For a neighborhood that no longer has its own school within the city boundaries, the Kalamazoo Eastside Schools Reunion is a chance to connect with classmates from seven elementary and junior highs that once served the Eastside, five of which no longer exist.
“High school was just everybody you barely knew,” says Ailene Lind Buchtrup, reunion chairperson and Facebook group moderator, along with Nancy Ruse Flipse. “But in elementary and junior high, you really got to know those kids.”
It’s this special early childhood bond that is celebrated annually, and throughout the year on the group’s private Facebook page, with shared photos, memorabilia, memories and renewed connections, and sometimes the inevitable obituaries and other Eastside neighborhood changes that mark the passage of time.
“We went to school together. We played together. Our parents, some of them, had businesses on the Eastside,” says Lind Buchtrup, who has fond memories of growing up on the Eastside. “We lived over there. There was no reason to go anywhere else.”
Originally called the Roosevelt School Reunion, named after the beloved combined elementary and junior high school that was located on Roosevelt Hill where the Roosevelt Hill Apartments now are, the group expanded six years ago to include all Eastside schools, including St. Mary’s Catholic High School, which has also closed.
Lind Buchtrup, who attended school in the 1970s, says she remembers the Eastside as a diverse, self-sufficient neighborhood, with its plentiful woods, beautiful hilly views, two grocery stores, gas station, car service, public library, schools, and restaurants.
Since the mid-70s, the neighborhood declined significantly, losing many of its former businesses and shuttering its schools. But love for the neighborhood is still alive, and those who lived there appreciate a chance to reconnect in the group that has over 800 members.
It’s not just fellow classmates who reconnect at the reunion, however. The group also invites former teachers and administrators.
“We invite some of the living teachers to this reunion,” says Lind Buchtrup. “And that draws a crowd like a celebrity would.”
One of those special people is Gwen Tulk
, retired longtime librarian at Northeastern Junior High School, now Northeastern Elementary School, whose birthday has been celebrated at the annual reunion for the past five years. This year, Tulk, one of the oldest living residents of the Eastside, turned 102.
“We’d walk in the library and there she was,” says Lind Buchtrup of Tulk. “She was a natural sitting behind there. For Eastsiders that picture of her behind the desk takes us back. She was right there or walking around the room.”
Once an Eastsider, always an Eastsider, even when you live somewhere else, like the West Side of Kalamazoo, where Lind Buchtrup now lives. But if she sees someone out and about town wearing the Eastsider T-shirt, there’s an immediate sense of connection, she says.
“If we wear those T-shirts, even if we don’t even know you, we high five. It’s a sisterhood/brotherhood kind of thing “
Recently discovered by many who graduated from St. Mary’s Catholic High School, the private Facebook group continues to expand. In its larger years, over 300 people have attended the annual September reunion, drawing both locals and those who have relocated around the country.
The reunion itself is a festive affair, including a potluck, memorabilia, photos, and games. Ticket prices are $7, which helps pay for rental of the room at the Kalamazoo Expo Center. The group is also seeking business and individual sponsors as last year’s reunion incurred out of pocket costs. Donations are welcome.
As rich a resource as the Facebook group can be, it’s the actual face-to-face meetings that are the reunion group’s highlights, says Lind Buchtrup.
“What’s most exciting is the new people who come and their eyes are just wide open as they look for people they used to know,” says Lind Buchtrup. “When you come, you want to see people you knew years ago. And sometimes you find them. And it’s an amazing reunion.”
This year’s reunion will take place Sept. 21 at the Kalamazoo Expo Center. To request membership to the private Facebook group, fill out the brief questionnaire
. If you would like to purchase an Eastsider T-shirt (all colors and all sizes for $15, delivery around town for free or shipped for a small fee), or would like to register for the reunion, please contact Lind Buchtrup here.