Mepham Alumni Association
The Early Years
For a guy who doesn’t socialize well, I certainly have been involved with alumni matters over the years. But it seems my involvement was mostly in the “nuts and bolts,” just as it was in political campaigns or even in the days of working in electronics. I applied both my technical and marketing skills from the business world in expanding the size, stature, and financial strengths of the Alumni Association.
I think my first alumni efforts were in 1961 when I contacted the class officers to find someone who would head the efforts for a 20th reunion. Finally the class Secretary, Muriel Brownell Bartholomew chaired the committee which consisted of Arthur Berger, Gloria Ehrenthal Golden, Don Weller, and me. My main effort was in preparing the class lists and searching for missing classmates. Little did I know that I would still be doing that more than 50 years later.
Again in 1982 I was searching for missing classmates in anticipation of the “Mepham Roots Reunion” in May 1983.
In 1991 I joined the 50th reunion committee of my class, but I must admit most of the work was done by “the ladies,” the co-chairs Elaine McLachlan Sanders, Fran Moorse Russo, Jeannette Kuhne Sandford, and Phyllis Kiovsky Pelikan. This time I had a computer and again did the lists, labels, press release, and program.
Clare got involved with the Mepham Alumni Association in 1986 with the committee for the joint ’45, ’46, ’47 Reunion, and then in 1995 for her class’ 50th reunion. After helping her somewhat with her 50th reunion, I started going to meetings and joined the Board of Directors in 1996.
The Alumni Association Database
The Alumni Association had it’s membership list in a Rolodex mailing program called Label Express, maintained by a fellow named Lisinski in Huntington, and contact was through Brian Levy, our computer coordinator. It was a completely non-standard database format, and so I struggled through the summer and fall of 1995 to convert the 11,000 names into a program called Alpha Four. One of the advantages of the new database was the ability of maintaining membership status and dues data. With some effort we were able to enter that data from the existing 3×5 file cards.
When the conversion was competed I started maintaining the database on my computer until we bought a computer for Frank Setteducati and he then made the data changes. For a while we networked Frank’s computer over telephone lines so that Gloria Chapman or I could make changes but eventually we bought a laptop computer for Jane Randall and moved the database to her apartment, and she alone maintained it. Through all of this I provided operational and technical advice.
Each year I would ask the school for the names and addresses of the graduating students. I would then prepare a new database form for Gloria, install it on her computer, and she would type in the new class data. Then I took the data from Gloria’s computer and added it to the database on Jane’s computer.
As the Alumni Association grew there were times that the burden of data entry, that Jane was providing, became excessive causing problems in maintaining schedules of other operations. In particular the publication deadlines and providing data to class representatives for their reunions and newsletter mailings were falling behind. Various approaches were suggested to assist Jane, but since the computer was located in her home there was no way that someone else could access it to help make additions and changes to the database. The earlier process of access over telephone lines never seemed to work well.
In October 2005 Mike Barone suggested we network the database so that a number of people could access it to enter or read data. Then we could split the project in some way so that several volunteers could share the load. I took on the responsibility of investigating how this could be done. Mike suggested that one of his wrestling classmates headed a computer company that does just this kind of work.
I prepared a report of exactly what we were doing and what we needed, and went to see Howard Finkelstein ’82 and his design engineer. They suggested putting the database on an Internet web server and they said they could do the job. They said that their proposed design would not be able to print the data we needed, so I rejected their proposal. I then approached Desktop Solutions Software who proposed a similar method of putting the database on an Internet server, and although their proposal was closer to what we wanted, it still did not do our job.
At this point I had been working on the project nearly six months and was getting tired of reading textbooks and studying all about on-line databases so I decided to try a different approach. Again I discussed the matter with some members of the computer club that I led and decided to try using the approach that would use the database on Jane’s computer and access it remotely. I set up another computer in my house and installed PCAnywhere software on both machines that would connect them using my Internet connection. That was too slow. I subscribed to an Internet service, Go-To-My-PC, that would interconnect the two machines, and again it was too slow. It took over a second to record each keystroke which would make data entry impossible.
