Johns Hopkins Magazine -- September 1999
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A Golden Return to Campus
Photo by Craig Terkowitz

The football game against Penn Military College took place 51 years ago, but John Rice '49 and Lou Koerber '49 remember the details of that heartbreaker as if it were yesterday. It was the only loss in an undefeated season, a glorious season that brought the Hopkins men the Mason-Dixon Championship and a bid to the Tangerine Bowl on New Year's Day (an honor the university would decline because of the Hopkins policy of non-commercial athletics--but that's another story).

"I will never forget that game," says Rice, a largeshouldered man whose menacing performance on the field belied the decidedly gentler course his career would take; he's worked for nearly half a century as a Presbyterian minister. "There was a fumble early in the game and they recovered and scored. And then the same thing happened again. I saw [our] fans leaving and I was beside myself. I said, We're a better team than these people know we are...."

Together again: '49ers Rice, Mathews, and Koerber
Photo by Craig Terkowitz
Koerber, who is strolling next to Rice on Homewood's Lower Quad, shakes his head and joins in: "We really outplayed those guys that whole game. It took us a whole half to realize they weren't as tough as they seemed to be, dressed in those military uniforms."

Agrees Rice, "We had more first downs and more yards gained and more everything else--except scores!"

This is the stuff of which college reunions are made: reliving past defeats and savoring victories, catching up with folks you haven't seen for decades, absorbing the physical changes to campus that the passage of time has brought. And the 125 men of the Class of '49 who returned to Homewood for their golden anniversary last April--many with spouses in tow--did all these things and then some. During a three-day weekend jammed with activities, they toured the campus, cruised the Inner Harbor, brunched at the Hopkins Club, cheered the Hopkins lacrosse team in its match-up against Navy, lunched beneath the Reunion Tent, chatted over cocktails at Evergreen House, danced to the Big Band music of "Bobby and the Braggers," memorialized their classmates who have passed on, listened as Hopkins faculty shared latest breakthroughs in research--and somehow emerged on Sunday afternoon more energized than when they'd started.

Organizing the event was a mammoth task that fell to a dedicated planning committee led by reunion chairman Koerber--no surprise to his classmates. The two-time captain of the football team has alway been among the most spirited in the class, they say. Born on the 4th of July, the Budeke Paints Inc. chairman was instrumental in establishing a national pause for the Pledge of Allegiance on Flag Day.

Though years had passed since many Class of '49ers had been together, most had no trouble recognizing one another. That may have been due in part to the efforts of Sig Eckhaus '49 and Norvell Miller '49, who, with the help of 10 other classmates, put together the first-ever 50th anniversary yearbook. The "49ers Golden Nuggets" is a real labor of love (it took the yearbook committee two years to complete), filled with pictures and updated info on 261 members of the class. The book mailed well before the reunion, and several '49ers told me that after it arrived they pored over it until the early hours of the morning.

Many members of the class say they remain grateful for the financial help they received. As children of the Depression, many had no thought of going to college; World War II and the G.I. Bill provided that opportunity. To show their gratitude, Class of '49 members responded in a big way: by creating a $2 million endowment fund for undergraduate student aid. Gift committee chair Bob Coulbourn '49 and committee members Harry Marcoplos '49, Brent Mathews '49, and Jack Sellors '49 began the fundraising effort three years ago; with $1.6 million now pledged, they're intent on hitting the $2 million goal by year's end. (A sad note: Only hours into the reunion, class members were shocked to learn that Sellors had died in a small plane crash the day before.)

Back on the Lower Quad, Koerber and Rice, with classmate Mathews, are hurrying to catch up with their class's campus tour. Their conversation has shifted now to their legendary Hopkins football coach Howdy Meyers. Meyers left Hopkins for Hofstra and was reportedly offered a coaching spot with the New York Giants, says Koerber, eliciting interested nods from Rice and Mathews. The coach eventually came back to Hopkins for a final year and was struck ill, says Koerber, "but even when he was in the hospital he was diagramming plays for the next year. He'd get the male nurses to stand so far apart, and then execute certain plays." The three men chuckle. "That was Howdy 'til the end..." says Koerber, as the trio strolls out of earshot. --Sue De Pasquale