Fort Atkinson High School’s Class of 1971 was an extremely close-knit class and it continues to be.
Graduating at the peak of the Baby Boom, it was the largest class in the history of the school, and it also held a historic place as the 150th class to graduate from Fort Atkinson High School.
At the group’s 45th class reunion five years ago, people had so much fun that they asked, “Why are we only meeting every five years?”
That kicked off a tradition of “pop-up” reunions which allowed class members to reconnect more informally every year instead of just every five years at the big formal reunions.
The whole group — both those class members who had met regularly in the local area and those more far-flung who waited for the big reunions to roll around — was looking forward to celebrating the class’ 50th in 2021.
But as the spring of 2021 rolled into the summer and COVID-19 continued to derail plans for big gatherings here and around the world, organizers reluctantly decided to cancel.
“It was hard, but it was the most responsible thing to do,” said Connie (Van Schoyck) Kreuser, one of the coordinators of the local event.
It was particularly hard knowing that as retirees (or retirement-age workers, as may be the case for some) the class is likely to lose a few more members in the next year, Kreuser said.
“Sadly, our class has lost close to 40 people already,” Kreuser said.
The official “50th” reunion will move to July of 2022, but a group of stalwarts who live closer to their hometown will still be getting together for a more low-key affair at the American Legion Dugout Friday for an evening of camaraderie and reflections.
The Class of 1971 occupied a pivotal place in history, growing up during the Vietnam War era, as a lot of social change was taking place. They had a front seat to battles for racial equality, women’s rights, debates over American’s military involvement abroad, and a more active leadership role for youth in national affairs.
Locally, Kreuser said one of the class’ victories was the re-establishment of the senior class trip.
“There had been some trouble a few years before and the trips were ended, but a couple of our student council members had parents on the school board at that time and we were able to get it through,” Kreuser said.
That trip — to Washington D.C. and Williamsburg — created memories for a lifetime for the student participants and set the tone for the next few years, when this enrichment activity continued for seniors from the local high school.
Back in 1971, Kreuser served president of the student council, and David Ward, who later achieved statewide recognition in politics, served as the class treasurer.
It was a time of turmoil, with tremendous amounts of progress being made in some areas while others were left relatively unaddressed.
For example, there were no sports available for young women, only the males in the class.
Krueser said that given the opportunity, she would have been very involved in sports as an athlete. Instead, she channeled her energy into other extracurriculars.
Unable to play when she was a student, she became a mentor for the next generation of girls who had earned an opportunity to play just as their male counterparts did.
After graduating from college, Kreuser became a teacher, then earned her master’s degree and switched to school counseling, along the way coaching five different girls sports over a total of 44 seasons.
Even though she missed out on some opportunities due to the times, Kreuser said that at Fort Atkinson High School, everyone had the opportunity to be a leader in their own way.
She was a trailblazer on the student council, for example, at a time when it was dominated by males. Now females frequently dominate.
Krueser said that the whole idea of sports in school isn’t to train up Olympic athletes or even conference champions but rather to build better people through teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership.
Other notable members of the Class of 1971 include Dick Scott, Bill Shipley Glenn Peterson, Kris (Sams) Athas, Bob LaMuro, Doug Erdman, Gary Cluver, Cindy Peterson and many more.
Cluver was described by fellow class members as “a wonderful voice of reason who helped bring different factions together,” using the skills he had developed on the union negotiating team.
Tim Humphrey, who has become a household name in the local area through his floral business. He worked as a teen at McIntyre Floral and what became as a part-time job to earn a little pocket money turned into a lifelong career.
Jill (Smith) Gramley, who made her impact in health care, improving lives one at a time as she served for decades as a nurse at Fort HealthCare.
Nancy (Southworth) Jeske became a teacher and spent her career in Illinois, then moved back up into the area to raise sheep in her retirement career.
Brian Morgan has always been an honorary member of the Fort Atkinson High School Class of 1971.
He started out with the class, but his family actually moved to Oconomowoc at the end of his sophomore year and he graduated from there.
“When you are born here and go to school here for more than a decade, this is your home,” he said.
Morgan stayed in touch with his old friends from Fort Atkinson and ultimately wound up on the same college football team with them for a couple of years at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
There are 276 official members of the class, plus a number of “honorary” members like Brian Morgan who are very much a part of the group.
“If you are part of us, you are welcome,” Kreuser said. “We won’t turn you away if you don’t have a Fort Atkinson diploma.”