There were virtually no surprises awaiting Dave Ready Jr. at the 20-year reunion of Edina High School's class of '88. Few startling revelations of wallflowers blossoming or jocks ballooning to ginormous proportions. He already knew what almost all of his classmates look like, where they live, what they are doing and how many kids they have.
Boring? Actually, Ready said he couldn't wait to get to International Market Square last weekend.
"Overall, the energy level and anticipation is really high," he said, "and the catalyst was the website."
Welcome to the worldwide, viral world of reunions circa 2008, when Facebook-like Web pages can make the gathering most likely to succeed. In this case, www.hornets88.com proved a quicker, cheaper and nimbler way for organizers to collect info and connect with classmates.
"Twenty years ago, everything was done by mail, and people had to spend a lot of money upfront doing invitations and setting up the events," said Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine.
"Now they only have to print invitations for the people they can't reach by e-mail, and they can have people buy tickets online. Plus they can do fascinating newsletters and stuff like that."
The Edina class' website was set up via Myevent.com, a Montreal company that sells a package that can be geared simply toward contacts and ticket sales or can amass oodles of tidbits, links and audio-visual clips. Myevent.com has sold these packages to thousands of classes, including some from St. Louis Park, Roseville, Lakeville, Minneapolis Lutheran and Roosevelt high schools.
The pages can be simple or very ambitious. The hornets88 page, for example, started with senior-class photos of every grad, but soon had a slew of recent shots (the hairdos have improved mightily for most of the class of '88), biographical info, personal updates, an "In Memory" page and even a blog.
"How much you put in is how much you get out of it," said Myevent.com President Robert Hirscheimer. "The main purpose is to disseminate information, but there are a lot of features.
"Almost all of our customers tell us it increases attendance and really gets some buzz going."
Reunions are naturally 'viral'
Buzz, yes. Attendance, maybe not so much. Edina Class of '88 coordinator Stephanie Haddad said that while 63 percent of her classmates have logged onto the website, only 38 percent attended the reunion.
Ironically, the same technology that reduces legwork for organizing committees might also be hindering attendance.
"We're pretty sure there has been a decrease, at least in 10-year reunions," Wagner said. "People are saying 'I'm not going to go to a class reunion; I can just catch up with everybody on Facebook.'"
In one respect, little has changed: The people who really want to catch up with classmates still do. As Hirscheimer notes, "A reunion is kind of a viral thing anyway. People will tell a friend about it, and so on and so on."
Meanwhile, those who want little or nothing to do with their former peers, for whatever reason, can stay out of sight, out of mind -- no matter how much searching the organizers undertake.
What has changed is that those who want to reconnect have their high-school world at their fingertips 24/7. Ready, who's a winemaker in California, learned that 10 classmates also live in that state, and he hooked up electronically with a friend who joined the Israeli Army right after high school; another classmate, Jonathan Smith, posted this note: "Wow! Dave Ready makes my favorite wine."
That kind of connectedness has been a boon for another class of 1988, Lakeville High's, said reunion coordinator Luke Mahowald. "It's still a challenge getting commitments [for the actual event this summer]," said Mahowald, who set up the page last fall after checking out myriad websites' offerings. "But thanks to this website, we have a real interactive, networking community going. We've been able to build it up, see photos, relive memories, tie to YouTube clips.
"It's tangible, very personal. People share individual events. It's comparable to an online newspaper; as events occur on a daily or even hourly basis, you can adjust. Even though we aren't in Lakeville anymore, it feels like we're in Lakeville," said Mahowald, who lives in Minneapolis. "It's been so useful that we're going to keep it up after the reunion."
'Like a business'
The site also helped Mahowald and his organizing committee determine the agenda for their upcoming gathering. After getting feedback from classmates, they opted for a DJ and "Guitar Hero" video game at the main event.
"The challenge for any reunion is giving people a reason to come back," he said. "So we asked people what do they expect to get? The answer was 'a good time.' Because of being in contact, we've been able to design a reunion to meet their needs. ... It's like running a business. You identify the needs of your customers."
There's another way in which reunion committees need to work like a business: doing due diligence on all event-organizing options. Burnsville High's Michelle Camilla said her class of '88 "purposely decided to go on our own after a really bad experience [with a reunion company] at our 10-year event."
So she and four other committee members thoroughly checked out companies and websites before opting for Myevent.com. "People need to really look into what they're getting," she said, "and be sure to check the references and make sure everything's clear."
Camilla said that working on the Internet has made a huge difference in planning her class' mid-September event.
Another benefit cited by several organizers: Websites reduce the "who the heck is that?" factor and allow attendees to bring some focus to the reunion weekend, whose format has changed little, Wagner said.
Most reunions still involve a Friday-night gathering, usually without spouses, then golf, lunch and/or visits to the school during the day Saturday, and that night "a more formal drinking and eating party, with music that's always too loud, every time."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643