“We graduated in 1968, and as soon as we cast off our caps and gowns, hugged our friends and family, we scattered to the winds, some staying in Nebraska and others off to other states for work. And several of our 41 class members were off to Vietnam,” said Larry Jacobsen, alumnus of UNL’s Architecture Class of 1968.
Fast forward 50 years and a core group of 22 alumni and 16 spouses from the Class of 68 gathered on campus in early September 2018 for their 50th graduation anniversary reunion. The group toured new campus buildings and learning of spaces that did not exist in 1968. During a gala dinner that capped off the reunion weekend at the Van Brunt Visitors Center, class members celebrated having achieved their 50th reunion goal of donating, over the years, a total of $68,000 for the endowment fund that supports scholarships for architecture students at UNL.
That’s impressive by any standard. So how did this group of graduates that “scattered to the winds” come together again to achieve so much over the years not only for themselves but for their college alma mater? Something pulled them back together. Perhaps it was the strong bond they forged within the walls of Architecture Hall or the determination of a core group of graduates to stay connected.
“As a result of a few of us collaborating on a variety of professional projects and programs after graduation and several of us being employed by firms in Nebraska, we decided to organize our first reunion 25 years after our graduation,” said alumnus Pat McDermott. “Our first reunion was held in 1993 with 27 class members and nine of our former professors in attendance. Since then we’ve come together for reunions about every 5-years, with the strong desire to keep our friendships alive and our group together while also hashing over ‘old times.’”
But it wasn’t just gathering together to hang out with old friends that made this group unique; they had a strong desire to give back.
“As members of our College’s Alumni Association, a few of us discussed how we could best ‘give back’ to the university,” said Jacobsen. In 2008 for their 40th reunion they started the Class of 1968 Scholarship Fund with the University of Nebraska Foundation. “The fund quickly reached the sum needed to become an endowment for the scholarships. As we kept growing the fund, we felt the satisfaction of continuing to give to those who, like us at one time, were working hard as students, but living on very limited budgets.” To date the fund has provided scholarships for 18 architecture students in the College of Architecture.
Coming together for a noble, academic cause wasn’t the only glue that held this class together. “We also participated together in many extracurricular activities while students, and those experiences helped build long-lasting friendships,” said alumnus Gordon Scholz.
As students, the majority of class members were active in the Nebraska Student Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which was said to be the second-largest chapter in the Nation at that time. Annually, they participated in trips to the AIA national convention; competed in the Nebraska Concrete Masonry Association design competition; and came together for the promotion of “A” Week, a week-long series of events and programs that benefited not only college students but also high school students visiting the campus from throughout Nebraska.
Favorite pastimes included coming together for an annual pig roast, softball games against other teams on campus, and staffing their own coffee shop—on the honor system, of course.
Those good times didn’t end with graduation. In addition to meeting regularly for reunions, they set up a web/blog site https://archclass68.wordpress.com/ where class members could share news, remember those who had passed,and celebrate each other’s joys and accomplishments.
About 10 years ago, they discovered the 16mm film of Linus Burr Smith’s final lecture. Smith was the first Chairman of the Department of Architecture at the University of Nebraska back in the 1930s and was still chair when the students enrolled as freshmen. With Smith’s final lecture preserved on film, class members organized an effort to digitally convert the film to DVD format. The class sold over 100 copies of the DVD, and the proceeds went to the Architectural Foundation of Nebraska for scholarship support.
In 2010 Professor Homer Puderbaugh donated a bottle of single malt scotch to the Class of 68 which will go to the last living member. Today, that bottle is safeguarded by alum Gordon Scholz.
As one would expect, a great deal has changed since 1968. The architecture branch library has moved twice since they graduated, moving from what is now room 305 to the Architecture Hall Gallery and now to its present-day location, the north wing of Architecture Hall. The current library location used to be three floors of studio space, and the now-iconic attic studio area was off limits to students in 1968.
“We never had studio here; it was off-limits and locked,” said one alum during their tour of the attic studio in Architecture Hall. One alum whispered to another, “I remember sneaking up here when the door was accidentally left unlocked.”
The glass atrium Link that joins the Architecture Hall East and West buildings wasn’t there either. That wasn’t built until 1987, and Architecture Hall West was actually the old Law College.
A lot has changed over the years, but one thing has been pretty consistent from class to class: the strong, long-lasting bonds among friends.
Jacobsen, one of the organizers of the 50th anniversary reunion, advises those interested in bringing together a similar alumni group to “Encourage and support a core group of at least three people who have friendships that collectively extend across the majority of the class. This small mutually supportive team will need to fill some key roles to keep things going: a leader, an idea person, a manager. They will need to make a commitment to establish some goals for the purpose of bringing their classmates together.”
A different time:
1963 was the year this cohort enrolled as freshmen. During their time here, this class experienced plenty of history-altering events including the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, the Vietnam War, the 1960s race riots and civil rights marches. However, on the lighter side, these alumni can probably remember the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan show, watching the Today Show in full color for the first time, wearing bellbottoms and mini-shirts and grabbing a McDonald’s hamburger for 15 cents.