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Sibley-Ocheyedan alumni reunite through music

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Sunny weather may have affected the turnout for the Sibley-Ocheyedan all-school reunion music practices.

"I heard a rumor that a couple of tenors and basses decided to go golfing instead," reported Floyd Slatterback, Class of 1968.

Slatterback, a professor of music at Northern Michigan University, was the director of the all-school reunion choir, which practiced Saturday morning at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School in advance of the evening's all-school reunion program. He had hoped for 40 or 50 singers, but had to settle for about 30, with a few more stragglers joining the rehearsal as it went on.

"We will be small but mighty," Slatterback promised, as he began to lead the well-balanced chorus through some warm-up exercises.

The choir practice was the second rehearsal of the morning, following the all-school band, which had even fewer numbers. Participants speculated that while singing is an easy skill to keep up over the years, picking up an instrument after years or even decades can be more difficult.

"I haven't played since our last reunion five years ago," said Rae Johnson, Class of 1959, who was prepared to play the clarinet with the band. A few alumni like Johnson showed up for the practice, but the band's ranks were also filled out with current high school musicians.

"We used to have a city band, and I picked it occasionally over the years. But these young kids around here are going to put me to shame. ... The kids are fantastic."

Johnson later reported that playing the clarinet was "like riding a bicycle. It's like we never quit. After all these years, it comes back."

Ruth Fettes of Des Moines, Iowa, Class of 1957, was prepared to raise her voice in song but didn't even think about joining the band.

"I played the flute in school," she recalled, "but I haven't picked one up since I left."

This was the third all-school reunion in Sibley -- the first in 1997 and the second in 2002. According to Diane De Jong, Class of 1968, who helped with the registration process, about 780 graduates had signed up for 2008 event that was scheduled to coincide with Sibley's Good Ole Summertime festival. Activities began on Friday and continued through Sunday.

"This place was just abuzz," she said about registration on Friday at the school. "People would come in and register, find someone they knew and just go off and talk. I talked with three brothers who graduated in the '40s. They started telling me what it was like when they were young. Their father died before the youngest brother was even born, so the older brother would mow lawns for 25 cents and give the money to their mother."

De Jong's own family boasts quite a history with the school. She and her five siblings all attended high school in Sibley; four of them had children who attended the school, and now they have several grandchildren attending the school district. De Jong and a sister have both worked in the school system for many years.

"We added it all up, and that's 271 years for all of us in my family in this school," she said proudly. "We had a family float in the parade yesterday, and that was the theme. One of my brothers wasn't able to be here, but five of us kids were on the float, along with children, nieces and nephews and even the babies."

De Jong reported that the oldest reunion registrant was George Breckle of Sibley, Class of 1930. The attendees who came the farthest live in Hawaii.

"We cut off the registration date at May 15. People from the 1930s, '40s, '50s got their registration in by that date because you told them to," De Jong said, implying that the younger classes weren't quite so diligent.

But people were allowed to register throughout the reunion and could even post-register, De Jong said, because that was the only way any former student could receive a copy of a special reunion DVD. Because it was copyrighted, the DVD couldn't be sold separately.

The history of the Sibley/Sibley-Ocheyedan school on DVD, including class-by-class lists, trivia and music appropriate to each decade, was largely researched, organized and narrated by Scott Helmers (Class of 1963) and his sister, Cindy Kemp (Class of 1969), then was professionally produced by a company from Sioux Falls, S.D. Kemp, a sixth-grade teacher who was on the reunion committee and also served as accompanist for the reunion chorus, said she and Helmers began working on the history video in March.

"If we'd had a couple of years, we could have really tweaked it," she said with a laugh.

Many local people expended a lot of time and effort on behalf of the reunion, and they were all enjoying the fruits of their labors on Saturday.

"It's really worth it when you see a lot of people come back," Kemp commented.

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Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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