MONDAY // 10:00 A.M.

Kurt Larson prints reunion T-shirts in his shopKurt Larson prints reunion T-shirts in his shop Photo: Sara Rubinstein ’98

Custom-Made Memories

Family-founded in 1982, Larson’s Printing moved to Northfield from Faribault, Minnesota, more than 25 years ago. In the years since, it’s become Carleton’s primary supplier of all things logo-driven. During Reunion season, which starts in February for brother-and-sister owners Kurt and Karin Larson, the shop creates thousands of so-called “identity items” for every reunion-year class. T-shirts are the most popular choice, but they also field requests for customized hats, sashes, beanies, and stocking caps.

Since each piece is a custom job, the Larsons’ goal is to have all orders in hand at least a month before Reunion. “One job of 500 shirts might take just take five hours to run, while a different job of 30 shirts could require the same amount of time,” Karin explains. “It depends on all sorts of variables, from the amount of text to the number of colors.”

Neither Kurt nor Karin is willing to name a favorite (or least favorite) design from over the years. “I’m just going to say ‘no comment’ to that one,” Kurt says with a laugh. They appreciate every class’s school spirit, though, whether it involves sporting purple hats and promising to “party like it’s 1999” or donning a distinctive tiara, as two 1944 graduates did this year for the Parade of Classes.


WEDNESDAY // 10:30 A.M.

Custodians clean a dorm room in preparation for reunionCustodians clean a dorm room in preparation for reunion Photo: Sara Rubinstein ’98

Squeaky Clean

Custodians have just a week between students’ leaving after finals and alumni arriving for Reunion to clean all the residence halls and campus houses. That means 10-hour workdays wiping down walls, mopping floors, and scrubbing a year’s worth of grime off communal stovetops. It’s hard work, but it’s “also a little fun,” says custodian Holly Rapp.

“You get to work with different people,” says Rapp, and that builds a sense of camaraderie. During the academic year, custodians work alone or in pairs to clean campus buildings, but in the spring, teams of up to a dozen people tackle this task. That means there’s always someone nearby to talk or joke with while you work, says Rapp, and that lightens the mood. “Working with the right teammates makes all the difference.”

“It feels good to walk out of a building and know that it’s clean,” says custodian Sheila Schoenbauer, who after 22 years of preparing dorms for Reunion still appreciates the satisfaction of a job well done.


WEDNESDAY // 4:30 P.M.

Reunion workers in golf cartsReunion workers in golf carts Photo: Sara Rubinstein ’98

On the Move

The afternoon before Reunion, Hannah Anderson ’19 teaches student workers how to operate the golf carts they’ll use to shuttle alumni around campus. The vehicles are easy to operate, but driving down the hill from Bird House (transit team headquarters) to First Street can be a little tricky. Take the angle wrong, say graduating seniors who’ve done the job before, and you might tip over.

Students pile into three carts and take a test drive around the circuit. The carts max out at about 15 miles an hour, but the convoy moves at a more leisurely pace and stops every so often to switch drivers. Anderson stresses that alumni don’t like a jerky ride, so the drivers practice working the brakes and taking the turns gently.

The lead cart takes a wrong turn. “Whoops,” says Anderson. “We’re supposed to go back out to First Street.” The novice drivers dutifully scribble notes on their campus maps and the convoy gets back on track.


THURSDAY // 10:30 A.M.

Reunion student workers Ethan Ellis ’19 and Brie Forster ’22Reunion student workers Ethan Ellis ’19 and Brie Forster ’22 Photo: Theo Stroomer ’05

Class Room

Thanks largely to the enthusiastic lobbying efforts of Barbara “Putter” Nordly Beck ’49, 12 alumni from her class (6 men, 6 women) made it back to campus for their 70th reunion. To ensure that the nonagenarians could easily connect and enjoy ready access to transportation and a well-appointed gathering place, organizers dubbed Northfield’s new Fairfield Inn headquarters for the Class of ’49.

Student workers Brie Forster ’22 and Ethan Ellis ’19 were assigned to host the group. “It’s just very cool,” says Forster while she hangs balloons and sets out a pile of well-preserved Algols in Reunion’s only off-campus class lounge. “I work in the [Carleton] Archives, so I look through a lot of documents and artifacts. I’m super excited to hear stories from the past firsthand from an entirely different generation.”

James Dorman ’49 reminisced about exploring Greenland on an Arctic expedition. Dan Dougherty ’49, who served in the European theater during World War II, gave a campus-wide presentation on his role in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. And on Saturday, it dawned on Eloise Sterrie Cadman ’49 and her husband, Norm Cadman, a St. Olaf grad from the same year, that it was their 67th wedding anniversary. In the midst of all the planning and excitement, they almost forgot the date, Ellis recalls. It’s a good guess that he and Forster never will.


