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Geezefest 2009: Yankee, Come Home!

Posted: Oct 25, 2009

On September 25, 2009, forty-four years after students from New Jersey, New York, and environs first appeared on the campus of Athens College (now Athens State University), a number of students returned to Athens, Alabama, for a reunion. Former students and even some professors who had met at Athens College during the sixties gathered in Athens for what the organizers affectionately dubbed "The Geezerfest." 

This reunion of students from Athens College from the 1960's was also referred to as the third Yankee Invasion. The first "invasion" took place in the 1860s during the Civil War, the second in the late 1960s (during the Vietnam War), and the third on the weekend of September 25, 2009. This time we all said, "Yankee, come home."

Athens College and the city of Athens were far different places over forty years ago. In the 1960s the college was still a private Methodist institution with a small student body. The city of Athens was dry, and most Athenians had never heard of a hippie much less seen one. Not that these students were hippies, most of them were not. But they were certainly different. These students were only a couple of years younger than I was, despite the fact that I was their instructor, and I was fascinated by them. (Retired professor Dr. Angie Nazaretian welcomes former students.)

I remember one of my students named Anthony who was an art major. Anthony would mend his ragged blue jeans during my literature class, and he wrote in such a large and florid script that he had to write his answers to the test around the edges of the test paper in order to fit them in. He also made the decorations for my daughter's second birthday party which had the theme of Alice in Wonderland. I kept those marvelous posters for almost thirty years.

Finding space for answers on a literature test was nothing compared to finding space on the campus for nearly three thousand students.Over the next three years the student population tripled and went from being made up primarily of commuter students to being almost entirely residential. Every day was an adventure.

During that time a door knocker disappeared from the door of Brown Hall on the college campus. No one knew where it had gone or who had taken it. Then on April 16, 2008, a package arrived in the office of President Jerry Bartlett. Inside the package, which bore the postmark Hillsboro, New Jersey, was an anonymous letter. Beneath the letter, cradled in a bright red foam, was an ornate brass door knocker engraved with the words: "Brown Hall 1909." The mysterious knocker had been returned after forty-three years. The accompanying letter read as follows:

"Forty-three years ago I was removed from Brown Hall on this campus by a small group of well meaning but immature and misdirected students. In some convoluted way, my taking was suppose to bolster school spirit. It did not, of course, evoke the intended response.

"Over the years I have traveled the country, my caretakers discharged diligence and respect notwithstanding their growing concern and pang of conscience.

"I now return home to my proper resting place. The circle is complete.

"My caretakers extended their most sincere regret, admiration and respect for Athens State University."

The circle is most definitely complete. Not only did the students return to Athens State after a forty year hiatus, they also made a donation of $1,000 to the college as a way of saying thank you.

The 2009 "Geezerfest" evoked such an enthusiastic response that organizers are already planning the next Geezerfest. I plan to be there, "God willing and the Creek don't rise."

(This article also appeared in the Athens News Courier, Sunday, October 25, 2009)

---by Penne J. Laubenthal

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