DELAVAN, Wis. — Meet a group of people who loved getting together, not virtually, but in the flesh.
By one estimate, they loved it so much they did it every Monday morning for more than 50 years.
The group called itself Delavan High School and Delavan- Darien High School Alumni & Friends.
Last month, Carol Anderson of the group announced sadly that alumni and friends had "come to the end of the road," The Janesville Gazette reported.
"We are left with many good memories," she said.
So often, groups dissolve because the next generation is no longer interested. The leadership ages out, and no one is left to take over.
That is true of alumni and friends. Many members were more than 70 years old or into their 80s and 90s.
But for decades, dozens of people looked forward to being part of the group's camaraderie and learning.
At a time in the U.S. when loneliness and social isolation are real problems for older people—even before the coronavirus pandemic—alumni and friends is an old-fashioned template for healthier living.
John Kilkenny, who graduated from Delavan High School in 1957, thinks the group began in 1964.
He said it grew out of a gathering of DHS alumni called together by the late Gordon Yadon to plan an all-Delavan High School reunion in 1965.
"The promotional and organizational genius of Gordon resulted in an attendance of over 2,500 people at that first reunion," Kilkenny said.
Yadon was Delavan's unofficial historian and postmaster for many years.
After the success and camaraderie of the first reunion, Kilkenny believes people just decided to meet regularly to stay in touch and to make planning the next reunion easier.
Their effort and enthusiasm resulted in nine more all-DHS school reunions, with the last one in 2007.
"I have always enjoyed high school reunions and the fond memories and reminisces of those days," Kilkenny said.
Eventually, "We alums began to refer to ourselves as DHS Alumni and Friends and later included Delavan-Darien High School, hoping to bolster the group," Kilkenny recalled. "There never was any exclusivity intended."
In the group's heyday, maybe 30 or 40 people came regularly, said Doug Yadon, Gordon's son.
"My dad was real good at lining up different speakers every week," Yadon said.
They ranged from county government officials to politicians to George the butterfly man.
Ron Tesch of the group looked forward to the speakers.
"We also made field trips around town to places you drive by forever, but you never see the inside of them," he said.
Tesch was a barber in Delavan for 52 years before he retired in 2014.
He attended as a friend of the group.
"People looked forward to the fellowship," Tesch said. "It was a good social gathering and informative."
He is not surprised that the longtime gathering will soon end.
"If you look at churches, the American Legion and others, they are all on a downward spiral," he said.
After Gordon Yadon died in 2013, Helene Hurdis, Class of 1952, kept the meetings going. But she had to give it up in 2018 because of her health. That's when Anderson took over the coordinating role.
"For many years, Ray Woods of the (American) Legion opened the doors for us and made coffee," Anderson said.
Then Woods retired.
Anderson began attending the group in 2003. Later, her husband, Dennis, joined her. Both enjoyed getting together with friends while learning new things.
"Attending was very valuable or I wouldn't have gone every Monday," Anderson said. "My husband and I don't like to get up that early, but we did it because we wanted to be there."
Sometimes the scheduled speaker did not show up.
"We would just sit and talk for an hour," Anderson said. "We would tell funny stories—and laugh. We always had a good time."
Anderson said the group is planning one last get-together in April to celebrate the 100th birthday of group member Elma Oberla.
"It's good for your endorphins to have friends and to get together regularly," she said.
Kathleen Kilkenny, John's younger sister, was in the first class to graduate from Delavan-Darien High School in 1958.
She moved away from Delavan for 52 years but returned in 2014.
Kilkenny quickly became part of the alumni group to reconnect with old friends.
"After every meeting, we went out to breakfast and continued socializing," she said. "Right now, we are disbanding, but there are still some of us who will still go out."
She insists one thing won't change: "We're staying together as friends."