UWP Cast ’79C Reunion

Laurie Somerville, '79C
October 5, 2023
Alumni Experiences
Group photo of reunion attendees
Members of Cast ’79C in attendance

In 1979 a group of people from far and wide came together to be a part of a program called Up with People (UWP). It would become a life-changing experience for all of them. They were on the cusp of their adult lives, and excited to see where life would take them. This year, 44 years later, June 17-20, 2023 the words to one of UWP’s songs came true—”I have a feeling, that we’ll meet someday where the roads come together up the way”, as cast members from UWP Cast ’79C held a reunion, and this would be the first for many cast members.

Fifteen cast members, with spouses raising the number to twenty-four, gathered to reunite and rekindle friendships that began so long ago. Frankly, it felt like we never missed a beat (pun intended). There were participants from Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and 10 states of the U.S.! We wanted to share our experiences with you so that YOUR cast or crew might take inspiration and consider planning a get-together of your own!

The reunion was 3 years in the planning and derailed temporarily by COVID, but nonetheless, came to fruition due to the unwavering commitment, dedication, and tenacity of two cast members (Beverly Greiner and Ray Villegas) who REALLY wanted to make it happen.  And so it did! June 17th was like an UWP travel day as we arrived from far and wide at Wildwater Ltd. Chattooga near Long Creek, South Carolina. Allocation packets awaited us in the main cabin with our cabin and cabinmate assignments and goodies! Helloshugs and exclamations (and sometimes screams) of delight and excitement filled the cabin with the arrival of each cast member (once we found the cabin, lol). Spouses were included without hesitation and became “Uppies by association” in no time.

I was thrilled to see how we all got along so well, including the spouses. They put up with a lot!!! But they were so willing to just jump in and do anything that was needed!! Kudos to them!!”

– Beverly Greiner

For our first night, we all went out for pizza, at a restaurant called Humble Pie. The pizza was amazing and there was a surprise cake to celebrate Father’s Day! There was much merriment throughout the evening as we all got reacquainted.

Laurie Somerville sharing her gift of flower arranging!

For the next 2 days, all meals which had been planned in detail, and all supplies bought prior to our arrival, were cooked and prepared at the direction of our head chef Ray Villegas and assistant chef, Raul Munoz.

Everyone pitched in to do whatever was needed: chopping, mixing, cooking, grilling, table setting and arrangements, and later cleaning up. It was really such a special time and gave us all the time to spend together making more memories. Scrapbooks and memorabilia were laid out for us to peruse and enjoy and brought back SO many memories for all of us. One cast member, Gail Ambrose, even brought her cast costume—what a hoot!

Our head chef, Ray Villegas

 Our meals were amazing! Monday night we had a Mexican fiesta, complete with colorful decorations and all authentic food. There was much merrymaking, dancing and singing. Tuesday night we had “Thanksgiving Dinner”, so thankful for this time to spend together. We all dressed up and the place settings were elegant and classy and, because no detail was overlooked, the napkins were the colors of our cast show costumes—navy, green and light blue!!

Breakfasts were equally scrumptious, and food was bountiful. Everything was made from scratch and no one went hungry. We also had fruit platters and snacks to nibble on during the day, picked some wild blackberries out behind the cabins and there was GORP (trail mix) because otherwise, it wouldn’t be authentic UWP! Cast members also brought homemade goodies to share.

Although rain interfered with several of the planned activities, it didn’t slow us down. On Monday, the golf event was canceled but we were off to see an abandoned train tunnel, Stumphouse Tunnel, and waterfalls including Issaquena Falls and Brasstown Falls. To check the acoustics in the tunnel, we sang the UWP theme song with flashlights in hand and had plenty of room to spread out, so we didn’t knock each other out with our swing claps! The scenery was beautiful and there was even an old flatbed train car that we jumped aboard to do a VERY rough version of Chattanooga Choo Choo, but we all had a ball. We performed in some interesting places during our tour, including a barge in Holland, so it seemed perfectly ordinary.

Testing the tunnel acoustics.
Dancing on the flatbed rail car and reminiscing about our show promo on a barge.

Later in the afternoon some of the daring cast members, apparently not wet enough from the rain, took a whitewater rafting trip which made for some more amazing memories as one raft completed the tour intact and the other flipped out all the passengers when it went through some rapids. The camera caught them, bottoms up! Fortunately, no cast members were injured.

Tuesday, in true UWP style, we did a community service project at an old mill, Raines Mill, that is being restored. It was originally built around 1914 and provided electricity as well as grinding grain for the local community. We had so much fun despite some of us getting totally drenched and our projects getting cut short by a downpour. We had a trail-clearing team-kudzu ninjas, the mortar maniacs mixing and pouring cement, carpenters who were nailing it, and a firebug crew a.k.a. pyromaniacs, cleaning up dead brush. We were all sporting our new Cast C Reunion T-shirts. The downpour did offer a very special event. The 40 ft mill wheel filled up from all the rain and started turning! It was very exciting for us and the owner, as this was only the second time he had seen it turn.

At the location of the mill, a Cherokee dogwood tree was dedicated and planted in memory of those cast members no longer with us. After the dedication and a prayer we sang “There’s Gonna be Another Day” and the tears flowed. What a beautiful ceremony.

Ziplining was planned for the afternoon, but due to thunder and lightning, we all just had “free time” to do what we wanted. After all, we WERE on vacation. Some chose chatting at a local coffee shop, others shopping and some took naps—remembering the days of total exhaustion when we were traveling and now, well, we are getting old, many of us grandmas and grandpas, and naps are good!

 Following the Thanksgiving dinner, we went to a beautiful location, Chattooga Belle, to have cast pictures taken. There were orchards spanning out behind us and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. We will all treasure these pictures as much as our original cast photo, we only wish more members could have made it.

Wednesday morning was all about packing up and saying farewells…until next time, which is now tentatively slated for 2025, near Colorado Springs, CO.

We spent the weekend with friends for life, having fun and fellowship, with amazing food, in a fantastic location with all manner of fabulousness! What a wonderful way to spend 4 days, and the memories made will endure and endear us as we add them to our special life experiences.

Some of us have not seen each other in over forty years, and for everything to fall in place like that says a lot about the group and each person there. Such sweet and precious memories.”

– Paige Self Sanderson

Our PR Team of Beverly Greiner and Ray Villegas went to great lengths to plan every detail and all of us who attended offer our heartfelt gratitude for their dedication and hard work in making this reunion a reality.

Cast members in attendance:

Raul Munoz (Mexico/TX), Gail Brand Ambrose (N. Ireland/England), Nancy Weis Arsenault (British Columbia, Canada), Jan McCall Failes (Canada/VA), B. Failes (VA, USA),  Laurie Somerville (ND, USA), Frank Allen (MN, USA), Donna Hobbs Towery (TN, USA), Jim Rhodes (MD, USA), Beverly Greiner McArthur (NC, USA), Ray Villegas (FL, USA), Paige Self Sanderson (SC, USA), Adriana Snyder (Mexico), Louise Malkowich Lamont (Manitoba, Canada), Greg Aigner (CO, USA).

Additional Photos to Enjoy and Inspire:

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