40 and Counting

| June 8, 2011
From Left:  Karl Schmitt (Flaget), Melissa Mershon (Sacred Heart), Russ Read (Trinity), Bert Erny (St. X),  Donna Borntraeger Legel (Assumption) Susannne Weinert Steinbock (Ursuline), Mary Beth Westenhofer Finck (Ursuline) Rosemary Smith Bisig, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation (recipient of the proceeds).

From Left: Karl Schmitt (Flaget), Melissa Mershon (Sacred Heart), Russ Read (Trinity), Bert Erny (St. X), Donna Borntraeger Legel (Assumption) Susannne Weinert Steinbock (Ursuline), Mary Beth Westenhofer Finck (Ursuline) Rosemary Smith Bisig, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation (recipient of the proceeds).

When Bert Erny and Melissa Mershon reunite with their old high school classmates this summer, they’ll share stories and reminisce about football games, mixers and old flames – even though they didn’t attend the same school.

Erny was a student at St. Xavier while Mershon studied at Sacred Heart, but the two felt their high school experiences intertwined so much that combining their reunions just made sense. So did involving the entire Catholic high school community – past and present – in what will be a first-ever, all-Catholic-schools celebration.

“When you grow up in the Catholic schools,” explained Erny, “you meet a lot of kids through sports, academics, and such. When you get to high school, you just expand from that.”

With the help of a passionate and dedicated planning committee, Mershon and Erny created Celebrate  ’71, the first-ever all-Catholic high school reunion, which will take place from 7 to 11 p.m., Saturday, June 25, at Louisville Slugger Field. The event benefits the Catholic Education Foundation.

The idea came to Erny last year  after visiting with a friend who had just attended his reunion for the Class of 1978, which included Sacred Heart, Assumption, Trinity and St. X.

Why not hold a reunion and include all the Catholic high schools – even those that have closed – in the mix?” Erny wondered.

The first person he called was Mershon.

“We went to grade school together at Holy Spirit. She’s absolutely fantastic as far as organization and getting things done. She’s a great coordinator. So I knew I needed her,” he recalled.

Mershon was tenuous about the concept initially. “I was not totally sold on the idea in the beginning, but after the first planning meeting I was so excited! There were instant connections between the school representatives, no matter what school they attended.”

Trinity graduate Russ Read, who’s part of the 20-person planning committee, sees the reunion as the ultimate Catholic school mixer akin to the Sunday nights he and his friends spent at the Teens of the St. Matthews Area (TOSMA) events.

“We saw each other on Sunday nights at TOSMA, which was a mixer every Sunday night at Trinity high school. Everybody came – public schools, private schools. It was a great excuse to get out on a school night,” Read said.

Class of 1971 graduates can look forward to a great time at Celebrate ’71. The night’s festivities will include ball park food, a cash bar, a deejay spinning 1970s tunes, a photo booth, trivia, a raffle, free parking and more. Proceeds from the reunion will benefit the Catholic Education Foundation, which – since its founding in 1987 – has awarded over $108 million in tuition for students’ Catholic school educations.

“It will be a time for old friends to reconnect and for new friendships to be forge,” Mershon said. “Also, some old school rivalries may emerge in friendly banter.”

Cindy Kettler Patton, an Angela Merici alumna, said the reunion will serve, in part, as “a tribute to the nuns, priests and brothers who dedicated their life work to (our education). We weren’t just educated, but nurtured along life’s path, and we are all grateful in our own special way.”

Debbie Randles, a Mercy Academy graduate who now works for the Jefferson County Public Schools’ department of pupil personnel, will attend Celebrate ’71 and looks forward to reminiscing about old times, including those that stirred things up just a bit.

“I was the captain of the cheerleading squad in ‘71,” said Randles. “We were the first squad to cheer for (all-boys school) St. X at a football pep rally. We arranged this on our own with the help of a few football players. After that weekend, Sister Prisca, our principal, received a call from the principal at St. X, complimenting the squad. The punishment that followed was worth every second of fun.”

Karl Schmitt graduated from Flaget High School and is now the executive director for the Louisville Sports Commission.  “It was a thrill to step on the (football) field and represent the Flaget Braves,” he remembered. “We were overachievers. We won football games we had no business winning because of our burning desire to uphold the Flaget tradition.”

The school, which closed in 1974, won six state championships in football.

Read, who worked in broadcast news for about 40 years, said that Trinity is where he found his calling, “I had a teacher that was instrumental in pointing me in the direction I wanted to go. I liked radio, television, public speaking and drama, but he actually mentored me and made me realize what I wanted to do.”

The shared school experience also helped Read, Mershon and so many other realize so much more.

“Unlike today, in 1971, most of the Catholic high schools were neighborhood schools. The local grade schools were the feeder schools into the closest high school. You knew lots of people from your area would be attending the nearest high school,” Mershon said.

“We call it the ‘Catholic connection,’” added Erny. “It’s so key to education, friendship and neighborhood association. You keep that through your entire life.”

For more information on Celebrate ‘71, visit www.celebrate71.org. For more information on the Catholic Education Foundation, visit www.cefdn.org.

About the Reunion

7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 25.

Louisville Slugger Field.

Schools Invited
Angela Merici, Assumption, Bishop David, DeSales, Flaget, Holy Rosary, Loretto, Mercy, Presentation, Sacred Heart, St. Joe Bardstown, St. Xavier, Trinity and Ursuline Academy.

$30 in advance, $40 at the door.

What to Expect
Free parking, cash bar, 1970s music, photo booth, a raffle and reminiscing.

A Good Cause
All proceeds from Celebrate ’71 will go to the Catholic Education Foundation.


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Category: Cover Stories

About the Author (Author Profile)

Samantha Stratton

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  1. Russ Read says:

    Thanks Samantha, a terrific job. We appreiciate your hard work. Good luck at college next fall.