Westmont Magazine A Thanksgiving Reunion
After a decade, an incredible bond still exists between the 39 students who took part in the 1996 Europe Semester. All of them have returned to Santa Barbara for at least one of the annual Thanksgiving reunions organized by Rick and Barbara Pointer and John and Anna Sider.
In November 2006, 18 alumni and their spouses and children celebrated the 10th anniversary of a day they say they will never forget.
Although they were staying in Munich, Germany (about 4,000 miles from any Thanksgiving celebration), Richard ‘Trey’ Sklar ’97 and Brittney Thomas Schommer ’97 planned to put together a traditional feast for the 46-member group. “I was anxious that they were not going to be able to pull it off and would be let down badly,” says English professor John Sider. “Celebrating Thanksgiving is not a European tradition. They were not only trying to find whole turkeys, stuffing and cranberry sauce, but a kitchen to prepare the meal in and a dining room to hold all of us.”
But the students not only produced a meal, they used fall leaves to decorate the table and incorporated a worship service. “There was also snow falling outside,” Sider recalls. “It cast a romantic atmosphere over the whole thing.”
The fact that the students keep coming to Santa Barbara for the reunions speaks to the amazing cohesiveness of the group. Sider says everyone was compatible and comfortable during the semester, which the meal symbolized.
History professor Rick Pointer says he realized the group was special early in the trip. “They were a very cooperative, a close-knit body that was open to new relationships and friendships,” he says. “Europe Semester is a 24/7 learning lab experience. To be constantly on the road living together makes for an exciting, interesting experience. The stress can be high, but on this trip we were rewarded over and over. You couldn’t orchestrate the same experiences, the same mutual spiritual acceptance, respect and kindness.”
The connection was so strong that some of the former students say it remains their greatest link to the college. “I was able to really get to know and enjoy friendships with the other students and the professors and their families,” says Megan Harter ’97, who attends the Thanksgiving dinners at the Pointers’ house. “I feel lucky that I have some people that I can reflect on part of my college experience with.”
Now when they get together they introduce new members of their families and reminisce about the snowy Thanksgiving in Munich. “The reunions are such a great reminder of the way the Lord has blessed my life with wonderful friends and experiences,” says Renee Kusler ’98. “It is amazing what strong bonds can be formed when a group of people live together as a community and try to love each other as the Lord commands.”
Pointer says it has been incredibly gratifying as a professor to have contributed in a small way to his students’ success. “I consider the long-time fruit alums display as the evidence of the value of a Westmont education.”