Classmates raised $100,000 to create a named scholarship that will be given for the first time on May 19, 2018, at the Salem High School Alumni Association’s 137th Annual Reunion and Banquet.
As the class celebrating the 50th anniversary of its graduation, the Class of 1968 will be honored at the banquet. The class reunion committee has big plans for a three-day reunion in July and expects a large turnout due to the many new and renewed friendships resulting from the scholarship fundraising.
The unanticipated benefit of members of the Class of 1968 becoming more connected happened as they spent hours together raising money during the past 10 years to qualify for the $50,000 matching gift from David ’66 and Kathleen Scahill ’68 Roberts.
The Robertses, who were also the leading donors to the Class of 1966 Scholarship, stipulated that 100 members of the Class of 1968 had to give at least $100 toward the scholarship. By autumn 2017, 110 members of the Class of 1968 had given at least $100, and the class had collected significant monies through multiple activities.
Social Media Broadens Participation
All the people interviewed for this article mentioned the importance of the Class of 1968 Facebook page, which Rick Berg ’68 began, and the monthly email newsletter, which B.J. Cooper Abrams ’68 started to rally classmates for fundraising events. The Facebook page and e-newsletter became vehicles for strengthening existing friendships and beginning new relationships.
“Everyone has a wonderful story. Or we’ve had challenges, and we are all more alike than we realize,” Abrams said of the friendships that grew from classmates sharing information on these class-specific social media outlets.
This increased communication among classmates coupled with the many fundraising activities led to monthly class dinners in Salem, which in turn prompted more people to become involved in the scholarship fundraising.
The collective energy of engaged classmates then led to their volunteering at the Banquet of Salem twice in 2011. Twenty-two classmates helped to serve the meals on May 26, and 13 classmates helped on Nov 14. The banquet is a free community dinner served in the Memorial Building every Monday evening and on the last Thursday of the month. About 200 people are fed at each banquet.
In 2017, the Class of 1968 further extended its community service. Thanks to a donation of $5,500 from Lois Lottman Pennell ’68, after the class had reached its $100,000 goal, the Class of 1968 joined with the Class of 1967 and several other individuals to fill the $5,401.55 gap between the bequest from Virginia Snyder’s estate and the $100,000 necessary to create a scholarship in her name.
“Everybody just jumped on board,” Chuck Straub ’68 said of the successful Class of 1968 Scholarship drive. Straub did the bookkeeping during the decade-long campaign.
Straub, Abrams, and Berg formed the cheerful, industrious triumvirate that led the fundraising effort. Straub is also a member of the Salem High School Alumni Association board.
Abrams handled the marketing, reaching out to individual classmates through one-on-one conversations and collectively through what became her monthly e-newsletter. Very quickly the e-newsletter became a vehicle for sharing information about classmates’ accomplishments, hobbies, and challenges. These articles accelerated communication among classmates, with many people forming new connections with classmates whom they did not know in high school or who were not in their ”comfort zones.”
The most poignant example for these new bonds is when information about a classmate’s passing or a death within a classmate’s family is posted on the class’s Facebook page. Abrams says often 30 or 40 people will comment or express their sympathy. “It just means so much,” she said of the condolence messages.
Abrams, who with her husband Gary Abrams ’64 owned Tennille’s LLC and who together partnered with Bob Sebo ‘54 in Kolby’s LLC in Downtown Salem, also created dozens of gift baskets that were raffled at class and community events for the scholarship fund.
Berg took the lead in the class’s sale of merchandise. He not only designed and ordered items, but he went to other SHS class reunions to sell polo shirts and license plate frames emblazoned with “SHS Alumni.” Polo shirts and license plate frames are still on sale through the alumni association office.
“I would like to thank everyone that has helped our class reach such a monumental goal,” Berg said, noting 1968 classmates did much more than sell insignia items. They held bake sales; donated items for raffles; sold tickets to the Salem Community Theatre benefit shows; and dropped off and picked up U.S. flags throughout Salem for the Rotary Club of Salem.
Straub reports that the Salem Community Theatre benefit shows—one performance per year for eight years—generated the most funds: $13,715. He pointed out that the financially successful shows would not have been possible without the generous cooperation of the theater’s board and the theater’s managers, particularly Gary Kekel ’66.
