My recent high school reunion felt different, and it wasn’t because we are now as likely to meet old friends in a cemetery as at a bar. According to our class obituary keeper, half as many of us died in the last six years as did during the first 50 years.  

 

The Ames High School class of 1965 has gotten together at least once every 10 years since we graduated. Our 50th reunion went so well we were planning No. 55 for September 2020, until the pandemic intervened. 

 

Beginning in March of 2020, sporting events were canceled and public entertainment ended. Weddings and funerals were postponed and most churches closed their doors. Businesses and schools searched desperately for online models to remain open. 

 

The Bartender’s Handshake, a watering hole near my home, switched to carryout cocktails; friends who were afraid to meet face-to-face got creative and held Zoom cocktail parties.

 

During that frightful spring, our reunion committee decided to postpone our September reunion, a wise move because by that fall Iowa was a top-10 COVID state. 

 

At the beginning, there were frightful shortages of masks, testing equipment and medical supplies, not to mention toilet paper and other near-necessities. 

 

The little political leadership that existed was horribly inconsistent and produced a lack of willingness to do what was needed. 

 

Mask wearing and social distancing were proven strategies that had helped during the 1918 influenza pandemic and other pandemics around the world. But somehow that didn’t matter here. Somehow, face coverings became a political statement, and many refused to wear them.

 

By now, more than 440,000 Iowans have gotten sick with COVID-19 and nearly 6,500 have died. 

 

As 2020 ended, we became hopeful that a vaccine would soon be available and put the pandemic behind us.

 

The vaccine rollout began in January, and my 73- and 74-year-old classmates were among the first to get it. We were the first generation to receive mandatory polio shots in the 1950s, and for most of us the COVID-19 vaccine was not an issue. 

 

Most of our 10-person reunion committee got shots in January and February, and we began thinking about rescheduling our gathering for May or June. By then, we figured, Iowans would have quickly lined up and gotten shots and things would be getting back to normal. 

 

But it didn’t work out that way.

 

By May, only 36% of all Iowans were fully vaccinated. The total increased to 49% by the end of June, and then slowly crept up to the current level of about 55%, where it seems to have plateaued, well below the desired level of 80-90%. 

 

Not even the arrival of the more dangerous delta variant of COVID did much to move the needle. 

 

Our reunion committee punted on a June gathering, and we set Sept. 17-19 as the dates for our event.

 

Nothing got better during the summer. RAGBRAI, outdoor concerts and the Iowa State Fair fueled the spread of COVID, although it was difficult to know by how much because tracing and reporting standards had been lowered.

 

What we did know by August was that most of the COVID spread was among the unvaccinated, who were still getting sick and dying in increasing numbers.

 

But that wasn’t us. We were vaccinated.

 

We went ahead with the reunion and discouraged attendance by unvaccinated classmates, although we did not require proof of vaccination. Also, we planned events that were held out of doors or in well-ventilated spaces.

 

We ended up attracting about 50 people, roughly half the number who had originally planned to attend a year earlier. 

 

It is now two weeks after the event and I have not heard of any COVID issues associated with the reunion. Given the precautions we took, I’m hopeful there will be none.  

 

Classmates who attended covered the political spectrum, but there was very little talk of politics. 

 

“They were great and really seemed to be having a good time,” said Jim Billings, who led the reunion effort.