It is also available in hard
copy from Amazon.com. When you order, indicate the name of the book and add my
last name - Whitney - and it will pop up right away.
Below the display of chapter headings
is the article that Cathy Resmer wrote for 7Days,
the Vermont weekly, when the reunion occurred.
After that you will be able to go to
the Internet to
of some of the other project
participants that she created for the
online version of 7Days, the Vermont weekly.
decide if we have any words to the wise. First
look at some of Benjamin Franklin's practical advice
that appeared in his "Poor Richard's Almanac:"
here are a few thoughts from the Class of 1957:
The book was also
dedicated to the memory of a man who wrote the first
great book about problems humans are causing for the
environment. George Perkins Marsh wrote" Man
and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human
Action," published in 1864.
walked the same Bur-lington streets the Class of
1957 did. Few of us in Burlington growing up in the
1950s knew what he had accomplished.
In a way he forshadowed
this kind of project. In
a speech at Union College in 1847, as David
Lowenthal tells us, Marsh urged that "History
in a democracy
should be about the people themselves. Historians
should inquire into the fortunes of the mass, their
opinions, their characters, their leading impulses,their
ruling hopes and fears, their arts and industry
and commerce; we must see them at their daily occupations
in the field, the workshop and the market. - We hope George liked
Chuck Eldred helped bring the astronauts back from the moon.
Most terrifying experience? Lillian Hauke Venner told us that she hasn't moved very far from where she grew up in Burlington so we would probably be surprised to learn that her most terrifying experience was being awakened at midnight on a small boat on the Amazon River when they were invaded by Columbian guerillas. She opened the door to her cabin and there was a masked man with a submachine gun.
Tales of love? It was almost like the Cinderella story: Joyce Wagner told us 'It is hard to realize that Bill - the man I knew from the first grade who asked me to marry him - no actually told me at age seven: 'Some day I'm going to marry you,' - is no longer in my life.' They were married at 19 and had lived happily ever after.
To summarize, by writing this story and thinking about all of the times shared with my extended family, I have come to value my family for more than just being relatives, but for the love we shared with one another as we grew up and now as our own lives are nearing an end.
We hope others will try projects like
this for their high school or college 50th reunions. "The Book of Years provides a living
peoples' history. Colorful images and intimate words
blend together to
create a many-dimensional portrait of changing American
lives. A digital story of our times and a clever template
for contemporary class reunion celelbrations and memorabilia.” - Barbara Mahone Brown.
Read through the rest of the page while the video is playing . . .
Sixty classmates who had been out in the world for 50 years were asked to answer 30 questions that covered a wide range of interesting topics.
• Then a manuscript was produced in Microsoft Word and this was uploaded to an online publisher, BookSurge, now CreateSpace, that produced a 375-page book printed in black ink. The original was created in color and the download copy has color.
• Out-of-pocket cost to produce it was minimal. That the editor had graphic design experience was a plus as were his computer skils and familiarity with Microsoft Word. One or two people or a small committee could do this kind of a project: one person doing all the contacting and mailing, another the editing and another the design. Once replies started coming in there was a lot of back-and-forth with the editor clarifying, cajoling and seeking more information and pictures from modest classmates. For example, one classmate's father was a World War II hero and led a team protecting the bridge at Remajen, about which a movie was made. I finally convinced Ruth to get her sister to take a picture of his helmet with the bullet hole in it. Fortunately it did not go further into her Dad's skull; by a miracle he escaped harm. Another classmate's great grandfather fought in the Civil War and Steve had his rifle. I got him to take a picture of the rifle that was on the title page of
Steve's chapter "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," which is a quote from William Shakespeare. Perhaps it was a stretch to include the quote, but the connection was that one of his relatives was shipwrecked in Bermuda in 1609 and the story of that incident is thought by some to have become at least part of the basis for the Shakespeare play, "The Tempest," from which the quote was taken. It also fitted in with the photograph on the same page of the gave stones of Steve's relatives that started his quest that led to him documenting 1,000 of his ancestors, including five Mayflower passengers. - These were some of the kinds of items that made this project so much fun.
• People just answered the questions that were interesting to them. For the editor it was a really enjoyable three-year, part-time project. The stories were unbelieveable. Many people don't realize they have led interesting lives. It was like a treasure hunt with them. If you have any questions email Tom Whitney <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
• Download the "Words to the Wise" to your desktop. It gives a flavor of the book, includes the introduction to it and includes the list of questions.
• The "how-to" tells details of the three-year history adventure and practical suggestions from this non-historian in creating a new kind of history.