Then I read some more and investigated more on the Internet and finally found what might work for us. I found that we could use a server that had FileMaker software on it, either in a computer we connected directly to the Internet, or on space we rented on a hired host computer. This looked like it would do the job so I contacted a consultant to get a proposal for doing the software design and help set up the computer connections. I updated and expanded our project description again, met with the consultant, Antidote Solutions located in Garden City, and received their proposal. I concluded that the proposed project would do the job we wanted and the cost of the project, including consultant, hardware, and software would be under $13,000, and would take about three months to complete.
Nearly a year had gone by since Mike’s suggestion when I gave the Board a final report on the proposed approach of a method for several people to access the database. It was then up to the Board to decide whether we should leave things as they are, hire a part time administrator to handle a number of the office burdens, or provide an accessible database so a number of volunteers could enter data. By the time we made a decision Antidote Solutions was no longer interested enough to even answer my phone calls.
After speaking to two more programmers, I received a proposal, in July 2007, from Erik Wind of EDWDC to design the database for $10,000. I rewrote my detailed specification for the database design and signed a contract in September. We worked together, in person, or by email for eight months to refine the design and eliminate all the usual “bugs” and switched over the data in May 2008. We did the first mailing two months later, Scuttlebutt 2008. It took almost three years to fulfill Barone’s suggestion.
The burden of data entry became too much for any volunteer so we hired a part time person for data entry and have at least another half dozen people who have use of the data in varying levels of access.
In June 1996 Roger Mansell suggested we have a web site and in a few days I designed one and had it running on my personal (House of Files) web space. In October 1996 we acquired the domain name of Mepham.Org and I added the registration form page. Over the years the website has expanded to 270 pages and 700 images.
Initially the website covered current activities: reunions (recent, upcoming and suggestions), lists of who’s who honorees, membership information, and requests for articles from our alumni.
Then I started adding Mepham archives, about both the school and the alumni. With a lot of research I found documents about the founding of the school district, proposals for the school, the temporary school, the dedication of the new school, the original school songs, messages to the teachers and students about school rules, and much more.
Biographies of who’s who honorees were added, along with stories about famous alumni, fraternities, and memories as told by Mepham alumni. We include information about 4 concerts with links that will play the music from recordings of the concerts.
Within a year of starting the web site I created a few lists of the alumni we had not found, and posted these “Missing Lists” on the website. I convinced some of the class representatives to create these lists and email them to me for inclusion on the website. By the end of 1997 we had 24 lists, and it started to get difficult to get the class representatives to create the remaining lists. The procedure was simple enough: I would send them a list of the alumni of their class in our databases, and they would compare that list to their yearbooks and graduation programs and send me the list of those who were missing from our databases. With more cajoling and getting Gloria Chapman to make lists for other classes we had 57 of 61 by the year 2000, and we had the complete set by 2002. I maintained the Missing Lists until 2005 when Frank Setteducati took over that part of the website project.
In 2002 Gerry McHale wanted to have a wrestlers dinner to honor coach Ken Hunte and I needed to get the names of all Mepham wrestling champions so we could give Gerry their addresses. While he was doing it he brought me the photographs from the wrestling room and I scanned them and put 117 photos on the web site, with descriptions of their titles. Mike Barone has been using the same (and expanded) list of wrestlers in our database for his wrestler reunions.
Over the years, digging through documents at the school, in books, and on the Internet, I have enjoyed finding many historical documents about the school and preserving them on the website. The website has been a major source of information for the school’s Uncovering the Past class that digs into the history of Mepham and the Bellmores and I consider the archives of Mepham history on our website an irreplaceable source for future students and alumni.
In 2009, using the latest technology, I made a major change to the design of the home page, adding numerous links to topics within the website. From 2009 to 2010 I changed or added more than 140 pages of information.
In the eleven years from 1995 to 2015 the database has grown from 11,000 to over 25,000 names as a result of new classes and people finding us on the Internet website.
Class Representative and Reunion Support
From the time that we created the class representative program I have been providing class lists and logistical support with various labels for their newsletter mailings. I proposed having a workshop for class representatives, prepared materials for the workshop, and prepared a handbook for new class reps. I created “hidden” pages on the web site for them to download bulk mailing instructions and over 100 pieces of pirate-related clipart. When an out-of-town class rep has prepared a newsletter they mail the printed newsletters to me and I prepare the post office documentation, deliver it to the Bellmore Post Office, and lay out the cost of the postage, until I am reimbursed.
