My 50th Anniversary Class Reunion: Connie Prunch Dodge, IES Abroad Vienna

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IES Abroad
July 5, 2018

Connie Prunch (IES Abroad Vienna 1967-68) was a committed journal and letter writer during her year studying abroad in Vienna. Fifty years after studying abroad, Connie and 39 of her classmates and their guests, reunited at the IES Abroad Alumni Weekend in Vienna from May 11-13, 2018. Together they shared memories and made new ones while exploring Vienna together again. In this journal entry, Connie describes what it was like to return to Vienna 50 years later, and shares why “Vienna only becomes more fascinating with the passage of time.”

“Gruss Got! Wie geht es Ihnen?”

If I can just say it and not write it, I should do just fine. I had been listening to German language tapes for weeks as I drove around Atlanta before our 50th anniversary reunion trip.

I came to Vienna in 1967 knowing absolutely no German. Even after studying the language at IES Abroad, my accent and pronunciation were always rough. That coupled with my less than fashionable clothes contributed to the conclusion by most Europeans that I was Hungarian back in our IES Abroad days. My Polish-Lithuanian-Greek features and refusal to speak English were also helpful while dickering over prices with a seller.

Now, 50 years later during the reunion visit to Vienna, my attempts at speaking German were mostly met with replies in English. Knowing how well my prior classmates spoke and understood, I was most intimidated to say anything in German in front of Ron Y., Tom S., Louise W.K., or Harold L. I was just as shy in 1967 speaking in front of the other Americans who had greater mastery of German. The only exception occurred in my German speech class. Ham that I am, as soon as we were giving speeches or reading poetry in German, I was in my element.

Remembrances from a Year Abroad

Ours was a year of many tumultuous events on the world stage. The Six Days War had occurred three months before we came to Vienna. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated while we were there. Alexander Dubcek was president in Czechoslovakia and it was a time of excitement and hope for new freedoms there.

IES Abroad Vienna students 1967-68 standing on a staircaseA group of us had traveled to Prague on May Day and even marched in the parade, joining students who were chanting “make love not war”. We passed by a smiling President Dubcek who was so loved that he didn’t even have any security surrounding him. Unfortunately, within six months the Soviets marched in to quell any further opening up of Czechoslovakia.

A particular high point for me of our year with IES Abroad was the February trip to Israel. My original plans for our month-long winter break were to spend a week skiing somewhere, since that became a passion during our trip to Altenmarkt at Christmas. I also planned to hitchhike through Greece, the birthplace of my paternal grandfather Constantine Panagopolus.

My newfound passion for skiing was put on hold when I fractured my leg on New Year’s Eve on our last day of the Christmas trip. After getting out of the hospital in Vienna, I was confined in a cast up to my knee for two months.

No skiing or hitchhiking were to be in my February plans. I think it was Harold who suggested the Israel trip as an alternative. It was a life changing experience for me. The trip included a cruise on an Israeli ship, the Dan, from Naples to Israel. We had stops in Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.

A week on a kibbutz, a communal settlement, near the Lebanese border exposed us to the lifestyle of communal dining, shared child rearing, and shared chores (no matter how high or low your status might have been in some other environment). We listened to lectures on the Communist political leanings of the kibbutzim movement and on the history of the conflicts with neighboring nations, which had culminated in the Six Days War. We also toured the Golan Heights, which had been acquired during that conflict.

During our reunion week, we toured the Jewish Museum in Vienna. That visit provided a sobering and detailed look at many of the personalities, relationships and political involvement of Jewish activists in Austria. The dream that Communism would be a great equalizer, eliminating class distinction, anti-Semitism, and economic disparity was never achieved. Jewish activists largely found disappointment and disillusionment. Could the dream be realized in a Jewish homeland?

A vivid memory of both Vienna and Israel for me was the realization that war takes away belongings, livelihood, and property. What becomes vital is whatever cannot be taken or lost. It was my observation that for people in both countries it was a priority to concentrate on education and developing capabilities and talents totally before anything else. What was most important was what you could do and not any other form of status.

Reflecting on 50 Years

My husband Jim and I arrived in Austria on Saturday, May 5th in the afternoon and checked into the hotel. Karen and Ron joined us at the hotel for a glass of wine after their visit to the Music Museum, where Ron had auditioned for his next career as an orchestra conductor.

Ron and Karen are our closest friends from the IES Abroad connection, primarily because I lived in California for five years after college and because Ron, Karen, Jim, and I have met repeatedly throughout the years to ski together. Ron was one of the first friends I met in England on our first day in Europe. George O., Dotty C., Ron, and I went punting on the Thames in Oxford that day.

