The Facebook ‘Miracle’ and the 40+ Year Remember the Titans?* Reunion

By Paul Palmer, Class of 1972

The 40+ group purchased a plaque to honor former ORU music professor and Pep Band director Bill Shellenbarger.
The 40+ group purchased a plaque to honor former ORU music professor and Pep Band director Bill Shellenbarger.
ORU's former provost, Dr. Carl Hamilton, was one of the speakers at the 40+ reunion.
ORU's former provost, Dr. Carl Hamilton, was one of the speakers at the 40+ reunion.
Everyone was smiling at the Friday-night dinner.
Everyone was smiling at the Friday-night dinner.
Paul Palmer holds up a copy of an early ORU promotional piece as Roberta Roberts Potts, daughter of ORU founder and chancellor Oral Roberts, looks on.
Paul Palmer holds up a copy of an early ORU promotional piece as Roberta Roberts Potts, daughter of ORU founder and chancellor Oral Roberts, looks on.
Paul Palmer scanned old yearbooks and posted them on Facebook to drive attendance at the 40+ reunion group's events.
Paul Palmer scanned old yearbooks and posted them on Facebook to drive attendance at the 40+ reunion group's events.

When I was "volunteered" into coordinating what was originally to be the 40-Year Reunion for the ORU Class of 1972, little did I know the blizzard of 2011 would keep a lot of 1971 grads at home, or that what started out as a one-class reunion would grow into a celebration of the first seven years of ORU and the first five graduating classes, 1968-72.

I believed Facebook was the key to a successful event. When Smith College used Facebook as a communication tool for the first time, some thought it would suppress attendance because the "connections" had already taken place; why spend the time and money to go to the reunion? Their experience was the exact opposite. They had the largest percentage of alumni ever to attend a class reunion. The graduates said the Facebook connection just made them more excited about seeing their friends in person. ORU's alumni response mirrored the Smith College experience.

It all started as a seemingly easy project: Scan the 1969 Perihelion to create a "digitized" copy of what I think is the best yearbook ever published "in this or any parallel universe" (kudos to Dr. Mark Rutland for the phrase). I posted the first group of photos, including one of Jim Hatcher and Linda Requard (later Hatcher) taken at a Christmas carol sing in Timko-Barton Lobby. I received a very nice comment from Linda immediately. And thus it began. The digitized '69 Perihelion was soon joined by every book from 1965 to 1972. As more photos were posted, more "friends" were discovered and a new group was formed, "You Know You Went to ORU between 1965-1972," that ultimately included more than 250 members.

As time went by and more grads were committing to come to the reunion, I started inviting others who were at ORU during the 1965-72 period. The 2012 Homecoming, after all, was not only celebrating the pioneering students, but also those dedicated faculty, staff, and administrators who caught President Oral Roberts' vision and worked to make it a reality. The response was tremendous. Ultimately Dr. Carl Hamilton, Ruth Rooks, Dr. Paul McClendon, Dr. John Tuel, coaches Bernis Duke and Lavoy Hatchett, Kathleen Green (sister of Evelyn Roberts and switchboard operator at ORU for decades), Joyce Bridgman, and many others attended.

I asked fellow classmates and other alumni to tell how Facebook and other new technologies contributed to our reunion and made it, if not the most successful, then one of the most successful reunions in ORU's history.

Each attendee of the Remember the Titans? 40+ Year Reunion has a story to share of how this year's reunion affected them and most of them would say that they were so thankful that they came back.

Greg Berg's time at ORU was not until the 1980s. He served as a sounding board as well as one of those who encouraged me and provided balance and wise judgment when "minor" crises arose. I asked him to provide a third-person account not only as an alumnus but also as a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Greg Berg, Class of 1985
Fourteen months prior to ORU Homecoming 2012, Paul Palmer initiated a social media campaign to garner support for a 40-Year Class Reunion. The vision called for more than the traditional dinner on Friday evening. His vision was inspired by the phrase, "Make No Little Plans Here!" With a consuming fire, Paul contacted a couple of classmates to strategize a memorable weekend. Dinner, reception, lunch at Goldie's, and breakfast together were all ideas that took flight. The overwhelming question was, "How do we get the word to our classmates?" With remarkable ease, Paul devoted himself to the nuances of social media. He discerned the need for a Facebook page devoted to his classmates. Armed with a laptop computer, digital camera, scanner, and time (Paul was confined to a wheelchair for 8 weeks due to foot surgery), he devoted himself to the time-consuming task of scanning the first six Perihelions and posting images to the Facebook page. Then, as the project and vision grew, others shipped documents, photos, and keepsakes to him from around the country to be memorialized for this Homecoming weekend.