For class reps and others who were running reunions I prepared (and posted on the website) instructions on how to plan and run reunions, and provided the same materials as I did for the newsletters.
Bellmore Street Fair
Each year Bellmore has a giant street fair and the Alumni Association has a booth there. Just before the fair I print copies of the current mailing list (about 400 pages), missing alumni lists from the web site (about 200 pages), and the deceased database, and provide these printouts in binders for the street fair table, so people can look up their status or find friends. Data is collected at the fair for corrections to be made to the lists.
I prepared a flyer that described the functions of the Alumni Association and included a membership form. It was also suitable to be handed out at reunions and other activities. I printed the first batch on bright yellow paper using my laser printer.
When I started getting active with the Alumni Association Carol House was in charge of the Mepham Alumni publications, the annual magazine Scuttlebutt which was sent to all paid members, and the annual newsletter Quarterdeck which went to everyone on the mailing list. I started helping Carol, providing computer support, giving her copies of the database, and more. Then Clare started helping her by collecting and typing the alumni personal items to go into Scuttlebutt’s Poopdeck column. I prepared the labels for mailing the publications and supervised the mailings of both publications until we started using a mailing house for Quarterdeck, but we continued mailing Scuttlebutt with volunteers.
I continually urged and helped Carol and Clare to increase the size of the publications, with Scuttlebutt increasing from 20 pages to 32 pages in 1998 and Quarterdeck increasing from 6 pages to 12 pages in 2003. The added size of Quarterdeck made it possible to include over two pages of donor lists in 2003 and more than three pages by 2015.
Our membership year was the same as the school year, from July 1 to June 31, and as the volume of memberships kept increasing the confusion of the unusual membership year became a burden on the treasurer as well as the membership chairman. I, and others, recommended that we switch to the calendar year for memberships. It came to a head in May of 2002 when there was a consensus that it should be changed and Carol said she could not work the publications on that new schedule. Despite her protests, the board voted for the change of membership year to the calendar year and Carol resigned as editor.
Clare had been publishing her own ’46 class newsletter and she was asked to take over publications, which she did. I assisted her with the photographs, and production of the publications, coordinating the efforts of the printer and mailing house. Scuttlebutt often had as many as 120 photographs that each had to be adjusted in Photoshop for optimum reproduction in black and white. Using the databases I prepared the lists of contributors and the deceased for Quarterdeck. The mail that was returned, because people moved, died, or had given us wrong address information, was given to me and I added names to the Missing Lists and sent a list of the names to Jane to mark those names as “lost” in the database. That information is now handled by the data-entry person.
Back In 2001 Carol and I decided to try expanding our membership by splitting the Quarterdeck mailing into two groups, those who were currently paid-up members, and those who were not. It was very complicated because we enclosed two different colored letters with different messages. It was too complicated so we decided to include the membership expiration date on the mailing labels the next year. The program for determining the members’ expiration date was quite complicated but I was able to program the Alpha 4 database program to do it, although it had to be changed every year.
One of the problems with the publications has been the mailings to “Mepham Couples,” that is where both spouses are Mepham alumni. We certainly didn’t want the expense of sending two copies (and getting the nasty comments about our wastefulness). When we were smaller and did the mailings ourselves with volunteers it was fairly easy. The labels of each spouse was marked with a string of asterisks ******* so that they could be identified easily, and since the labels were in zip code order the labels were right next to each other. The volunteer then would put one label on top of the other, overlapping so that both names would show.
When we found that we could do our large Quarterdeck mailing cheaper by using a commercial mailing house we started running into problems. One year they forgot to put on the expiration date. Another year they didn’t mail to the Mepham couples until we pointed it out and then they mailed them. Another year they reversed the class year for the couples. Finally I gave up on the mailing house handling the couples problem in their computer and designed our computer program so that I could run it and eventually give them the couples data in a way they could use them and not mess things up.
In 2004 when the mailing house forgot to put the expiration date on the label they, and the printer, agreed to print and mail (at their expense) a postcard to every member whose dues had expired. I prepared the text of the card and provided the proper database for them. Maggie Hennessy, our treasurer, was thrilled with the response to the postcard since it brought in more member payments than we had in previous years. In 2005 the mailing house (now a different one) again forgot the expiration date, we again sent out a postcard, and again Maggie was thrilled.
