Bearcats come home

by Paul McKean ’11,

  • three alumni pose with Blitz the Bearcat on the quad.
  • Alumni award winners pose with President Steve Thorsett
  • Four alumni pose with Blitz in a tuxedo
  • Four friends laughing outside on the quad
  • Two alumni relaxing outside
  • Two Bearcats on a golf cart
  • Four friends posing together outside of the Pelton theatre
  • Two alumni at the Alumni Awards reception in the Pelton theater
  • College of law alumnus shows off an archival picture of the law school
  • Two alumni look at a brochure
  • Law school Dean Curtis Bridgeman talks to law alumni
  • Student leads a group on a tour of campus
  • Alumni chat with Provost Carol Long
  • View of the inside of the Pelton theatre set up for the Alumni Awards Dinner
  • Tobias Read '97 chats with a group of alumni
  • A group of alumni chat at the awards dinner
  • Alumni view the Waller Hall archival exhibit
  • Alumni chat at the Greek Life Reception
  • Gold and red banners with a Willamette University banner
  • President Steve Thorsett chats with alumni

Alumni Reunion Weekend brings together generations of alumni for fun and community.

Bearcats exchanged hugs and high-fives, as they gathered in Jackson Plaza and by the Mill Stream. As former classmates chatted and walked together to events and meals, they felt a bit like students again.

More than 500 Bearcats returned for Willamette’s annual Alumni Reunion Weekend, June 6–10. They enjoyed dozens of activities including lectures, receptions, reunions and celebrations.  

“I came to the reunion excited to catch up with classmates and with Willamette in general,” said Holly Adams Easley ‘09. “Little did I know that the most fun thing was meeting my classmates’ partners — and even children — and realizing that despite everything that’s changed in our lives, we all really like hanging out together.”

Attendees made new memories during the Alumni Awards Dinner and the Bearcat Happy Hour, on the dance floor, in the lounge of residence halls and around the casino table. New to this year’s event was a celebratory concert on the Quad featuring Portland band The Junebugs, an alumni music jam, and a tennis mix-in.

At reunion dinners, classes marking 5 to 60 years since graduation gathered to reminisce and reconnect. The class of 1969 was well represented, with more than 75 members returning for several special 50th reunion events.

“When I came to campus in the fall of 2003, I had no idea that I'd make such important and lifelong connections,” said Bob Heck ’07, MBA’11. “Not only are some of my closest friends together, but we are back at home in the community where we met and grew together.”

Faculty and current students also joined in the festivities. Professor Melissa Buis Michaux shared her experience teaching in prison. Professor Rick Watkins and his student Ricky Oropeza ’20 wowed the audience with a talk about their collaborative research measuring the movement of galaxies.

From facilities and Bon Appétit to Athletics and current students, departments across campus teamed up to put on the event.

“The alumni engagement team and I are humbled to have played a part in making the weekend a success for members of our Bearcat family,” said Tyler Reich ’06, associate vice president for university relations. “We can't wait to start planning for 2020.”

“I look forward to meeting up with everyone again,” said Heck. “It truly is a very special weekend at a very special place.”

Next year’s Alumni Reunion Weekend is June 18–21, 2020, and will include special recognition of the classes of 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015.

View a full gallery of photos from this year’s festivities on Facebook.

Alumni Award Recipients and videos

Manuel Velazquez-Garay MBA’14, Young Alumni Leadership Award

Velazquez-Garay’s MBA education instilled in him the values of social-impact and sustainable entrepreneurship. These commitments led him to co-found a startup to help families with their financial well-being and create innovative programs in the Housing Ministry of Paraguay.

Mike Bennett ’70, Lestle J. Sparks Medallion

Bennett is a true Willamette institution. Over the course of 31 years at Willamette, Bennett secured hundreds of major gifts for the university that have sustained and created crucial university programming.

Madge Bauer ’69, Distinguished Alumni Citation

Bauer has been a lifelong advocate for public education. In addition to fighting for education funding, she helped to start Salem’s first free public kindergarten as well as Abiqua School.

Nikolas Caoile 00, Distinguished Alumni Citation

Caoile came to Willamette intending to study medicine, but instead found a career in music. As an orchestra director, Caoile seeks to inspire his students to find their voice through music.

Dmitri Palmateer ’96, Distinguished Alumni Citation

Palmateer always knew he wanted to pursue politics. At Willamette, he found open doors to the Oregon State Capitol and a career serving at the highest levels of state government.

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