Dalat School Reunion in Florida

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April 26th 2017
Published: April 27th 2017
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When I informed people that I was going to Kissimmee FL for a high school class reunion, they naturally assumed that I went to high school there. However, I went to Dalat School in Dalat, Vietnam. As the Vietnam War heated up, in April 1965 the U.S. Embassy sent four USAF C-123s to move the school to Bangkok, Thailand. I was on furlough in Nyack NY at the time so missed the excitement. After a year there, the school moved to the Cameron Highlands and then to Penang, Malaysia where it remains today. My Dalat experiences are recounted in 1956-1958: Early years at Dalat School , 1959-1964 Middle School Years at Dalat, and 1965-1968 High School in the Cameron Highland, Malaysia. My subsequent 1973 visit to the school in Penang is recounted in Work in Saigon and vacation in Dalat and my 2009 visit to Dalat, Vietnam is recounted in Journey from Saigon to Dalat, Visit to Dalat School campus in Vietnam, and In and around Dalat. So we can pretty much have our class reunions anywhere. This time we chose Kissimmee as a few of our former faculty and staff had retired there.

20 April 2017 Thursday. Linda was very nervous about driving me to the Colorado Springs Airport as there is major construction at an intersection which she would have to navigate. So she asked me to drive myself and park the car at the airport for four days. She was very relieved when I agreed. I checked the fridge to make sure she had enough milk and food to last the whole time. I took a direct flight to Orlando; departing late afternoon and arriving late evening. I rented a car; taking awhile to find out how to turn on the headlights, turn off the rear window wiper, etc. I made it to my hotel, after stopping at the wrong one, and turned in.

21 April 2017 Friday. As the reunion program didn't start until 3 pm, first thing in the morning I drove to Cocoa Beach (paying many. many quarters in tolls) for some sightseeing. I stopped first at the beach and then at the Ron-Jon Surf Shop. Ron had his first shop in New Jersey in 1961. He named it Ron Jon to include his son. He opened another in Cocoa Beach where the brand achieved iconic status, with many cars sporting the sticker in the rear view windows. Jon, however, didn't want to be a surfer or have anything to do with the shop. At some point he moved to Woodland Park where I live and opened a restaurant, Gloria's.
Class of 1968Class of 1968Class of 1968

Bob, Esther, Johnny, Edwin, Carolyn, and Merrill
He never divulged who Gloria was. He has since moved on and Gloria's is now a tapas restaurant. Perhaps he moved to Cocoa Beach! Anyway, I bought a Ron-Jon T-shirt and a couple stickers, which Linda has informed me will not go on our rear car window. I then decided I better get a hair cut. My longish hair stays flat in Colorado, but in humid Florida it becomes a fly away mess. Now I look like a pin head. That accomplished I stopped briefly at Port Canaveral where a huge Disney ship was preparing to depart for Caribbean islands.

I returned to Kissimmee by 2 PM and checked into the visitor rooms at the retirement village where the reunion was held. Our first get together was at 3 PM at the Golf Club House. What a crowd...actually about 75 which is very large considering my graduating class was 7! All classes which had been involved in the evacuation from Vietnam in 1965 were invited and many chose to show up. I hadn't seen many of these students in over 50 years. Fortunately, we all had name tags as 50 years can change looks a lot! Three of my cousins, Bonnie Gay, Joy, and Margie were there. Margie had a harrowing experience as their private plane lost engine power over Kentucky. Fortunately, air traffic control told them they were 4 miles from an airport. They barely made it. They rented a car and drove to Georgia to pick up Joy and continued to Orlando. Of my Class of '68, Carolyn and her husband Jay, Esther and her husband Mark, Merrill and his wife Carol, Johnny, Edwin, and I were there. This event ended about 5:30 PM which gave people time to check in to their rooms and get ready for our 7 PM dinner. Dinner was another opportunity to swap stories from long ago with those at my table. After eating I moved on to other tables. Some had signed up for an airboat swamp tour, but I stayed to talk with those who hadn't. We broke up about 10:30 PM.

22 April 2017 Saturday. We started the day at 8 AM with a Reception with our former faculty and dorm parents who are in their 90's. These included Cleo, who had made a marriage license for my parents who were married in Labrang, China in 1949, and who subsequently (along with her deceased husband Gene) were the Girls Dorm parent in the late 1950's and early '60s; John and Esther, who were the Boys Dorm parents during the same time period, and then lived across the street from my family in Nyack NY in 1964-65; Stan and Joanne who were the Boys Dorm parents when I was in the Cameron Highlands from 1966 to 1968; and Ed and Claire. He was my history teacher in 12th grade. We had a slide show and home movies of the early days and of the evacuation. We were encouraged to share our memories of these times.

