How did it start and what meaning does it have 40 years later?
On the first weekend of November 1981, Avondale hosted its first Homecoming. The event was an opportunity to reflect on and witness Avondale’s growth. Activities included a performance of Messiah with conductor Alan Thrift, guest speakers William and Ruth Murdoch, a This Is Your Life-style program hosted by Russell Kranz, a The Way We Were program with Robert Parr, meals in the cafeteria, campus tours, and the opening of the Chemistry Building.
But how did all this start and what meaning does it have 40 years later?
Rewind to the 1970s when three young fellas—James Cox, Lyell Heise and Alex Currie—from the lands Down Under simultaneously spent part of their professional journey at Andrews University in the United States. Each admired the comradery and community Andrews had with its alumni and the support alumni gave to their alma mater. An ingrained American tradition, Homecoming was a familiarity to many tertiary institutions there. In years past, Avondale graduates would organically gather to reminisce about cherished times but there was no formalised way of capturing the energy and love alumni had to offer.
Intuitively, Jim, Lyell and Alex absorbed intel and ideas while gravitating to the kinship and belonging the Andrews Homecoming generated. The benefits were not lost on these men as they each left Andrews and eventually reunited as colleagues at Avondale.
With James as principal, Lyell in marketing, public relations and then as the first pastor of the campus church, and Alex as dean of students, this well-oiled team mapped Avondale’s first Homecoming.
The digitising of alumni records didn’t begin until the 1990s, so with paper copies, snail mail and dial-up telephones, Lyell recruited a effective committee that posted letters to alumni and churches, advertised in Adventist Record magazine, visited camp meetings and worked tirelessly to promote the event.
The committee’s efforts paid off with both Lyell and Alex recalling around 1500 in attendance over the weekend. Alex praised the support from the top. “As principal, Jim got behind the launching of Homecoming. He had a warmth about him that really engaged people.”
That first Homecoming “feels like it was yesterday,” says Lyell. “Homecoming has had a huge impact on Avondale’s culture, the moral support of each other, recruiting students, and fundraising.” Leading the Friday evening program at Avondale’s first online Homecoming in 2020, Lyell’s support, commitment and dedication to Avondale is still present today.
Since its inception, Homecoming has always honoured alumni who transform their communities. Joan Patrick was one of the first. Dean of women at the time, she received a citation from the Class of 1986 (25 years). She, too, continues to serve, hosting her first Zoom honour year reunion for 18 members of the Class of 1951 at this year’s online Homecoming.
Joan recalls the excitement in 1981. “There was quite a good crowd. [Husband] Arthur organised the horse and buggy to take key guests from the village gates up the main road to the college and I was there dressed in period costume.”
While there was some debate about whether it should continue annually, Homecoming has remained a staple on the Avondale calendar every year since 1981. Alumni may age but the treasured memories of the Avondale experience remain youthful. Homecoming connects generations, celebrates lives that transform communities, and cultivates a sense of belonging. Alex reflects on his involvement 40 years ago, “Homecoming is a continuation of the collegiality that Avondale breeds in students.” He believes that first Homecoming played a role in the subsequent increase in enrolment. “Those who came reconnected with old friends and passed that love of Avondale onto others. It is indeed a special place.”
1981 Homecoming Citation Recipients
1921: Ruby Ferris
1921: George Currow
1931: Marion Hay
1931: Lionel Turner
1956: (25 years) Joan Patrick
1956: (25 years) Badu Samandjuntak
1971: June Bobongie
1971: Laurie McMurtry