LETTER FROM TIM WURTZ, Ankara Class of 1969
The Ankara Reunion Project took root in 1990. I was 38. Friends were attending high school reunions and I was envious. I had stayed in touch with only one person from Ankara, and I hadn't seen him in five years.
My mother, aware of my unsatisfied curiosity about old school friends, sent me a blurb about Overseas Brats, a fledgling magazine dedicated to Americans who grew up overseas. That was in September 1990. A quick call to the publisher resulted in no phone numbers and only one address of someone I had known in Ankara. That was Doug Larson ‘70. 4-1-1 had a number for him, so I called. My first surprise was that he remembered me after 21 years. My second surprise was my anxiety and nervousness. I wanted to make contact with my past and the people from it, but did anyone else?
Doug and I talked, compared notes and exchanged vitals. As our conversation wound down, I asked for the first time, “Do you know where anyone else is?” He thought Ed Polk ‘69 was in Annapolis, MD and was pretty sure Curt Robinson ‘70 was still in Davis, CA , but didn't have numbers. A couple days later, I called directory information and obtained numbers for both Ed and Curt.
I called Ed. “Ed Polk?” I asked. “Yes?” “My name is Tim Wurtz and I believe we went to high school together in Ankara, Turkey.” There was a long pause, followed by “We sure did.” We talked for two-and-a-half hours. For me, it was as if the floodgates had opened -- such an emotional high. Again, I ended that call as many of us would come to end all our Ankara calls, with “do you know where anyone else is?” And he did.
I also called Curt. He, too, had a couple leads. Each new name and number was scribbled on a piece of paper and tossed in a file folder.
Next, I learned of an organization called O.S.C.A.R. -- Overseas Schools Combined Alumni Registry (now defunct.) I made contact and was sent a list of 51 names and addresses of people who had attended the high school in Ankara. Much of the info was out-of-date, but not Jim DeAngelo's. When Jim and I talked for the first time in November 1990, he said he too had been searching and offered to send the information he'd collected. Jim's list was an early treasure trove; the first major corner stone of what would come to be known as the Ankara Directory.
Occasionally, I'd try to follow a lead and locate an old school friend. In the days before Internet search engines the primary tool was directory information. I'd ask the operator “can't you search the whole state?” Vermont and New Hampshire were no problem. But California?
In February of 1991, I once again contacted Overseas Brats and asked for a list of all “ Ankara subscribers” past and present. That request generated a few new names, among them Karen Wright ‘70.
I now had 66 names and addresses. Slips of paper kept disappearing from the file folder, so -- a few well-spent hours at the computer resulted in our first small data- base.
Phone bills were rapidly mounting, but the calls were fun. Re-connecting; talking about returning to the States; discovering I wasn't the only one who suffered “re-entry” problems and culture shock in my own country. What a revelation!
It was time to cast a wider net, and the first Ankara mailing was prepared. In that very first cover letter I wrote that I was searching, would maintain the database and “perhaps someday we'll find enough people so that we, too, can have a reunion.” The first Ankara list, mailed in March of 1991, had 66 names.
Many people responded. A few were cynical, but most were excited and contributed new names. Karen Wright sent a wonderful letter and I immediately called her. She thought she could find two people, and then wondered about the feasibility of a reunion. Just how many people would it take? Karen located Druanne Miller ‘69 and Carolyn Stevens ‘69. They talked and we talked, always wondering what the magic number would be. How many names did we need to organize a reunion? Six weeks after that first mailing, the list had grown to 115 names.
In April 1991, Lyn Viles ‘66 contacted me. Her sister, Patrice Viles ‘68 had been on the original list. Lyn was intrigued, told me other search efforts had been tried and failed, but wanted to help. Did she ever.
Lyn immediately went to work gathering information from past efforts. Then she began scouring the country for people who graduated in the mid-60s. Without Lyn's “take no prisoners” style, the classes of 64, 65 and 66 would never have been located. She would order phone operators to break into conversations. “It's an emergency. Tell them Uncle Ataturk is in the hospital.”
As we moved into the summer of ‘91, Karen, Druanne and Carolyn were still talking about a reunion. Druanne said summer, 1992 would provide ample lead-time. She suggested Dallas, TX because of affordability and accessibility, and offered to travel there at her own expense to choose a hotel. I was surprised, happy, and wondering -- can we pull this off?
I made it clear that I knew nothing about organizing a reunion. I would continue to search, maintain the database and do the mailings, but when it came to negotiating with a hotel and dealing with the nuts and bolts of planning the party, it was their show.
In August 1991, Karen, Druanne and Carolyn flew to Dallas, blocked the dates, booked a hotel and guaranteed a turnout of 150. The size of the Ankara list was only 125!
Now we were on the hook. The search effort continued and reunion planning was stepped up. I had frequent conversations with Druanne, Karen, Lyn, Jim DeAngelo and Doug Larson. Druanne and Karen were burning up the phone lines between Grass Valley, CA and Atlanta, GA. Everyone agreed that the keys to a successful reunion would be finding as many people as possible, spreading the word, and keeping the costs down. All obvious, but none easily accomplished. We had no idea what the Ankara group could afford. We didn't even know if people would be interested in having a reunion. As hard as that is to believe now, it was a major concern.
It was time to put the word out and formally announce the date of Ankara Reunion ‘92. That mailing was sent in November 1991. 307 names and addresses comprised the new “Ankara Directory.”
As the search continued and the list grew, several very interesting group trends and tendencies surfaced. Travel wasn't a high priority. The vast majority had graduated from college, and upwards of 33 per cent had graduate degrees. Many of us don't “understand the value of a dollar.” A psychologist who studies American adults who grew up overseas believes that's the result of using multiple currencies during our “formative years.”
For many of us, returning to the States was difficult. Several years were required to re-adjust. All most all of us had “gone silent” in our 20s and 30s. We didn't talk about our overseas experiences outside our families because people either didn't believe them, or didn't want to hear. Many who were married complained that spouses “just don't get it.”
During the first five months of 1992, one of our major questions was answered: people really wanted an Ankara reunion. Excitement was building. By Memorial Day the directory had 500 names and 150 people had signed up for the reunion. The party was on! It would happen! A mailing confirmed the good news and the response was overwhelming.
When we gathered in Dallas, July 24 - 26, 1992, 750 people had been located. Nearly 500 attended.
The weekend was an emotional 2x4 to the head. No sleep. Lots of tears and talk, hugs and handshakes. Old demons put to rest and friendships renewed. So many were saying “I'm NOT crazy! There ARE people like me!”
We partied ‘til we dropped; skinny-dipped and danced all night. The hotel ran out of booze and had to make a liquor store run. A bartender exclaimed, “I've never seen a group drink so much.” To which an Ankara grad, now a distinguished attorney, replied, “You think this is something? Shoulda seen us when we were kids.”
Finally, more tears were shed as we said goodbye and returned to homes throughout the U.S., Canada and the world.
Many of us were changed by that weekend. There were 15 divorces after the reunion and a handful of “ Ankara marriages.” Most importantly, however, we left knowing that we, too, have a past and a history we can visit. It's people, memories and a future with old friends.
That's how it all began. We gathered again in 1996 and 2000, each reunion adding to our vast treasury of memories.
Today, the Ankara Directory (class years 1953 – 1979) has more than 2,000 names. That list is our hometown, our past. Reach out, reconnect and we'll see you in Dallas, TX for Ankara Reunion ‘05!!
Ankara Class of 1969