By SARA ARTHURS
Nearly 50 years after graduating from Findlay High School, the class of 1969 still gathers regularly. On Monday, a group of them will come together to cheer on the wife of a classmate as she competes on “Jeopardy.”
Leslye Laderman is the wife of Lou Laderman, a member of the class of 1969.
Lou, 66, said he hasn’t been to a class reunion in a very long time but might attend the 50th next year. He stays in touch with his classmates primarily through Facebook, and gets emails from the group about upcoming get-togethers. He and Leslye both work as attorneys in St. Louis, Missouri, and haven’t been back to Findlay since Lou’s mother moved out of town in 1985.
But that isn’t stopping the class of 1969 from throwing a celebration.
Linda Taylor Thompson, who organizes many of the class’ events, said the gatherings grew out of Facebook, “which has been wonderful for us.” She’s one of two alumni who have taken on the task of trying to locate all 547 members of the class, and a Facebook group helps its members to keep in touch.
Many of the members of the class of 1969 are now grandparents. Scrolling through the photographs on the page, “you start to recognize the kids,” knowing who they are before you read the names, Thompson said.
The class has also come together to support classmates in need. When one was battling cancer, class members mailed a Findlay T-shirt around the country — from California to Alabama — to be signed. A note on the back read “We’ve got your back.” The class member has since died.
Thompson, 66, is part of a group of four retirees who travel around the country visiting former classmates. They call themselves “Three Eagles and an Atom” after the Glenwood Eagles and Donnell Atoms, the former middle school mascots. They’ve gone to Washington, D.C., and Traverse City, Michigan, where a classmate owns two restaurants. One of those restaurants is named after the West End Tavern in Findlay.
Whenever she goes to another city, Thompson tries to visit classmates in the area. She’s been part of mini-reunions as far away as Texas.
“There’s been a trip to the Holy Land by a group from our class,” she said, adding the trip came out of connecting at a reunion, then continuing to communicate through Facebook.
When a member of the class comes back to Findlay, Thompson organizes a group to meet at The Fern Cafe, which is where the “Jeopardy” watch party will be held.
Leslye said she has always been interested in trivia. She likes to read, and has a passion for music and history. She applied to be on “Jeopardy” by first taking an online test. She was told about 75,000 people take the test every year, and 3,000 to 4,000 move on to the next level, an in-person audition.
In person, she was given another written test, and played a mock game complete with buzzers. She was also interviewed. Then, Leslye said, applicants end up in a pool for 18 months and may or may not be called. If they aren’t chosen in that time, they can reapply. Leslye went through this process three times.
Leslye selected Boston for her in-person interview, where the couple’s children live. She was called about three weeks later and asked to be on the show, which was taped about two months after that. (In keeping with the producers’ wishes, she declined to say how long ago that was.) The show is filmed in Culver City, California, at the Sony studios.
Both Ladermans are sworn to secrecy about the episode, but they did talk a little about the “Jeopardy” experience itself. Lou said it was interesting to go “behind the scenes” to see how the show is filmed. Five shows are filmed in a day, for two days in a row, meaning two weeks’ worth of shows are shot at once.
“It was a lot of fun,” Leslye said about the experience.
She said the show’s staff were “very, very nice” and seemed interested in seeing everyone succeed. The other contestants, too, were friendly. While they were competing against each other, they had in common a shared love of trivia and all “rooted for each other,” Leslye said.
She said due to the commercials when you watch the show at home, you don’t realize how “everything goes by really quickly” during taping. But because it’s so fast, Leslye said she didn’t have time to be nervous.
“And Alex Trebek was very nice and personable,” she said.
Lou said the show will air at 4:30 p.m. in St. Louis, so they will tape the episode and hold a viewing party later.
He said he and his wife are a little “bemused” by the Findlay watch party, as no one in Findlay knows her. “What a cool thing,” he said.
Leslye also graduated high school in 1969, in Michigan, and said her classmates do not keep in touch nearly as much as Lou’s.
“It’s wonderful (that the Findlay High graduates do),” she said. “I think that’s so cool.”
As for Thompson, she noted that the class’ 50th reunion is coming up next year and said, “We hope to outdo ourselves” since the 40th.