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I've always been one to get excited for and help organize my high school and college reunions. After all, the saying is "they're the best four years of your life." While some people don't ever want to relive those four years over a weekend, this year my 25th high school reunion took on a whole new meaning.
On July 14, about 100 friends from the Williamsville East and Williamsville North classes of 1987 met at Santora's Restaurant on Transit Road to celebrate together. How much fun it was not only seeing classmates from my graduating class, but also those friends from middle school who became our high school rivals.
I mentioned Santora's specifically because the owner of that restaurant, David Cooper, Williamsville East class of 1987 who helped organize the reunion, died Aug. 9, just 26 days after our get-together. David's wife, Robyn Felman, was a North graduate of the same year. Other than their wedding, I don't know if I've ever seen Robyn and David any happier than having 100 of their friends together on that night. They truly were in their element, acting as hosts of a grand party for all to eat, drink and be merry.
When the shocking news came about David's sudden death, the power of our recently renewed connections extended across the country as the entire Williamsville North and East alumni banded together to show our support. Most took to Facebook to share their disbelief. Many classmates, having just reconnected after some time, asked each other how this could happen and why, at 43 years old, our friend had to pass so suddenly.
We shared stories about David's hockey prowess (he played for Amherst, SUNY Cortland and in the ECHL), his wonderful smile (which was always present), his beaming personality (which made him a great restaurant owner) and his love for his wife and three children (which truly defined him as a person). None of it made sense.
After a few days (they say time heals all wounds) and a beautiful funeral ceremony that was attended by hundreds of classmates and friends, many of us concluded that at least we had that special Saturday night to see David one last time.
We treasured our last conversation, laughed about our last joke, smiled about that last high school story and appreciated that last beer together. We realize that we were lucky to spend that weekend with David and to see him that night.
David was the kind of guy who allowed you to pick up a conversation whether you hadn't seen him in 20 minutes, 20 days, 20 weeks or 20 years. For those of us who attended the reunion, we now have recent pictures to share, new stories to tell and updated memories that we will cherish forever.
So, while you may think you have no friends who are going, or that you haven't aged well, or that you won't have any fun, I encourage you to jump at the next opportunity you have to reconnect with old friends and attend your next reunion. While we all have lots going on in our lives, it may be that one time you won't have to say, "I wish I had been there."
And while I know that the Williamsville East class of 1987 will always hurt from this, I am confident that in five more years and at every reunion going forward, we'll raise our glasses high to remember our friend and classmate.
In fact, we might even celebrate again with our friends at Williamsville North.