Straub also thanked the “dozens of individuals and businesses who faithfully purchased tickets” for the benefit shows. “Each year when I made my phone calls, folks would usually respond positively knowing we were helping our future graduates,” he said.
The Rotary flag partnership brought in $900. Donations designated for the Class of 1968 on #GivingTuesday totaled $560; and the Salem VFW gave $600 to the class’s scholarship. Due to the small profit margin on the shirts and license plate frames, they generated only $430 to the total, Berg said. However, Abrams noted that these items were extremely useful for making people aware of the scholarship campaign.
All three class leaders extended “a very special thank you” to David ’66 and Kathy Scahill ’68 Roberts for their $50,000 donation.
Berg called the Robertses’ generous gift and challenge to recruit 100 classmates to give at least $100 “a unique opportunity to bring a class together to work.” Abrams calls the structure of the Robertses’ gift an “inspiration.”
Straub reflected that when classmates started talking about a named scholarship at the 40-year class reunion in 2007, he was not sure they could do it. But, he said, with the Robertses’ pledge of $50,000, raising $5,000 per year for 10 years seemed doable. Abrams said, “I never thought we could not accomplish this ... I just never thought we couldn’t.”
David & Kathleen Roberts
During a phone interview from their Florida home, both David and Kathleen Roberts praised the class’s leadership team. “They really put in a lot of effort and time to make it happen,” David Roberts said. Kathleen Roberts said she was impressed by the tenacity of dedicated classmates who sold theater and raffle tickets and distributed flags.
“They were always out there working hard to achieve this goal,” she said.
The couple explained that their requirement that 100 members of the Class of 1968 give $100 was intended to spur even broader involvement than the impressive 77 members of the Class of 1966 who contributed to that named scholarship, which was announced at the 2006 SHSAA banquet.
David Roberts said there were “lots of hidden heroes in both classes” who sacrificed and budgeted in order to contribute. Kathleen Roberts said she was aware of one person for whom the pledge of $10 per year for 10 years was a financial stretch.
“I know it wasn’t an easy commitment for that person to find a hundred dollars, but that person came through by giving just so much a month, or so much every six months or a year,” she said.
The Robertses are pleased that they could spur the creation of the alumni association’s first two class scholarships. They also said they are proud of their classmates and Salem High School Alumni Association for providing so many significant scholarships to its new graduates and alumni.
“When we were in high school and for a good number years before and after, there was really a sense of Salem pride,” Kathleen Roberts said, adding she hopes the new scholarships add to the town’s pride. “It was something we wanted to do for our classes,” she said, explaining that it was important to them “to make everyone a part of that scholarship, so no matter how small or how large a contribution, you as an individual can feel that you played a part.”
Abrams said she is “so grateful for everyone who participated,” including people whose only involvement was posting an encouraging comment on Facebook. “It’s not all about the money,” Abrams said, adding, “I just love this project because of it bringing so many classmates together.”
Gene Tullis, MD
Gene Tullis, MD, ’68, whose $8,700 in contributions make him the second largest individual donor to the Class of 1968 scholarship, said he was impressed by his classmates’ fundraising efforts and motivated to give by his concern about students burdened by large college loans. Tullis, a cardiovascular surgeon and intensive care specialist in Greeley, Colorado, said practicing medicine always fit his interests. However, he has noticed that many young physicians and people in other fields seem dissatisfied with their work lives. He thinks this may be due to the pressure to take jobs that will generate sufficient income to pay off their student loans, rather than pursue careers they “really, really are passionate about.” When he graduated from SHS, Tullis received a $500 SHSAA scholarship; as an undergrad and medical student, he received other scholarships. “So when I came out of college, and then my advanced degree, I came out with very little debt,” he said.
Average student debt at the time of college graduation in 2016 ranged from $20,000 in Utah to $36,350 in New Hampshire, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that the average medical school debt for physicians who graduated in 2015 was $183,000. “I hope that whatever money we can get to people will allow them to pick things that will allow them to be passionate about their work rather than just pay off debts,” Tullis said.