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History of Villa Grove alumni reunions

By Tony Hooker

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt was president and the Japanese and Russians were at war with each other.

You could buy a Cashmere or Worsted Suit from a haberdashery on Main Street for around $10.  The Villa Grove Gazette, a precursor to the Villa Grove News and the Journal, editorialized about the need for a new school for Villa Grove, as the one in old town was too crowded for the 300 -500 students who were expected to attend in the fall.  Six passenger trains a day, three headed south and three headed north, left the Villa Grove station.

Also in 1904, the Villa Grove school alumni association held their first end of year banquet, an event that has taken place annually ever year since, except for the two covid years of 2020 and 2021.

Alumni, as it is known to all, will once again be taking place on May 27 and according to Pam Sigler, a special recognition will be given to the one hundredth anniversary of the VGHS boys’ basketball state championship and to other successful high school teams.

Sigler, who has been involved in planning alumni events for over forty years, has seen interest in the events rise and fall over the years.  “We used to send out over 1800 invitations for the event, back in the 90’s,” Sigler said.

In 1954, over 400 people returned to Villa Grove to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the event, which included the class of ’29 convening for a reunion at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Riddell and the class of ’34, who celebrated their reunion at the home of Rozenah Montgomery.  The banquet, held in the old community building, went from 6-9 and concluded with the election of officers for the alumni association, and live music was provided from 9-1 am.

In many ways, the mid eighties were when the event was at it’s largest and best.  Sigler reported that in 1985, over 450 people squeezed into the community building for the banquet and dance.  Interest was so strong that there weren’t enough folding tables in VG to accommodate all the guests, so the alumni association borrowed dozens from the University of Illinois, and the strong interest continued into the nineties.

Over the course of the last decade of the century, many factors contributed to a loss of interest in the event.  Bands had become too expensive for the committee to hire, so a series of DJ’s were brought in for entertainment.  The community building was determined to be unfit and closed, so the banquet was relocated to the school, first in the “Big” gym, and last year in the new gym.  Because it was at the school, no alcohol could be present, and interest in the dance waned and is no longer offered.

In 2004, the 100th anniversary of the event, 285 people attended the banquet, which the Villa Grove News noted was “one of the biggest crowds in years.”  Sigler, the alumni association president, was presented a bracelet at the event, after deciding to relinquish her role as leader. Frances Duncan, from VGHS class of 1933, was recognized as the most “seasoned” graduate in attendance.

Which brings us to this year’s event.  Sigler said that she’s “aiming for 200 attendees” although she estimates that there will be closer to 150.  She’s also adamant about the class of 2023 making every effort to attend.  “We’re here to honor them,”  Sigler stated emphatically.  “ They need to see that they’re part of something larger than themselves or their class.”   There will be reunions throughout the day, the banquet and the Korner Beehive and VFW will have live music at the main street plaza starting at 2 pm and lasting until the late hours, with all funds raised being donated to the new VG community center.

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