• Below that a Vermont 7Days newspaper article about the project by Cathy Resmer.
• The questions are near the end.
• Then skeptics can read Dan Simpson's full statement about his hesitation in participating in the project. Dan's story is accessible on the lower left side of the home page and at the bottom of this one.
BHS Class of ’57 Alum Celebrates 50th Reunion with a History Project
By Cathy Resmer 7Days, Vermont’s Independent Weekly Newspaper, 8.07.07
Tom Whitney’s self-published anthology about his high school classmates — The Book of Years: Vermonters tell stories from their lives fifty years after high school — is full of surprises. For starters, it was conceived on top of a volcano.
Whitney grew up in Burlington, Vermont, and graduated from Burlington High School in 1957. Two days after earning his diploma, he packed his suitcase and hitchhiked south on Route 7. He ended up in Florida, later moving to Louisiana and California. Eight years ago, he headed to Hawaii.
Whitney is a photographer and graphic designer. In 2000, he was shooting a native Hawaiian ceremony atop volcanic Mauna Kea when he began to wonder about his own roots. I finally started asking myself, 'What’s my culture?' 'What’s my sacred land?' he recalls. His grandparents were Finnish, English and Irish, but he hadn’t inherited their traditions. Vermont, he reasoned, was his true home. And if he wanted to learn more about it, he needed to go back to high school. Or back to his classmates, anyway.
The person I am today is the person that I became in interacting with all these people I went to school with, says the bearded 68-year-old, who ties his hair back in a ponytail. They were the people who helped shape me, besides my parents, he said. Three years ago, Whitney crafted a 70-question survey — later pared down to 30 questions — which he mailed to the 188 surviving members of his graduating class. This wasn’t a typical alumni inquiry. Whitney asked about jobs and achievements, but also invited his classmates to share their basic values and spooky, terrifying or exhilarating experiences. One question asked, How have you turned the challenges and sadnesses of your life into growing experiences?
Sixty-one people wrote back. Whitney compiled their responses in The Book of Years. The weighty, 376-page tome is a bit unpolished and at times repetitious, but it’s also a remarkably frank and engaging piece of populist American history. Whitney organizes the book thematically, grouping tales of occupations or adventures with others of the same kind. Some of the stories he elicited from this nearly all-white group of Vermonters are exotic — one alum worked in the space program; another was robbed on the Amazon River by masked men who boarded her boat carrying machine guns. One woman spent four years as a Methodist missionary on the small Pacific island of Tonga.
But some of the book’s most compelling stories were contributed by those who stuck around. Joyce Wagner Carlin of Jericho penned a moving account of her marriage to her husband, Bill — they met in first grade at Christ the King School in Burlington. He succumbed to cancer in 2003.
Bill’s death was the hardest thing life has given me to handle, writes Carlin. I mourned him from day one and keep very busy. If I stop, it hits me that the man I knew from first grade who asked me to marry him — no, he actually told me at age seven: ‘Someday I’m going to marry you’ — is no longer in my life.
Margo Hathaway Thomas of Johnson writes about losing her home when the Lamoille River flooded in 1995. When the volunteer firefighter came to evacuate her, she stepped onto the top step of her porch and found that it was floating. I sank to my waist in water, she writes. Thomas and her husband lost nearly everything, but she managed to keep her sense of humor. My stationary bike was salvageable, she writes. My friend and I would sometimes hop on it in the yard just to work off some unproductive energy. We got to giggling about what we must look like pedaling away in the middle of all that destruction.
The books were on display — and for sale — last Saturday night at the Class of ’57’s 50th reunion, at the Burlington Elks Lodge. Whitney says buyers can order them on Amazon.com.
The contributors were eager to get a peek at the final product. This is so exciting, remarked Clare Adams Whitney when she saw the book. She shared her experiences in Tonga. Clare Whitney isn’t related to Tom, and said she didn’t even remember him when he contacted her. She sent him a few short answers to his questions, and he wrote back, urging her to elaborate. Over two and a half years, he coaxed four pages out of her.
My husband finally asked me, Who is this Tom? she said with a laugh.
Tom Whitney confirms that he got much of his material by asking follow-up questions. It may have been pesky, but he insists that it was important work. Whitney hopes the book will inspire other high school classes to undertake similar 50th-anniversary projects. And he’d also like to see today’s youth take an interest. There are so many people that we experience in life, like all those people in high school, he says. You go by them, and then you’re just amazed at what they become. Everybody’s got stories. The Book of Years: Vermonters tell stories from their lives fifty years after high school, edited by Tom Whitney, Dolphin Press, 376 pages. $27. It can be ordered from Amazon. When you order, type in the book name, within quotes and then add my last name,Whitney, and the book will pop up.