Then from 10:30 AM until lunch we had a "Capture the Moment (not the Flag)" event much like a scavenger hunt where we were assigned to teams by class and given a list of 40 pictures we had to capture before lunch. The list included shots such as our group with a bird, a people pyramid, a conga line, two heads on another shoulder, our bare feet, a photo of someone doing chin-ups, etc. I will let the pictures speak for themselves!

Lunch was at local restaurants so some of our class went to a Vietnamese pho restaurant. After lunch at 2 PM we shared the photos our groups took and then heard presentations by Evelyn who as a three term Ohio Supreme Court Justice had worked for judicial reform for cases involving the mentally handicapped. She led the effort to reverse the trend begun in the 1960's to close mental institutions which resulted in prisons taking their place. Then Johnny, a Class of '68 classmate who is retiring after 40 years of teaching English and Journalism at Dalat, provided an overview of the book he was writing about Dalat School. I can't wait to get a copy once it is published in June 2017.

We had dinner at 7 PM with more fellowship and sharing of experiences.

23 April 2017 Sunday. At 10 AM we gathered for brunch. Jodi was able to establish a connection with her husband Tim who was not able to join us as he is busy in his new position on the National Security Council. He shared with us his experience leading the President's Malaria Initiative under Presidents Bush and Obama, where malaria incidence around the world were cut by over 50%, thus saving millions of lives mostly children. He then answered our questions. We then wrapped up the reunion.

I had signed up to take Carolyn (not my class mate, but my prom date in 1968) to the airport. We stopped for Thai food on the way. It was great to share what had happened to each of us in the intervening years. After dropping her off, I went to my hotel to leave my bag and call my nephew Peter who works at Disney Epcot. We arranged to get together for dinner at Downtown Disney, or whatever it is called today, at 6 PM. We met and had pizza and then walked around to see the sights and window shop. He is planning to visit us in September. We parted about 8:30 PM. I returned the rental car and took the shuttle back to my hotel.

24 April 2017 Monday. I took the shuttle to the airport, arriving at 7:45 AM in time for my 9:20 AM flight back to Colorado Springs. The departure board showed the flight was delayed to 10:20 AM. Throughout the day the delay got bumped to 2:20, 3:20 and then 5:20 PM due to mechanical problems. Finally at 5 PM they cancelled the flight and we lined up for dinner and hotel vouchers and were promised a $200 voucher was being sent my email...still waiting! They weren't able to book us hotel rooms so I called my son Will who checked online and was able to find me a room. I called the hotel to send the shuttle. I was checked in by 6 PM and had dinner at the hotel. As the flight the next morning was at 7 AM, meaning I would have to get up at 4:30 AM, I tried to go to sleep about 7:30 PM. I was so tired I fell asleep with the lights and TV on. An hour later I woke up and turned everything off. I couldn't fall back to sleep until 2:30 AM.

25 April 2017 Tuesday. I woke up and caught the 5 AM shuttle and quickly processed through ticketing and TSA. The flight was on time! I arrived in Colorado Springs at 8:35 AM Mountain Time, got to my car and drove home. I kissed Linda. Bonnie, my dog, kissed me lots of times. Then I went to bed and slept until 2:30 PM. I hope to use my $200 voucher to pay for my flight from New York to Colorado Springs when I return from Norway in July. That would partially make up for the miserable flights. But the reunion made the whole trip worthwhile!

Additional photos below
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27th April 2017

A sweet reminiscence!
Bob, It must have been great to catch up! Your hair looks perfectly fine after the haircut (or may be hairdo...you didn't tell the truth!!) Margie was definitely lucky after the engine failure. I gather it must have been a single engine Cessna type! By the way, how did Linda got back home after seeing you off at the airport, because you parked the car for 4 days in the airport. Last, but not the least...Good luck with the $200 voucher from the airline! Please tell me next year if you have received it or not! LOL
27th April 2017

Sweet reminiscences
Her plane is a single engine Cessna. Ha! Linda didn't go to the airport with me! As of Frontier reimbursements, they promised to reimburse my hotel bill within 30 days of my submission. I submitted the claim and they now say 90 days. I'll let you know if I ever get the $200 voucher!
27th April 2017

Dalat School Reunion
What a fantastic gathering Bob. That so many travelled from so wide and far to be there...the best being so many. That you were able to reminisce with old class mates, house parents from various locales and your old school that came together in wartime is very special indeed. I guess the best bit for you is that you went to the trouble to attend and thus have such special shared memories. Well done!
29th April 2017

Thanks, David...
I've been blessed to have so many classmates living all over the country and the world who are family. Even after 50 years we picked up like we never were parted.
29th April 2017

Remarkable reunions
Excellent blog my friend. So great hearing the stories of reconnecting and what your friends have done with their lives. We know your story and you've accomplished a lot in your time. I'm glad you had such a great turn out. Hopefully by now your voucher has arrived.

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