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Northeast class of '78 has dueling reunions

Published Sep. 13, 2005

(ran East, South, West)

It's just about two decades since 1978 graduates of Northeast High School blared Bee Gees hits, did the bump and voted Wasted Days and Wasted Nights as the class song only to be turned down by the administration.

Since then, the class of about 600 has sprawled across the country. Graduates have built families and careers and have had two reunions to relive those good times.

There are big plans for a 20th reunion in July at the hotel where their prom was held, the Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa in St. Pete Beach.

And at the Adams Mark Caribbean Gulf Resort on Clearwater Beach the same weekend.

A reunion at separate hotels?

A feud among classmates has two groups of organizers making plans to reunite friends and rekindle relationships.

"It's sad and it's a shame," said Cindy McRee, who is part of the NEHI class of '78 reunion committee. "A lot of classmates are, like, why can't you work this out? We just couldn't do it."

The committee has distanced itself from Debbie Vega, who helped organize the 10- and 15-year reunions and was part of the 12-member committee for the 20th until the friction began last month.

The other reunions were a success. Vega was responsible for getting the hotel, collecting class members' money and paying reunion expenses.

But this time, committee workers say, Vega refused to revise an informational letter that she mailed without their approval, failed to disclose details of income and expenses, and then would not talk with them to resolve the disagreement.

"It wasn't organized," Laura Harrison said. "It takes detail. Something of this magnitude is going to need detail."

They urged Vega to give up her treasurer's position.

But Vega said she was given only vague suggestions about revising the letter, mailed it to abide by the reunion planning schedule and submitted a financial report to one committee member.

Only one person relayed concerns to her, Vega said, and no one ever mentioned any problems during a committee meeting.

When financial records were first mentioned, Vega said, she did not have them with her. But at subsequent meetings, she had the books. But nobody asked about them, Vega said.

And nobody could give her one good reason why she should relinquish her duties, according to Vega. So she continued to plan the reunion that everybody originally wanted without the rest of the committee.

"My intentions have always been the best interest of the classmates. Money used to secure the Don CeSar was the classmates' money," Vega said. "I know of no reason why the reunion shouldn't be at the Don CeSar. Moving it for any reason would make the classmates lose money."

The standing committee, assuming Vega had resigned, wanted to take over future negotiations with the Don CeSar. But only Vega's signature was on the contract, and hotel officials said they were not going to get dragged into the middle of the dispute.

"We didn't have a choice but to go and secure another hotel," McRee said.

The feud has spread across the nation in mass mailed invitations to both reunions. There are only 120 classmates considered "missing."

Vega's April 7 letter told classmates: "Contrary to what you have been told, or may be told by phone or other correspondence, I did not resign my position on the Reunion Committee." She cited "personal feelings" as the source of confusion.

In the one-page note, she assured classmates that she has their money and pictures if they sent it and that the party's still on for July 24 and 25. The cost is $69.

The standing committee's three-page letter dated April 10 told the class to disregard other mailings and that Vega is not part of the committee. The party's on for July 24 and 25 at the Adams Mark, the letter said. The cost is $65.

"They're disappointed that there are two letters going out," Harrison said about some of the response she has gotten from classmates. "They feel that the class will be split. I'm sad this did not work out."

But Vega said she honestly does not know what the real problem is. She is working with Joy Raulerson and Bryan Hopper to pull off the event and she's expecting about 350 people.

"We're still having the reunion at the Don CeSar," she said.