1961 – Spring 2021 Class Letter

1961 – Spring 2021 Class Letter

Dear Classmates:

Greetings from southern Oregon, home of the extraordinary Oregon Shakespeare Theatre. It was good to hear from you and allow me to share the class news.

DANIEL BENKA ’61 of Hopewell, Virginia, wrote on July 23, 2020, that during a return home to Virginia after a Packers stock holding meeting he stopped in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, to meet with BILL SOUTHERN ’61, a fellow Merriman fraternity brother. He said it was wonderful to reconnect. Sadly, he said that almost a year to the day of their visit, Bill passed. Dan expressed his wish to attend our 60th Class Reunion celebration. He said to look for a fat grey-headed man with a cane! But, sadly, the following message came recently from JIM KALANGES ’61: “DANIEL BENKA ’61 suddenly passed away on the first of February 2021 while attending a convention in Arizona. Jim reports that Dan’s wife is in the hospital possibly with COVID-19.”

JEANIE VERMILYE JOHNSTON ’61 has lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, since 1967. She has remained in close contact with her freshman roommate, LYNNE JOHNSON CLAFFEY ’61 of Brookfield, Wisconsin. She married SID JOHNSTON ’60 in 1959 and they had two children, a boy and a girl. Jeanie is not only a grandmother but a great-grandmother! She and SID remained friends after their divorce and she reports that he passed in 2017. Jeanie has played tennis for many years four or five days a week, but now plays two days a week. She is happy that she can still play and plans to take pickleball lessons. While employed, Jeanie worked in a Phoenix-area school district. Upon retirement from the school district, she became an administrative assistant in her church. Then, she finally retired! She and Lynne drove up to Ripon a few years ago during the summer but the campus was mostly closed. Her years at Ripon were some of the best of her life. A few years ago, she had lunch with MARY ANN CLAUDER JESSE ’61 of Downers Grove, Illinois who was visiting her sister in Scottsdale, Arizona. 

JACKSON PARKER III ’61 of Kansasville, Wisconsin, says that he hopes to attend our 60th Class Reunion. He is in good health and still pretty active currently involved in Black Lives Matter including both community and school systemic issues, and other related social justice issues in the Burlington and Racine communities. In addition, he is active in Rotary Club. He sings as a tenor in a community choir and serves as its president. Of course, they have now become virtual as they are now performing via Zoom. He reports that he made his first Zoom recording of his tenor part after only about 20 tries! But the group sounded pretty good after ten or so of the other members recorded their parts to cover him! He said it was weird, but rewarding.

Although their home residence is in the Racine/Burlington area of southeast Wisconsin, their Green Lake cottage serves as a haven for the family, including kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews. He reports his kids work from home in either Green Lake or California and hopes the California contingent (oldest daughter and two grandkids) can visit during August. His nieces and nephews live in Minneapolis and he spent early July with them at Green Lake. In his “spare” time, he reads and gardens.     

DARRELL JOHNSON ’61 and BETTY BURMEISTER JOHNSON ’62 of Green Valley, Arizona, have moved to a new home across town. After 19 years living in Green Valley, they are downsizing!

BILL PYE ’61 lives in Excelsior, Minnesota, about 30 miles outside the Twin Cities and on the lake. He reports that he still works with his active brothers of Sigma Chi in Ripon. They had a Sig Reunion Group that met annually in Ripon until COVID-19, so last year they met via Zoom.  Included in the group were DAN BEHRING ’62 and NANCY STEENO BEHRING ’62, GORDY ENK ’62 and ELISE WERNER ENK ’62, HOWIE MYERS ’61, NED PIERRON ’62 and BJ CHRISTENSEN PIERRON ’63, JOHN ROGERS ’62, BOB HAUGOM ’62, KAREN KONRAD ALLAN ’62 (wife of DON ALLAN ’61, deceased), JOHN KORBEL ’60, and others. He reports that has been in contact with LEE JESS ’61 and MARY JO PIEHL JESS ’62 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Bill is semi-retired as a management consultant and banker. Sadly, the pandemic has prevented him and his wife from their annual trek to an island off the coast of Belize. Oh well, perhaps, next year.  