In 2006, as we prepared the Jones Beach issue of Scuttlebutt we sent out another postcard, this time at our expense, to every person who had ever paid membership dues, but was not a current member, telling them about the spectacular issue. That was quite a challenge from the computer programming standpoint, but it worked, and more new memberships followed.
All of these difficulties were solved with the new database which had procedures setup internally for special mailings and adjusted for couples to be mailed just one item.
Who’s Who Booklet
For many years the Alumni Association has given Who’s Who awards to alumni who have been recognized in their fields of work and also contributed efforts to their communities. There is an awards occasion and a booklet is prepared with biographies and pictures of the honorees, and a long list of past honorees. The booklet had been prepared by Mikki Wilbert for some years and thereafter, when her health prohibited her from doing so, Clare stepped in (with my help) to get the booklet published.
Marketing and Fund Raising
If I were to summarize my activities with the Alumni Association it would be “marketing” because almost everything was aimed at getting more members or more money. Although the publications were there to inform the alumni about the school and the alumni, their goal was to make the alumni feel good with fond memories, become members of the Association, and make donations beyond their basic $10 (later $15) membership fee.
I was continually doing things to increase the membership and donations. During the 20 years that I was member of the Board of Directors the membership grew from 510 to 2,036, the bank balance grew from $11,000 to over $105,000, and the mailing list grew from 9,592 to 18,397. Here is a summary of the actions I took during that period to expand membership and expand donations:
- 1995 I converted a cumbersome card file and Rolodex program to a modern database system. This permitted a printing variety of forms and labels and accumulated donation records for data evaluation.
- 1995 I created the Mepham.Org website which included pages with the list of class representatives, upcoming reunions, and how to join the Alumni Association. Over the next 20 years the website expanded to over 270 pages and 700 images.
- 1995 Using the new database I started providing printed class lists and mailing labels to the class representatives and reunion organizers.
- 1995 Using the new database I created a binder for the Bellmore street fair with our current mailing list. This allowed our attendants to check whether we had the latest addresses for the street fair visitors, and gather changes.
- 1995 For a handout at the Bellmore street fair and at reunions I created a flyer that described the Alumni Association and had a form for new member or address changes.
- 1996 Added to the website lists of alumni for whom we had no addresses, increasing the number of Missing Lists until we had included all classes by 2002
- 2001-2 Divided the Quarterdeck mailing into 2 groups with different letters enclosed, thanking members or explaining to non-members the advantages of memberships
- 2002 Started a discussion page for Mepham Alumni on Delphi forums, the predecessor social medium before Facebook
- 2004-6 Three postcard mailings to recapture past members
- 2007-8 Redesigned the alumni database with new cloud technology to make data accessible by numerous designated users
- 2009-10 Redesigned and expanded the website with newest technology making it more usable for viewers
- 2009 Created Facebook page and arranged for Roy Probeyahn to manage it.
- 2013 Made a copy of Scuttlebutt available on the Internet and announced its availability on the website, encouraging viewers to join
- 2014 Sent copies of Scuttlebutt to all non-members who attended the 1963’s 50th reunion with a colorful label encouraging them to join
- 2015 Sent emails to 4,300 email users in our database, with a picture of Scuttlebutt, a link to its location on the Internet, and a request that they join
- 1999 Added membership expiration date to mailing labels to encourage membership renewals
- 2003 Increased Quarterdeck from 6 page to 12 pages and added the donations lists
- 2007 Increased the top donation amount suggested to $250.
- 2008 Increased the top donation amount suggested to $500.
- 2012 For Scuttlebutts being sent to alumni whose membership had been expired, a colorful label was attached that said “Scuttlebutt is sent to paid-up members. This may be your last issue.”
Not counting scholarships, in the 3 years from 2013 through 2015 the alumni association gave $19,740 in gifts to the school, while in the previous 6 years from 2007 through 2012 it gave $114,088 (mostly in building restorations). I have tried unsuccessfully to find additional ways to fund projects for improving the educational experiences of the students.
As of December 2015 I resigned from the Mepham Alumni Association Board of Directors.
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