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DAAP Class of ’82 Bonds with Biennial Adventures

College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning 1982 alumni remain close through bonding trips every other year.

Date: 8/28/2017 12:00:00 AM
By: Laura Cook Kroeger
Photos By: Provided by DAAP Class of 1982

UC ingot  
They’ve slept in swamps and under the stars, lassoed their own horses and cycled through New England all with one purpose in mind: to maintain the strong ties that so tightly bound them together for six years as the class of 1982 at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Laura Penza, principal at Penza Bailey Architects in Baltimore, Maryland, credits their cohesiveness to fellow alum Jim Hamrick. “He is the holder of all things biennial,” she says. “You need one spark to start something and he was the spark to get everyone to join in with our crazy ideas for keeping in touch. Hamrick is a professor of architectural technology at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who takes students to Europe over spring break.  He knows exactly what to do to keep a group together.” 
Group shot with a green mountainous terrain in the background
Group trip, Red River Gorge 2008

“It was at our tenth class reunion when we realized we wanted to remain together,” Hamrick recalls. “To be honest, I’m confused that other classes aren’t as close as our own. Remember, we were often together 14 to 16 hours a day for six years. It was just a great class. So a decade after graduation we took a riverboat cruise and had a picnic. Everyone present said we should do this every year. After discussion we fell into an every other year reunion cycle when we’d take trips, for the most part, to untamed parts of America.”

Penza recalls, “At the beginning we were still starving architects so we went camping and discovered there was a lot of testosterone in the group. Some guys would even sleep on rocks. They were competitive. As we’ve gotten older our trips offer the choice of more comfortable accommodations so that there’s something for everyone.”

Outdoor shot of group standing in front of white and glass building
Group at glass Chapel

One thing is a constant: there’s always a campfire where they never tire of the stories about 20-minute Frisbee breaks, T-ball games and wild Tupperware parties in the DAAP studio. They also discuss their pride as DAAP graduates and the co-op experiences that molded them into passionate professionals.

When the class of 1982 embarked upon their rather unorthodox biennial reunion idea they had to make a decision. Would spouses or significant others be invited to join them? The verdict came quickly; the trips would include alumni only. Hamrick says the group agreed that allowing others would “change the existing camaraderie and vibe of the class.” However significant others aren’t totally left out. Each closing night dinner involves the significant others of those who live near the adventure location.
Each trip usually begins on a Thursday evening as the classmates fly from all points of the United States to the selected destination. The next day they travel to their adventure and finish on Saturday, usually around the infamous nighttime campfire. On Sunday they conclude with the dinner, normally at a hotel close to the airport, then say farewell on Monday until the next trip or phone conversation. 
Group shot in brown desert and mountainous terrain
Canyon de Chelly 2004

“We started exploring parts of the country, especially where our class members are located,” Hamrick explains. “In Boston, Maryrose McGowan hosted the bike trip we took through Vermont. Terry Welker was active in Boy Scouts and helped us hike at Glacier National Park where we stayed in a lodge. We went sea kayaking to the San Juan Islands in Washington and white water rafting in Georgia. Most of us didn’t panic when alligators rested on the shore of the Okefenokee Swamp. With no solid ground we slept in tents on top of wooden platforms high above the swamp. Federal guides showed us an amazing waterlily prairie. Kelsey Kruse had traveled in Northern California, and coordinated a fun trip through the Anderson Valley wine country. And of course we always have our key biennial ingredient, John Hogshead, managing principal at Perkins+Will in Atlanta, who always designs a T-shirt relative to the location we visit. It’s always fun! “ 

Both Penza and Hamrick agree on two of the most memorable trips.

Outdoor shot of people riding horses down trail in mountainous desert
Canyon de Chelly 2004

Canyon de Chelly is part of a Navajo Indian reservation near the Grand Canyon. After a two-hour charter bus ride from Phoenix the group of 18 arrived at the reservation, piled into a pickup truck and whisked to a field where they were expected to lasso their own  horses. “Four of us knew how to saddle a horse but that was pretty much the extent of our knowledge,” Penza recalls. One classmate was thrown from a horse and broke his arm. Penza’s husband Jeff, also a class of ’82 alum, ended up falling into a cactus. “It’s a good thing his wife was along to pull out the needles from his rear,” Hamrick adds with laughter. The group concurred that once assisted with procuring the horses, the ride down into the Grand Canyon was a breathtaking experience that further cemented their deep sense of camaraderie.

Class members were significantly impacted by a visit to the Auburn University Rural Studio Program in Hale County, Alabama. Founded 30 years ago by architect, artist and teacher Samuel Mockbee, the program enables students to spend a semester building houses as a service to the local population, instilling in them a sense of social responsibility These students not only learn architecture, they have extensive experience in design/build. It’s the only trip cut short. Hurricane Sandy’s fury was too close for comfort.

Also on the class impact list: the architectural wonder of Thorncrown Chapel nestled deep in the woods of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The design by E. Fay Jones reflects the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright under whom he studied. The glass walls and surrounding forest make it “an absolute gem,” as Hamrick puts it.
Three people stand outside in night shot wearing balloon sculpted hats
Balloon Fun by Hamrick

Each excursion averages 18-22 participants. Most are male. “Back in 1982 there were few female architects,” Penza recalls. “There were three others in our class that still keep in touch: Maryrose McGowan and Lauren Stara, both in Boston now, and Kelsey Kruse in Columbia, Maryland.  We are indebted to the women who came before us. For me, it was what I always wanted to do. My dad studied architecture at UC, and his design-build projects inspired me.  Although I loved math and art, I learned through practice that you don’t have to be great at those subjects in order to become an exceptional architect. I make it a point to speak with young women whenever I can to squelch that myth.”

So what’s next for this adventurous close-knit DAAP class? Two things. First, the 2018 trip is a visit to Arcadia National Park in Maine. East Coast alumni are already making plans. But there is a greater and more urgent plan and that’s to cement the class legacy.

“We have been talking for a while about establishing a scholarship so that young architects can experience the joy of architecture like we have,” Penza explains. “At first we thought we would create our own class scholarship and did accumulate donations. Now we think that joining with other classes gives us the opportunity to create a larger, more significant endowment to help the future generations of architects study at this fantastic program that has made such a profound impact on our lives professionally and personally.”
Outdoor group shot with kayaks and river in background
Ozark River Kayak 2006