AKIRA TOMITA ’61 sends greetings from Kanagawa-ken, Japan! He reminisced about his freshman year in 1957, and shared these memories: Wearing “beanies”, fresh/sophomore greased-pole fight, polishing shoes for upper-class students and carrying their books, a shaving cream fight in the hallway of Scott Hall ended by the floor supervisor, Nick Whiteman, who yelled, “All right, guys, get quiet and back to your rooms right now!!!”

He has remained in touch with TIM BURR ’61, BILL PYE ’61, and PETER JOCHIMSEN ’61. A few years ago, he and his wife enjoyed their visit at the home of TIM BURR ’61 at Oostburg, Wisconsin, and meeting up with Bill in Ripon. In addition, they saw Peter at his home in Iowa City, and then ALLEN ANGSTEN ’61 in his home several times.  

PHILLIP WATKUS ’61 sends best wishes to us all. He lives in Kohler, Wisconsin, with occasional visits to their summer home in lovely Door County for maintenance. He very much misses dining in Door County, always a prime attraction in better times, which is not possible now, unless you want to do curbside pickup. Somehow, curbside pickup loses something in translation. The area is still pretty, but the County officers have asked folks with summer place there, like him, to stay home. So, they do unless there is something that really needs to be done. 

Photography and nature hikes are still a great get-out-of-the-house cabin fever escape. All of his photo club activities and other hobby group meetings are via Zoom, which at least keeps them in touch with friends. In his spare time, he is catching up with woodworking projects that were put aside for a couple of years. He is almost done with his fancy router table and has been cranking out a few wood-turned pieces for his children and friends as well as for a store at one of his favorite haunts in better times, The Clearing Folk School Bookstore and Gift Shop in Door County. Woodturning is great fun and with all the Ash available these days, thanks to the Emerald Ash Borer, this fine hardwood is free for the asking. In addition, he does computer database programming. He commented that he has remained in touch with MARK CODY ’61 and his wife.

As for me, BARBARA KRIEPS LASKIN ’61, well, upon graduation, I entered a management training program with Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. in Chicago where I was able to move up the ranks in retailing. Then, one day, my husband came home and said pack your bags, I’ve been accepted by the State Department and we are moving to Washington, D.C. What?? After a wonderful year in D.C. working as the assistant to the Director of Public Safety for the D.C. Council of Governments, my husband came home from work to advise me that we had to pack because he had been assigned to Arabic language training in Beirut, Lebanon. “Where’s that?” I said. We spent ten wonderful, exciting, years in the Middle East. I was fortunate to be able to work in the embassies where we were stationed as a reports officer. Our last tour in Beirut was especially a treat as I was able to obtain a master’s degree in English Literature at the American University of Beirut. While we were on leave that summer in Ireland and England, fighting began again in Lebanon and the State Department ordered an evacuation of all non-essential personnel. What does it mean to be non-essential anyway? So, I placed my two daughters on a plane for America to stay with my parents while I returned to Beirut to pack up our household effects. Not to put it too dramatically, but my last night in Beirut was spent watching the red glare of bombs and Katyusha rockets. 

Returning to America was an adjustment, to put it mildly, and after I lost my husband, I was drowning in a sea of grief. A sermon by the priest in church about focusing on what you have and not what you have lost encouraged me to accept a job as the executive director of a private, invitational, bar association, in a far-off galaxy – San Jose, California. It was a good move for me. I was able to become active in the non-profit community serving on several boards, fund-raising for some, active in Rotary, a book club, AAUW, Alpha Chi Omega alumnae group, competing in agility with my two standard poodles who were also therapy dogs, and serving as a lector in my parish. After the association decided to leave California, I accepted a job as a management analyst with the County of Santa Clara and retired three years ago. A theatre friend and I had been visiting Ashland, Oregon, for the past 28 years, to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other world-class theater the area offered. I knew that when I did retire, it would be southern Oregon. I like to tell everyone that I live between two wineries and a cattle ranch! It’s true! Since moving to Medford, I have once again become active in the community, serving on three City of Medford commissions, Rotary, two book groups, working out at the gym, and taking classes at Southern Oregon University. Oh, and walking my girl standard poodle. Sadly, I lost my older daughter 12 years ago, but she is with me through her two extraordinary children, my grandson and granddaughter, who live in Chicago. My younger daughter lives in Brooklyn, New York. I have been fortunate to stay in touch with JOANNE TOSTRUD JOHNSON ’60, JUDY BROCKEL BAUM ’63, and MAC CLAUDER JESSE ’61.

