A mini-reunion of the St. Matthew Lutheran School Class of 1974 (8th grade) went off without (or is that with?) a Hinch on Sunday. (OK, sorry, that was awful, and I realize the non-baseball fans won’t get it. But I couldn’t resist. A.J. Hinch is the Astros’ manager.) The reunion was utterly fabulous and memorable, leaving us eager for another, much sooner than the far too later one this ended up being.
First, a group of 16 of us — including 10 Crusaders from our class and one from Class of ’76, Beth Giese Roos — had awesome Minute Maid Park seats up high just to the right of home plate to watch the Astros dismantle and sweep the Seattle Mariners out of Houston. Actually, none of us watched all that much of the game, because we were too busy catching up on the past 45 years. Afterward, we moved the reunion to Biggio’s sports bar, just down the street at the Marriott, for a couple of hours, thanks to awesome arrangements made by Dr. Kirk Speck. But not before dinner was delayed by a customer’s heart attack that temporarily shut the place down. We all sincerely hope he’s OK.
A little (well, maybe more than a little) backstory on our class. Between 1965 and 1974, a handful of kids attended St. Matthew from kindergarten through eighth grade. Several, including me, joined that group in first grade in 1966, although my path to becoming part of that class with Mrs. Carnitz was an unusual one. The kindergarten teacher, whose name none of us can remember (Mrs. Hansen was mentioned as a possibility by the wonderful Julia Nolte), along with our esteemed principal, Mr. Schaefer, and my parents, came to the agreement after the first weeks of school that I was bored in K and already knew what I needed to know to move to first grade. So I was bumped up.
More than once Sunday, I verbalized how, if not for that decision, that twist of fate, I’d have had an entirely different set of friends. I’d also not have gone through school a year younger than everyone else, graduating from high school just 3 months after turning 17.
Once in Mrs. Carnitz’s class (still remember her red lipstick and glasses, for some reason), I almost immediately became tight friends with Paul Sweitzer and John Reed. Our key connection was our love of baseball and the Astros. I was painfully quiet and shy, but when I could muster up the courage to talk to girls, we had sweet kids like Julia, Marianne Pape Bliss, Liz Perkins (Roos), Camille Peeples (Spreen) and Julie Gentry Smith in our class. Over the next few years, students came and went — and in some cases, like that of Julia, they came, went, and came back again. To this day, Julia still attends church at St. Matthew.
But even as kids like Michael Legere, Alison Lee Shiets (Clarke), Kirk, Jana Rudink Ott, Perry Pepperell, Nancy Keys Krenek, Leslie Glass Harelik, Dee Gasaway Garcia, Gwendolyn Ayres (Olson), Richard Krieger and others joined our class over second, third, fourth and fifth grades, it seemed the same core group we’d had since first grade stayed mostly intact. When sixth rolled around in fall of ’71, my parents were building a new home in Oak Ridge North in southern Montgomery Co., and my brother Isaac (a year ahead of us) and I knew our St. Matthew’s days were numbered. Since my school friends were the only friends I had, I was a pretty unhappy 10-year-old. I still remember the last time I saw Paul at the holiday choir concert that December and said goodbye. That was rough.
Some of our reminiscing Sunday involved placing grades with the teachers we had and brief remembrances of them. (Not all fond, but who has fond memories of all their teachers?) Everyone remembers Mrs. Carnitz, Mrs. Wolf, Mr. Schaefer, Mr. Schiwart, Mr. Naleieha, Mr. Finke, and, of course, dear Mrs. Kuhlmann (Chris Winstead). In 1970-71, when she was just out of college, we were her first class. She always says how special we are to her because of that; I hope she knows how special she’s always been to us as well. (Thank goodness we didn’t scare her out of the teaching profession!)
A couple of our classmates also recalled how, when we were in second grade, we were combined with fourth in the classroom at the end of the upstairs hall. Who remembers that? Paul remembered the fall festivals in the parking lot. I remembered bobbing for apples and running to football practice at Hermann Park, and he remembered the salt tablets we had to take. My wife Kay and I made the drive down from Arlington for the reunion, and John Reed, who lives in Fort Worth, rode with us. He and I did a lot reminiscing along the way, including fun memories of basketball practices at the First Presbyterian gym across Main Street.
Aside from all the fun we shared Sunday, the laughs, the hug after hug after hug after hug, the unforgettable memories, and the satisfaction of knowing that our friendships have outlasted the years, I also came away believing that we all consider our St. Matthew’s days to have been an undefinable brand of special. It was a unique place for us to spend our formative years, building bonds and learning life lessons, morals and Christian foundations, along with the academics. And I’m sure a few other kids were as cluelessly innocent and naive as I was, but that sure did change once I got to public schools in Conroe ISD.
It may sound trite, but I truly wouldn’t trade my years at St. Matthew’s for any other school in any other city in any other state. I never would’ve met these kids if I hadn’t been placed for adoption by a nearly 40-year-old divorced mother of three in early 1961 in Huntington, WV and adopted by Clark and Olga Christlieb. Or if Dad hadn’t transferred to Houston with Hollywood Vassarette later that year. Or if he and Mom hadn’t decided to send us to a private school and chosen St. Matthew. Or if I hadn’t been promoted out of that boring kindergarten class at the end of the first-floor hallway.
It all worked out pretty well for me. Even though the school sadly has been closed for almost three decades while the church worships onward, I’ll bet it’s all worked out pretty well for other St. Matthew’s Crusaders, too.