THURSDAY // 3:30 P.M.

Bon Appétit workers in the Burton kitchenBon Appétit workers in the Burton kitchen Photo: Theo Stroomer ’05

Eats and Treats

Bon Appétit, Carleton’s food service, feeds more than 2,500 guests daily during Reunion—more than on even the busiest day during the academic year. Chefs from other Bon Appétit locations join staff members in the Burton kitchen and East Dining Hall to help with the workload.

Over the course of four days, the Burton team alone fills 77 food orders that range in size and complexity from a few types of hors d’oeuvres for a reception to hundreds of individually plated meals for a class dinner. Chefs track each order on spreadsheets that cover the door of a walk-in freezer and a bulletin board. From locally sourced bacon to salad greens from Carleton’s own student garden, Bon Appétit is committed to buying food from area farmers because it’s more sustainable than shipping in food from faraway locations—and it tastes better.


FRIDAY // 5:30 P.M.

Bert Rowe and a cart full of fireworksBert Rowe and a cart full of fireworks Photo: Theo Stroomer ’05

Sky Lighting

When Robert “Bert” Rowe began pursuing his profession in the early 1990s, putting on a fireworks show felt a little like a battle reenactment. “It was exciting. It was fast-paced. And it was sweaty,” he remembers. “You would hear the oohs and ahs and booms, but you didn’t really get to watch it. That’s because you were in the trenches, hand-firing, and it was really dangerous.” Nowadays, Rowe—who cofounded Hollywood Pyrotechnics in 2002 and is now vice president and display operator—sits back several yards from his setup with an electrical firing mechanism, which allows him to safely tweak shot sequences based on crowd reaction.

Setting up Carleton’s 15-to-20-minute show took Rowe and three assistants a little more than four hours this year. A chance of precipitation hung over the preparations, which involve gently stuffing prepacked bags of shot (shipped from China) into rows and rows of wired mortar tubes that are between two and a half and four inches in diameter (the bigger the tube, the more grandiose the result). But the rain never fell and the display was a smash.


SATURDAY // 4:00 P.M.

Alumni choir rehearsalAlumni choir rehearsal Photo: Theo Stroomer ’05

Joyful Noises

The alumni choir is only a few minutes into their Saturday-afternoon rehearsal in Skinner Memorial Chapel, but conductor Lawrence Henry ’76 already feels confident about the five pieces they’ll perform at the multifaith church service on Sunday. That’s because the two questions that routinely test his nerves prior to Reunion have been answered. Yes, there will be enough singers. And yes, they have serious chops. “Some people in the church tomorrow will be amazed at how much beautiful sound 32 people can make,” he says after the group disbands to attend their various class dinners. “It’s going to be a very musical morning.”

Henry ought to know. He’s only missed five reunions since graduating 43 years ago, and he’s been in charge of the choir 36 times. Along the way, he’s filled in for Carleton music faculty members while they’re on sabbatical and held an adjunct position as the department’s accompanist. “When I took over the choir, the tradition was waning,” says Henry, who is now semiretired and plays organ and piano for a Catholic church in Lakeland, Minnesota. “But because I know almost everyone who came through the department between 1995 and 2008, when they come back for reunions I can count on many of them to sing.”


Keeping it Classy

President Poskanzer awards the Spirit of ’62 award to a Class of ’64 alumnusPresident Poskanzer awards the Spirit of ’62 award to a Class of ’64 alumnus Photo: Theo Stroomer ’05

The rain held off long enough to let participants enjoy Reunion festivities, including the traditional Parade of Classes. At the Convocation afterward, they celebrated several class achievements:

  • The Classes of 1949 and 1964 won this year’s Spirit of ’62 Award in recognition of their outstanding Reunion outreach and programming efforts.
  • The Class of 1954 broke the attendance record for 65th reunions (previously held by the Class of 1932) with 23.8 percent of the class at Reunion.
  • The Class of 1969 gave a total of $11.6 million in celebration of their 50th reunion; 69 percent of the class participated.
  • The Class of 1974 gave a 45th reunion gift of $877,128, with 49 percent of the class participating.
  • The Class of 1989 set a new 30th reunion attendance record of 31 percent.
  • The Class of 2014 won the Loving Cup for highest Reunion attendance with 50 percent of the class in attendance for their fifth reunion.
  • The Alumni Association presented 17 awards at the convocation. Afterward, six Carleton athletes and one coach were inducted into the ‘C’ Club Hall of Fame at a special luncheon. See a list of honorees.

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