Reunion 2018 Round-Up

Last month’s Reunion 2018 at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass resort in Tucson, AZ was (as always) a spectacular event—but this year was something special. Not only was it the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Up with People (1968), but it was also the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Up with People International Alumni Association (1988).  Both milestones were honored and celebrated by the attendees, which included many of the founders of both UWP and UWPIAA.

First, UWPIAA President Phil Worcester acknowledged the UWP and UWPIAA founders during the Opening Ceremony on Friday morning and asked them to stand and be acknowledged.  An appreciative audience of approximately 900 alumni, friends and families jumped to their feet in applause. Many of the accomplishments of both organizations over the years were highlighted.  Next, the future generation of UWP cast members, including Phoenix and Tucson-area young people from ages 8 through 12, took the stage and performed a few familiar songs and the choreography learned during the week-long Up with People Jr. day camp.  An ensemble cast of alumni performed a number of favorite UWP songs that spanned five decades of show productions.

Betty Belk Award of Distinction

At the end of the opening session, Betty Belk was surprised and honored with the first annual Betty Belk Award. She received a thunderous standing ovation. For more information on the Betty Belk Award and photos of the moment, see last month’s article and gallery.

Founders Luncheon

Mr. Peter Voevodsky,  2018 J. Blanton Belk Award winner

Peter, a retired UWP Board member, legal counsel and long-time personal friend of the Belk family was honored with the J. Blanton Belk Award for 2018.  With his lovely wife Reyn and their son Michael beside him, Peter listened as Mr. Belk shared many of the behind-the-scenes stories about Peter’s accomplishments. He helped UWP navigate many legal challenges to keep the organization strong and independent. Mr. Belk made sure his old fishing buddy Peter received ample credit for his valuable insights and legal advice given during their many fishing trips.

UWPIAA founders honored by Mr. Belk

Mr. Belk paid special tribute to the founders of the UWPIAA on the occasion of its 30th Anniversary.  He cited the efforts of John Parker (65A) and Duffy Bledsoe (68A) in putting together the initial alumni working group in March of 1987. That working group eventually became the first Board of Governors of the Association. The organization has grown and changed a lot in 30 years. See one of our original logos with the current logo below:

UWP Legacy Tree commemorative print

UWPIAA co-founder Duffy Bledsoe introduced alumna artist Julia Lohrman Audlehelm (70A), who presented Mr. and Mrs. Belk with a The UWP Legacy Tree framed print.  The signed and numbered pen and ink original features the names of the 14 co-founders of UWP and the 129 co-founders of the IAA embedded in the roots, trunk and branches of a majestic tree.  The Legacy Tree was developed as a fundraiser for UWP Scholarships and can be purchased online at  Individuals can have their print personalized for an additional nominal contribution.

Flash Mob from 93A

Alumni from 93A came together to surprise reunion attendees with a flash mob, choreographed with American Sign Language as well as dance movements to the Greatest Showman track, “This Is Me.” Check it out below.

First-Time Reunion Attendee Reflections


Jenni Kaisa Söderman, Sweden (98E)

I arrived with my daughter (Hilda 11 years old) one day later than everybody else. I was immediately overwhelmed and reminded of the love and fellowship that exist among UWP alumi. Getting hugs from total strangers is not what we Scandinavians are used to on a daily basis. It took me about 30 seconds to adjust to the UWP mood and I was thrown back 20 years in time.

The first night I couldn’t sleep… I was jetlagged and very tired but there were too many thoughts in my head and I was going through all kinds of feelings. Most of all I was happy to introduce my UWP world and family to my daughter. She also already made friends for life.

The reunion was a real wake-up call for me and a reminder of who I really am. Sometimes working in the corporate world I forget what really matters to me. Now after the reunion, listening and talking to other alumni I am determined to make a difference even in my professional life. Before the reunion I’ve felt a little guilty for just focusing on my career and not engaging in global matters or not even in my community. But now I have realized that making myself a career gives me opportunities to influence in a bigger scale. Just wait and see….


Sandie Johnson, Denmark (98D)

Twenty years have gone by. Twenty years! All through that time the spirit has been residing in me. I vividly remember our cast manager telling us, that our student year would only amount to 20 percent of the overall experience.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but looking back now, I can honestly say that not a single week has gone by, where I haven’t somewhat exerted the Up With People spirit in my relations with other people. We all know what that spirit signifies, but on the other hand, it’s a very personal thing. Seeing the faces of my cast members in Tucson, was exactly like coming home, but at the same time, we all brought the remaining 80 percent into our common reunion experience, which made the whole thing quite magical.

I have been wanting to go an Up with People reunion all these years, and finally I was able to make it to one, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. The only downside is that I’m now back to missing my friends from all over the world; more than ever. It’s not absence that makes the heart grow fonder, it’s reunion!


Ditte Hoyer, Denmark (98E)

I loved my year in UWP and I have loved watching my castmates grow online. But since my year, I have never actively pursued people.

I never thought I wanted to go to a reunion. I think I wasn’t ready for it – until this summer. I am so grateful, humbled and overwhelmed with joy because of it. It was like meeting family again. It was like no time had passed at all, yet we were a bit wiser (not older, of course).

Twenty years ago, I wrote two articles for a boarding school magazine about UWP, my experiences and the immediate impact it had. I wrote about my UWP family. I know now that there was even more truth to those that I ever thought possible.

I shared reunion with my daughter, introduced her to my UWP life and family – she loved it too! And I encourage people to make it to reunion at least once. Reunion was everything and more that I ever thought it would be. I’m already planning for the next one.

Thank you for all the smiles, tears, hugs, conversations, vibes, music, shows, talent. Thank you to UWP and my cast for shaping me into the person I am today. My daughter wanted to share her thoughts as well…


Mathilde Hoyer, 10-year-old daughter of Ditte Hoyer (Cast 28(?))

  • Reunion is a three-day long party for people who have travelled in UWP. There were a lot of people from many countries, but most are probably coming from USA.
  • Reunion is a lot of good shows with music, singing and dancing of many UWP songs.
  • Reunion is a lot of talking, laughing, singing, dancing, fun, tears and pictures being taken.
  • Reunion is a feeling of happiness all the time and everywhere.
  • Cast K is for kids whose parents are uppies.
  • Cast K is a good way to meet a lot of other children – and with English to communicate in.
  • Cast K is fun and games when parents do their own thing.
  • My best memories of reunion:
  • Meeting some of the people my mom travelled with.
  • Getting 2 new BFFs from different countries.
  • Having the feeling that my mom’s cast is now a part of my family.
  • Meeting Mr. & Mrs. Belk and the Colwell’s privately.
  • Knowing that I would like to travel in UWP in the future.


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