Videos: Five Class of '57 Reunion videos Eva Sollberger of Vermont’s SevenDays was the videographer who came to the reunion with Cathy Resmer to create these. It was the first time I had seen a videographer associated with a newspaper.
• 7Days Reporter Cathy Resmer describes the reunion event http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9wpAkZN9RQ&feature=channel
• Book of Years editor Tom Whitney describes the whole project in a short time - it is the same video that started this page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfTMNB2_mpI • Jim Hale and his sweet wife Rita wrote some great stories about his early life growing up poor and working three jobs while going to high school and joining the Golden Gloves and the National Guard also. After graduating and then the Navy he came back and did a post-graduate year in high school so he could get into college, and eventually got a degree and a good job with General Electric. I put them in a chapter by themselves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnZ-b7yq6SY&feature=channel
• Margo Thomas told about getting flooded out of her house and in the book she tells about working in the state prison and being taken prisoner herself and the principle she followed that helped get her out of trouble: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh035ky862Y&feature=channel
• Chuck Eldred became part of the Kennedy program to put a man on the moon, at first in the Air Force, then with NASA. He helped bring them back safely. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbLU41QYIVo&feature=channel
The Questions It took me nine months to come up with good ones. Then I sent them out to ten people on the advice of Hawai‘i Big Island writer Tom Peek, got responses from just a couple and pared down my list. I gave people two and a half years to answer. With a year left I pared the list down to the 30 questions you see here.
1. Who were your parents? What was their story? And your more distant ancestors? What is the legacy of their lineage to you? Relatives in WWII or Korea?
2. Lasting memories of the 1940s and early 1950s? 3. Were there any moments, experiences or involvements in or out of school up to the time of high school graduation that were important? Activities, hobbies, jobs, hangouts, personal interests, challenges, fun things to do? People in the community who helped or inspired you? What experiences helped shape you into the person you became?
4. Thoughts on parenthood and the high school years – from being there and being a parent? Things you thought were important when you were young that you later learned were not so important?
5. Did sports play a role in your life? Most thrilling memories? Lesson learned that young athletes today might benefit from?
6. How important was college and military experience in shaping your life – if it was?
7. Jobs during your life? Make a generic list of them all. What are you doing now? 8. Any interesting job-seeking, job-creating, or getting-fired tales?
9. What was your primary honorable occupation or role in life? Was there a thread or threads of continuity through your life? Suggestions about good jobs?
10. Stories of entrepreneurship or any feats of negotiation or management in which you played a role? Lessons learned?
11. What are you most proud of having accomplished at various stages of your life?
12. Tales of ventures, adventures, or unusual, spooky, terrifying, or exhilarating experiences or life threatening times when you could have died? 13. Participated in public life in some way? Town meetings? Politics? Run for office? Nonprofit groups? How has your political perspective changed over the years?
14. Public issues you have worked for, or feel are important?
15. Creative endeavors (defining creative in the broadest sense)? Avocations or hobbies? Ever invented something? Made any original contributions to some aspect of knowledge? Preserved history?
16. Do you feel that being a Vermonter has given a useful perspective as you have lived your life? Some examples? Any interesting items of Vermont history you didn’t learn in high school?
17. Tales of love in your life you care to share? Courtship? Marriage? Divorce? The sexual revolution? Civil unions? Views on the institution of marriage? Most romantic moments or places? Satisfaction of the single life?
18. How have you turned the challenges and sadnesses of your life into growing experiences?
19. Advice you would give a young person – a nephew, grandchild – as they are going into the world from high school, knowing what you know now.
20. Words to the wise, tricks of the trade, hard-won lessons you have learned through experience in your journey through life?
21. Ever written articles or stories or had them written about you?
22. Ever won an award for professional or community activity?
23. Personal heroes? All-time-favorite movies, music or books?
24. Passions? Any enduring puzzles, enigmas, fascinations, collections, hobbies, projects or missions that have intrigued and involved you through the years?
25. Thoughts about growing older?
26. Thoughts about culture: how do you ethnically, racially or culturally identify yourself – or do you? Have you explored your ethnic roots or genealogy? Do you personally observe any time-honored family traditions? Have you observed other cultures? Thoughts about non-ethnic cultures?
27. Basic values and rules you live by? Rules you used to live by, but gave up? How have your religious or spiritual values changed over time?
