Origins of the Legacy: Elderfest

Elderfest has become a hallmark of the Elder brotherhood, since it came to be in 1998. The day has always begun with the senior’s grill lids rising just as the sun does. A gathering of the seniors, now in the commons, for a morning breakfast, has been a lasting kickoff to the one day we as students get to rule the grounds of our second home, and thoroughly enjoy the fun. With the help of the men who have seen much of Elder’s vast History, I learned about the foundations of this day. The 1997-1998 student council had quite an idea formulating – little did they know it would change Elder in an incredibly positive way, leaving their mark – creating a lasting tradition for the students. Seniors John Mckiernan, Dave Buetsche, Tim Maley, and Nick Roos, colleagues on student council, began formulating an idea for an end of the year celebration, in the beginning of that school year. A Notre Dame graduate, and currently The Director of Student Affairs at Yale Law School, ’98 Grad John Mckiernan, gave me the opportunity to ask him about that momentous school year in 1998. “I cannot lay claim, solely, to the original idea behind an end-of-the-year Elder celebration,” he told me. “Originally, it was a battle-of-the-bands concept that when it came time to plan and implement, morphed into something far more elaborate.” Mr. Mckiernan continued, recounting the morning Mass in the Fieldhouse, then the rapid diffusion of students to the activities they were eager to get started. “There were several bands, primarily made up of then current Elder students and Elder alumni, in the Wrestling Gym over the course of the day.” Mr. Tierney, Mr. Tom Riering, and Mr. Anderson, combined with students, formed a band that performed at Elderfest the next year. At that first Elderfest, activities just like today took place, fifteen years later. Open play wiffle ball games took place, various movies played in rooms, basketball took place in the Fieldhouse. Unlike today, kickball was a big attraction, and a large assortment of board games were available for play in the cafeteria. Today the Alumni association really shows up for us and provides the legendary JTM lunch. John told me their experience was similar. “The Elder Alumni Association, led by Mr. Joe Lind [‘53], had an enormous grilling operation set up in the parking lot and provided burgers and dogs for lunch.” Like Mr. Mckiernan explained, the first Elderfest was what we’d still consider ‘normal’, or routine, upon comparing it to what we see it as today. But, little did he know, what he, Mr. Buetsche, and the rest of the 1998 senior student council created, would go down in the History of Elder as a pinnacle day of pride, fun, and simple enjoyment of the company of Elder Brothers. “The first Elderfest is a bit of a purple blur in my mind.” He explained, “I spent almost the whole day going from event to event and making sure that things were running smoothly, rather than participating in a lot of the activities. For my classmates (Class of 1998) and fellow students, I think it was a great way to celebrate the end of the school year and get a healthy final dose of Purple Panther Might before final exams, graduation, and summer vacation.” Just as John described, the camaraderie of the best spring day of the year is undeniable. The pride seen in the energy and bustle of the day simply shows value itself. Mr. Riering, who was in charge of the days’ activities for many years, told me about its development. He took over from the first organizer, Mr. Dressman, a teacher of many years at Elder, who at the time of its conception was in charge of student council. Current head of student council, Mr. Riering, took over the position for its third year, in 2001. At the beginning, all the activities were just what student council officers planned and coordinated. Nothing was free reign for students to just do whatever activity they wanted. “I just really wanted to emphasize getting more student-run activities.” He wanted the day to be developed more like it is now – based on what anyone from the whole student body wants to do. Over time the students were given a voice in what the day would consist of. Nowadays, all you have to do is go to Mr. Ahlers, or whoever is in charge of planning, and tell him your idea, and based on availability, you’ll get either a classroom, a gym, or a corner of the pit for your activity. Mr. Owens, ’06, of the Alumni Office recounts his days here, where he experienced earlier Elderfests. He recounted the enjoyment of the early morning grillouts – whether the food was breakfast, or burgers, it was a good time reguardless. The joy of Elderfest is the simple freedom – a day where we take a break from the not-so-exciting daily school routine, and have an extraordinary time with your classmates, out of class. Mr. Ruffing was Dean of Students back at the first Elderfest. He detailed to me how over the years, some pretty outrageous attractions were pulled off. In the early 2000’s, a rock climbing wall brought adventure to Elder, Sumo Wrestling was a highly anticipated event in the wrestling/volleyball gym, a blow up obstacle course/Olympic challenge grabbed some attention, and a skatepark was put together by some skaters in the grotto. All these events were ruled out after a year, or a few – after their issue as a liability was realized. Mr. Ruffing admitted the entertaining nature of especially the students in huge sumo wrestler padded costumes, but said it came to an end after “quite a few concussions.” Recent “Nerf Wars” got too out of hand, he told me, and had to be shut down. This year we are again seeing the students role full-force with new events like the wiffle ball tournament, soccer tournament, and various newer video game tournaments. After all, it is a day for the students. May we all have one good Elderfest after another, and it’s my guess, like many others, that the spring tradition will carry on for years and years to come, and pass it down just as John, and thousands of students before us have. Will we grill at our grandsons’ Elderfest? I’d put my money on it.