Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 1999
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JUNE 1999

E D I T O R' S    N O T E

Seventy Years in the Making

To the graduating Class of 1999, I say congratulations, good luck--and mark your calendars now: for the third weekend in April, 2069. It may seem mind-boggling, but your 70th college reunion will be here before you know it. Just ask Bill Banks and his buddies in the Class of 1929. They turned out en masse for Reunion Weekend in April. It was something of a first in the university's history--a remarkable 14 class members in all, filling two tables beneath the big Reunion tent. "That's a pretty good batting average, considering the average age of my classmates is something higher than 90 years old," says Banks, soon to be 91, who spearheaded the yearlong effort to bring his former classmates together.

L to r: Robert L. Kelly, William Rosser, Max Schiebel, and Milton H. Medenbach
Photo by Jay Van Rennselaer
I was seated just a few tables away (with the relative youngsters from the Class of '49--more on them next issue), and I couldn't help but feel that the stalwart crew of '29ers has given new meaning to the words "loyalty" and "longevity." These men remain admirably active and mentally agile. One, a physician from North Carolina, just gave up piloting his own plane a year ago; another nonogenarian and his wife regularly attend all out-of-town Hopkins lacrosse games. Four members of the class were game enough to march in the traditional Reunion parade, which wound around Homewood Field during halftime of the Blue Jays' victorious lacrosse match-up against Navy. The quartet of '29ers (above) brought up the rear of the procession, and when they came into sight all the Hopkins fans in the stands rose to their feet to give an enthusiastic ovation.

Banks himself was a little surprised at how well he and his Hopkins classmates have held up over the years. He told me it might have something to do with the adversity they faced early on. "The bottom fell out of everything just when we were graduating," he says. "At least half of the class couldn't get jobs. There was a feeling among our generation that this couldn't possibly last very long, so some of us shipped out on freighters to go around the world. We figured that by the end of our trip, life would be back to normal. Quite the contrary." He laughs a little ruefully, then adds, "We were better off than if life had been too easy for us. A battle helps to build you a little bit."

Clearly, the Hopkins campus has changed immensely over the past seven decades, but the changes don't seem to faze Banks--or at least not much. He cherishes an aerial photo taken when he arrived as a freshman in 1925; there were just three academic buildings and one dorm. "We had a similar photo taken at our 50th reunion--the campus looks like downtown Manhattan!" While acknowledging that the build-up has been necessary, the Class of '29er says a little wistfully, "The [early campus] was more romantic."

After a year spent planning the momentous get-together, Banks confided that he feels a little let down. "The last two weeks I've been wondering what to do next," he says. "I guess I've got to volunteer to organize our 75th!"

Sue De Pasquale, Editor