Connie Prunch Dodge with Harold at 50 year reunion in ViennaLater, Dotty was my roommate for the first semester in the apartment of Frau Guttler in the 8th district behind the Rathaus. Dotty (now Catherine) lives in Corvallis, Oregon. We have stayed in contact and have traveled to London and York together and five years ago shared a week in Beijing where her daughter was teaching.

For 25 years I worked as a professional storyteller. During our reunion week in Vienna I had the opportunity to share one of my stories, “Roswell Ghosts and Civil War Lovers” at one our afternoon gatherings.

Those afternoon gatherings at Benedictushaus included movies that Tom S. had arranged for us: “Sisi" (about the initial love story of Franz Joseph and Empress Elizabeth); “The Third Man” (a mystery shot in post-war Vienna during the occupation years and with war destruction still ever-present); and “Woman in Gold” (about the struggle to regain possession of an important art work that had been stolen from a family by the Nazis).

During one of our Benedictushaus afternoons Dennis S. talked with his signature subtle humor, about his career highlights working for the Foreign Service and that one of his job’s primary responsibilities was “denying visas.”

Dan D. gave us insight into the ever-changing politics that resulted in the life of his dear friend who, while never leaving his small village, became a citizen of Transcarpathia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and the Ukraine.

During our evening in Grinzing, Jim M. spoke about Joe W., who has passed away. Jim and Joe served with the Peace Corps in Panama. Jim was expelled with the rest of the Peace Corps during the negotiations to return the canal to Panamanian control. Joe, however, was considered so valuable because of a fishing co-op that he had created, that the Panamanians let him stay.

Jim B. had the group gasping with laughter as he told of his disconcerting waltzing class in Vienna. He was held captive in the massive breasts of his dance instructor, who dragged him through the waltz like a rag doll with his legs flying through the air, not under Jimmy’s own power. I don’t think he ever waltzed again.

Mary K. was an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War. After returning home from Vienna to her hometown Chicago, Mary saw firsthand the tumultuous events surrounding the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

Reunion Highlights

Group photo of IES Abroad Vienna 1967-68 Class Reunion in 2018There were so many highlights of our reunion week. Our visit to the Spanish Riding School (Spanishe Hofreitschule) enhanced by the guidance of Louise who explained the training methods of both horses and riders and identified the skills the horses were learning. Louise is a National Senior Dressage Judge, capping a career of training horses and competing at the highest levels. Louise was first inspired by her introduction to the Lippizaner Stallions during her IES Abroad year.

Group gatherings at Zum Leopold, Zwölf Apostelkeller, Bitbinger Augustinerkeller, Gosse Bierklinik, and Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing were as wonderful as we all remembered of days in Wien. The walking tour led by Gretl S. (IES Abroad Vienna ’05) was packed with wonderful stories about historical, cultural, and humorous facts and events in the city.

We ended our last afternoon in Vienna on a ride through the first district, starting at St. Stephens with carriage and horses. The heat of the day passed, and I felt a kinship with Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi imitating the way they traveled through their capitol city.

The reunion was very special and the reunion committee (Tom, Louise, Anne, Abigail, Dan, Berit, and Kathy) made things so nice for all of us.

We met new friends and old and made the acquaintance of spouses, friends, and siblings for the first time. There were so many things to see, do, and learn. Vienna only becomes more fascinating with the passage of time.

Connie Prunch Dodge (IES Abroad Vienna, 1967-68 | University of Dayton)

After studying in Vienna for a year with IES Abroad, Connie completed a B.A. in Communication Arts at the University of Dayton, a Coro Foundation Fellowship in Public Affairs in Los Angeles, and an M.A. in Urban Studies at Occidental College. While in California she worked for the Avco Broadcasting Corporation and for the California State Employees Association on five state college campuses. Back in her hometown Peoria, Illinois, Connie worked in administration at Bradley University. In Atlanta, Georgia, where Connie still resides, she created and conducted senior living activities for 10 years, including creating an activities program for a Korean Senior Day Program. For 25 years, Connie has been a professional storyteller and leadership trainer. She performed in venues such as the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and the Western Academy of Beijing. Her current passion is storytelling for refugee children who have been in the United States for less than a year. These groups have included children from ten countries. Connie has been married to Jim Dodge for 41 years and they have one married son. Connie still loves snow skiing and travel.

Learn more about upcoming IES Abroad Alumni Weekends or begin planning yours with us today! Interested in learning more about our programs in Vienna? Check out our Vienna programs page.

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