28. Tell us about your family and your sweetheart. What are your young ones up to?
29. Things you like – or don’t – about Burlington, or about Vermont. Why did you leave or why did you stay?
30. If you were a philanthropist, what would you support?
What did we miss? I know some of you may laugh at this. I have cut the number of questions down from the initial 70 to “just 30.” We are a bunch of interesting and complex people who have had an amazing variety of experiences. This is our story. Thoughts about answering:I included the following as part of the two-page list of questions: Some have come up with many stories about various incidents in their lives. Others have just put down a number for a question and start writing the answer; even a few words are fine. Some questions would take a book to answer: give us a hint. Take the space you need to tell a good story. Others have done a four or five page chronological story of their lives and observations. Others have taken thirty pages to do this. None of it is a competitive bragging contest. The point of it is just telling what our life experiences have been. The ups and the downs. The average. The breakthroughs. What we have learned. mi What’s done is done. Each of us has had a different life. Now let us share our stories. Imagine we are sitting around a nice fire pit outside at night talking: that’s the mood. mi Some have written their stories out longhand, others type, and others use the Internet. Internet is easiest for me. But I will be happy to receive your responses in any form: talk into a tape recorder, or call me up, I’ll attach my recorder to the phone. But please do not worry if you send ungrammatical thoughts – you should see mine when I do my first drafts. I will make your English teacher proud, without a hint that you didn’t write perfectly, if he or she is still around. (A good part of the fun for the editor was finding gems like this photograph above of Ruth Khoury Rothenberger's First Place award in the Champlain Valley Exposition for her three-dimensional crochet triumph. I had to pry it out of her, get a special photograph session going by email from my home in Hawaii to Ruth's in Vermont, but finally it came! As did the photograph of the beautiful flower just below that she grew in the middle of winter in her house in Charlotte, Vermont. These are treasures it has been a blessing to observe and receive and cheer on!)
Part of the inspiration for this project was a nice accomplishment by Michele Kort. We worked together at the Grantsmanship Center News forty years ago and she produced a nice book called “Friends” with a photograph and paragraph about each friend on separate pages. It was a sweet book by a loving person.
Last I heard, Michele was Senior Editor at Ms. Magazine. I Emailed her about this project and sent her the list of possible questions. She said she liked the idea, but there was one area I had not really covered: how do people deal with hardships in their lives and how do they turn them into growing experiences. She had had some tough times and would like to know how others had dealt with their own. I thought it was a great question, the best one of them all, and asked her permission to use it, which she graciously gave. The actual text of the question I asked was “How have you turned the challenges and sadnesses of your life into growing experiences?” – Tom Whitney
The Benefits of Writing My Story By Dan Simpson
I was not interested in writing my story when Tom Whitney first requested it of me. I did not feel I had anything unique to tell. But after having seen the CD and book he had prepared for our 50th Class Reunion, I realized how wrong I was. All of the stories were interesting and all were different. When I saw Tom at our reunion, I told him how sorry I was for not having participated. He asked me if I would still be interested because he was planning to expand the CD with more stories and to prepare a 55th Reunion book. I said yes. When we had returned home, we began our correspondence and I started my story. Tom showed a genuine interest in my efforts and asked questions which helped me to write it.
I am happy now for having participated. Before I had done this, I had written many scientific papers, reports, and dissertations. I had never thought about my very busy life in an integrated way. That is, what was important to me, what had I done, what had I learned about who Daniel Lester Simpson was and is now? We can not be the persons we were when we graduated in 1957. So, how had I changed and what do I value from my experiences?
The story that I, with Tom’s help, have written is a distillation and summary of who I was when at BHS, who I became as I matured, and who I am now. The experience has been a wonderful learning process for me and my family with whom I have shared the later editions. Having spent my life away from home since graduating from UVM in 1961 and being older than my cousins, who are all that remain of our family, my family did not really know about all of my experiences. I had never shared them. Now, they understand the difficulties and triumphs I have experienced. I also have a better appreciation of my life and my accomplishments.
To summarize, by writing this story and thinking about all of the times shared in my extended family, I have come to value my family for more than just being relatives, but for the love we shared with one another as we grew up and now as our own lives are nearing an end. It was the support and love of my extended family that helped to form my values and help me start my life in a positive manner.
This story is a tribute to my family and to my wife Lucy, with whom I have shared 37 years of those experiences. Thank you Thomas Whitney for your kind help in this endeavor.
Based upon my own experience in writing my story, I feel that all of those who have not done so, should make an attempt to share your experiences and wisdom. You may not think you have anything to say, as did I, but with Tom’s help your own experiences will flow forth as you write. Try it you will love and value the experience. You will learn from it. - Daniel Lester Simpson, Ph.D. BHS, Class of 1957