The next hurdle to conquer was attendance. Working with Jesse Pisors in the Alumni office and networking with friends, Facebook "friend requests" were sent, Twitter messages were tweeted, and Internet searches were secured. Again, this was not a onetime request. Numerous requests, tantalizing tweets, and a little groveling were employed. Classmates who had not been to campus in decades began to take note. Invitations were extended. Pleas were made. And then it happened: they began to confirm their attendance. A link here, a tweet there, a "like" everywhere. Ultimately, the fourteen weeks of social networking yielded the desired fruit: 150 people in attendance at the banquet on Friday evening. Additionally, the lunch at Goldie's and the breakfast together were resounding successes. All of this was conceived and carried out through the execution of social media. THIS reunion accounted for 25 percent of the attendees for the total Homecoming Weekend.

From an Alumni Association Board of Directors perspective, this exemplifies the best of being an alumnus. This effort exemplified excellence. Integrity was evident - it was spiritually alive, intellectually challenging, physically taxing, socially adept, and professionally competent. And, it provided an opportunity for alumni to reach out and minister healing to a number of friends. Social media was the instrument used to create an overwhelmingly successful reconnection with friends and alma mater.

Jan Dargatz, Class of 1972
Who knew we were so "social" or "media" -oriented as alums of ORU? Well...I believe WE intuitively knew that long before the Facebook Reunion blitz because WE were just that social and media-geared 40 years ago! I have long contended that friends made at ORU couldn't help but become friends for life, because we truly lived life together -- spirit, mind, body, relationships, and even financial woes in paying for tuition. We bought into the same God-given call to hear God's voice and go. We studied together, exercised together, attended chapel together, went on outreach ministries together, ate together, carpooled to the shopping centers together, had classes together, stood in lines together, socialized together -- pretty much 24/7. And beyond that, we were plugged into media that dispensed information (the good old Dial Access Information Retrieval System) and media that promoted our university (Oral Roberts' weekly and prime-time shows). We were into "social" and "media" long before Facebook! The Homecoming Weekend affirmed who we are and were, and for me, it was a great time of realizing anew that I really really really LIKE my ORU friends!

Bill Hull (one of the "Original" Titans), Class of 1969
Major events in our lives are often associated with a place. Returning to such a place after a long absence can surprise you with its power. It was on that windy hilltop in south Tulsa that is ORU where God finally tracked me down. The weekend was cold and as Jane and I walked along, leaning into the wind, I said, "Now I remember what it was like" -- walking to class, holding hands, a metaphor for our lives the past 43 years. "Expect a miracle" was writ large on the wall of the dining hall in 1969, and that was our experience day after day. It was a miracle that Jane and I arrived at ORU together, that we committed ourselves to Christ as a couple, that God's call came upon us through the ORU student mission to Kenya. We were reminded of God's care, His guidance, and the power of His mighty hand as we walked around campus, as we talked with friends old and new, and as we heard what the students had to say. I kept saying under my breath, "Thank You, Lord, thank You, thank You, thank You." I was overwhelmed with His love and in awe of what ORU is today.

Cinda Burrus Bothell, Class of 1972 (BME)
After most events, one may think about what happened for a few days, but then the memories begin to fade. This is not the case for this year's 40+ Year Reunion. Every day I remember some little detail that happened and it brings with it other memories of "our" weekend and "our" history at ORU. This was such a special weekend and will always be remembered.

Dr. Jim Shelton, Class of 1973, 1977-MA
In the aftermath of the transitions that have occurred at ORU over the past few years, several Facebook groups for alumni have emerged, allowing participants to discuss the past and reflect on the future of the university together. Of these, perhaps the most fruitful has been the one created by Paul Palmer, "You Know You Went to ORU between 1965-1972." In this group, many of the alumni from ORU's earliest years have had the opportunity to minister to each other, and there many wounded hearts were healed and many relationships restored.

Initially, in a couple of the Facebook groups, some participants used them as an opportunity to vent their anger, hurt, and frustration over their past ORU experiences. Soon, however, fond reminiscences arose, and gradually the magnitude of the positive and life-defining influence of their ORU experience became evident. In testimony after testimony, alumni affirmed the profound spiritual growth, friendships, and life-changing experiences that ORU had provided for them. The consensus was that the profound academic and spiritual experiment that Oral Roberts had initiated should continue. The alumni began to express their readiness to do their part to perpetuate the founding principles as well as to seek corrective measures necessary to ensure the full restoration of the university to those principles.

Oral Roberts' primary message was one of healing for the whole person and of the leading of God's Spirit in every human endeavor. This is what we saw happen in the "You Know You Went to ORU between 1965-1972" Facebook exchanges and at Homecoming this past February. We saw healing happen again and again. Thank you, Paul Palmer and all the other alums who helped their fellow alums' hearts to heal and to refocus their attention on God's call for this university. "May your torch still burn at the Lord's return…."

*The theme of the weekend became "Remember the Titans?" The question mark is crucial, Paul said, "because when we were students we were the Titans, not the Golden Eagles."