This summer, we’ll be celebrating our 60th Class Reunion during Alumni Weekend. Alumni Weekend 2021 will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen with two distinct summer weekends of Ripon alumni programming for us. No matter how you’d like to connect, virtually or in person, the Office of Constituent Engagement is developing a variety of activities to continue to follow CDC, Fond du Lac County and College guidelines in both June and August. Full schedules, lodging, and programming details will be posted soon to www.ripon.edu/alumni-weekend.

JUNE 2021

  • In honor of our June Alumni Weekend traditions, virtual alumni programming will be held Tuesday, June 22 through Saturday, June 26, and will include: an alumni town hall, R Connections webinars, affinity socials, a summer book club, and special recognition of the 2020 and 2021 Athletic Hall of Fame Inductees. 
  • The only in-person event, the Doc Weiske ’50 Memorial Golf Scramble, will be held off-campus on Friday, June 25

AUGUST 2021

A combination of virtual and in-person Alumni Weekend programming will be held the first week of August. We will continue to evaluate the state of COVID-19. If circumstances change at the local and national level and we need to cancel in-person programming, that decision will be made and communicated by July 1, 2021.

  • Virtual programming will be held Tuesday, August 3 through Saturday, August 7 and will include: a reunion-focused alumni town hall that also previews the new academic year, additional R Connections webinars, the summer book club capstone, and the traditional “That Was Then” storytelling session. 
  • In-person, on-campus programming will be held Friday, August 6 through Sunday, August 8, and will focus on alumni awards recognition, 2020 and 2021 reunion celebrations, and other outdoor events such as Rally Run and prairie walk.
  • Additionally, the Class of 2020 will officially be welcomed to our alumni community with a special commencement ceremony.

Class of ’61 in Memoriam

JULIE “JUDY” BROCKEL BAUM ’63

DANIEL BENKA ’61 

PATRICIA HORR MATAELE ’62

BILL SOUTHERN ’61

DANIEL L. BENKA ’61 of Prince George, Virginia, died Jan. 26, 2021. At Ripon, he majored in economics and participated in football and Phi Kappa Pi. He was commissioned through ROTC and received the ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate recognition. He served in the U.S. Army from 1961 to 1987, including tours in Vietnam, three years in France and two years in South Korea. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1978. While serving, he received his master’s degree in economics from the Florida Institute of Technology. He then worked with the Department of Defense and Dominion Energy. He was a member of several community groups and served numerous high-level posts with the Jaycees. Survivors include his wife, Elizabeth; one son and one daughter; and a brother, JOHN BENKA ’60.

WILLIAM W. SOUTHERN ’61 of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, died June 12, 2020. At Ripon, he majored in psychology, participated in athletics and Phi Kappa Pi, and was commissioned through ROTC. He served in the Army and completed a master’s degree in psychology from Michigan State University. He enjoyed walking his dog, taking trips with his wife, and attending local basketball games, tennis matches, track and cross country meets, and school events. Survivors include his wife, Marie; two sons and one daughter.

That’s about it, folks. Hope to see you at Alumni Weekend and our 60th Reunion this summer on August 7, 2021. Please be there to help us remember those whom we have lost. And, stay well.

BARBARA KRIEPS LASKIN ’61

[email protected]

Your 1961 Class Agent