Letter to the Editor: Seventy years of coincidence gives time to reflect on friendships, life’s gifts

Rapp and friend larger size

From left, Ronnie and Kenneth Heinz and Jim and Martha Rapp. | Photo courtesy of Kenneth Heinz

British-American musician Slash of Guns N’ Roses’ fame once remarked, “I don’t think there’s ever a chance of a reunion.” 

Looking back now some 70 years, what was the chance of a reunion of two folks after a life’s journey together from kindergarten, through grade school, then high school, off to college, then law school, all the same schools? That is the reunion enjoyed in May 2024.

Who would have thought?

I was born in Quincy but lived my post-school years in the St. Louis area. My kindergarten pal, Jim Rapp, was born in West Virginia and living across the Tug Fork in Kentucky — land of the Hatfields and McCoys. His family returned to Quincy when Jim was 5, just in time to start school.  

Starting Two Decades of School

Jim and I began school together and attended the same schools through graduation from Washington University in St. Louis Law School in 1974. As we celebrated our 50th law school reunion this year, Jim and I couldn’t help but reminisce about our bond, our education and friendship during these 70 years. Jim is the godfather of my eldest daughter, Laura.

I grew up on North 18th Street, across from what was then Larry’s Tavern and Costigan’s Market. My father, John, headed the Western Catholic Union. Jim grew up on North 24th Street, a block from his father, Roy’s, medical clinic. 

We attended St. Francis Solanus School, which packed 60 or more of us in our classroom. Portable desks lined the aisles between the permanent desks. We recessed on closed-off College Avenue and 17th Street, playing ball, skirmishing and learning life’s basic lesson that rules often are made up as you go along. No problems, though, when a well-positioned nun kept an eye on us. 

School success was ours, but not so much sports. Even as kids, we knew we could dream but the major leagues were not on our horizons.  

We moved on to Christian Brothers High School, now Notre Dame High School. We trekked or carpooled several miles south across Quincy. We met new and soon-to-be mutual friends from other grade schools — sadly many who are no longer with us. We managed to end up in the same classes so we could continue to hone our debate skills and friendship.  

High school is an exciting time and one to try new things. I tried football. No NFL. And guitar. No rock star either. 

Jim was in the band and chorus, played golf, participated in the student newspaper and yearbook, was the de facto school photographer and became the senior class president. That class presidency is not what it’s cracked up to be. Everyone thinks it’s that person’s job to arrange reunions in perpetuity or until death do we part.

Of course, we remember the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Our history teacher — then novice teacher Joe Bocke, who made good as the superintendent of Quincy Public Schools — turned on the loudspeaker to share the horrifying news. Jim had seen Kennedy when the future president campaigned in Chicago. 

Our Favorite Project

One of my fonder memories is Jim and I teaming up with Leroy Rossmiller — who restored Underbrink’s Bakery to its glory — on a Joe Bocke history project to retell the Battle of Gettysburg. It truly was something. We built a diorama of the battle scene, prepared a slideshow and wrote — mostly me on that — the dramatic battle story. Mr. Bocke gave us all an A+++ for the project and required the entire class to watch our production. We brag that’s the highest grade Mr. Bocke ever awarded.    

We moved on to cars, double dating, dances, movies, driving the “route” and life’s interests. It was then I met and in college married my life sweetheart, Ronnie Haxel. High school was good. One disappointment. During our senior year, Jim edged me out as most likely to succeed. Still, I think we both have been successes.

Throughout, we seemed to always end up in the same classes.

Then it was 1967. Diplomas and a speech by local industrialist Parker Gates inspired us on our way.

Still More School

I chose to go to the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. By some happenstance, Jim chose the same university to attend.  

At that time, the U of I had more than 50,000 students, so we didn’t see much of each other. That changed, though, when I married Ronnie. We’d invite Jim over frequently and Ronnie even helped with his laundry. We were among the first people to whom he introduced Quad Cities girl Martha Brune as his bride-to-be. They married a couple of years later.

Then just another amazing coincidence. We independently decided to interview for law school at Washington University in St. Louis. We drove there together, along with Ronnie. Before we returned, a tour of St. Louis sights and the Anheuser Busch, Griesedieck, and Falstaff tasting rooms seemed inspired. Nice thing about Falstaff. No tour required. Not sure who drove back home that night. 

Well … you guessed it. Our applications and interviews to Wash U were successful, and we both decided to attend. (We sometimes have wondered if we could duplicate that now. We’d like to think so.)

We survived and mostly enjoyed law school. Jim did some irreverent writing in “The Rapp Session” column for the Wash U student newspaper. By then, Ronnie and I had two kids. Jim and Martha married halfway through law school. Family and marriage are always adjustments. We’d get together periodically for chats, cards, dinners and whatever. The demands of law school were our priorities.

Before heading to our futures, I did an internship in Quincy and Jim was a United States Senate intern in Washington, D.C.  

After graduation from law school, we both passed the bar. We each entered private practice. I was happy to practice in St. Louis where Ronnie, a nurse, was easily employed. Jim always had the vision of returning to Quincy to practice and being a part of the community. Martha ended up as the senior marketing manager of Harris Corporation after earlier public relations positions.

I ended up in a civil practice, mostly municipal law. Jim has a truly varied practice, now mostly in estate and trust planning and administration. He also is a prolific legal writer. (Yes, Jim, I do follow Muddy River News.) 

We still frequently share thoughts and ideas by phone or now email, usually about cases. Of course, we also share reunions. Most recently, it was our 50th class reunion from law school. Jim and I couldn’t help but recall the 20 years of school together. Rather unusual.  

A Little of Each Other 

Reunions are not always one’s favorite time. I was happy to reflect on friendships and life’s gifts. I’ve been blessed. 

I’d suggest you attend your reunions. Even if you have some wrinkles, a little excess weight, have forgotten some names or carry a cane, who cares at this point? 

Singer-songwriter Tim McGraw is quoted as saying, “We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere.” 

True enough. That bond is even greater when the paths are closely aligned.

The next reunion? I suppose it will be my CB-ND 60th reunion in 2027. 

Hope my classmates are there. Hope I’m there too.

Kenneth J. Heinz is a principal in the St. Louis County law firm of Curtis, Heinz, Garrett & O’Keefe P.C. His areas of practice are complex business and tort litigation, business transactions, municipal law, trust and estate planning and administration.

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