Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wheaton Family Reunions

I have just returned from a six-day trip through parts of the eastern United States. The main reason for my trip was to attend the wedding of Sam Ostransky, my freshman year roommate, and Leslie McGrew, in Frederick, Maryland. Frederick is part of the Washington Metropolitan Area, which meant that traveling to the wedding would bring be in close proximity to a few other close friends. I took advantage of those opportunities, and what follows are details of my adventures.


I departed Chicago, Illinois, in the morning on Thursday, August 9, and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ahead of schedule, around 6:30 PM local time. It was my first time in Pittsburgh, and my GPS routed me right through downtown, past Heinz field and PNC Park, over the Alleghany River, and under Mount Washington.


The following morning, I departed my hotel after breakfast and made for the Flight 93 National Memorial, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Memorial is largely still in construction stages, though the first piece was finished and opened on September 11, 2011. That finished piece is a white marble wall lining part of the final few hundred yards of the flight path, with a wooden gate through which visitors can see the crash site. The names of the passengers (less the hijackers) and the crew are inscribed into the white marble wall. Also on the site is a plaza with information panels, a small visitor shelter, and a black slate path leading from the plaza/shelter to the marble wall and gate.

Flight 93 National Memorial - the marble wall lines the final flight path, which continues past the wooden gate

My connection to the events memorialized is through passenger Todd Beamer, of the Wheaton College Class of 1991. The student center on Wheaton’s main campus was named in his honor in 2004 as part of the New Century Campaign, and his wife, Lisa, was my class’s commencement speaker.

After spending some time taking in the Memorial, I returned to the road, heading now for Alexandria, Virginia, where I would stay the next three nights. Due to an accident with a vehicle transporting hazardous materials, I found myself stuck on a portion of Interstate 70 in northwestern Maryland for almost three hours, and finally arrived in Alexandria just after 6 PM. I checked in to the Wyndham Old Town Alexandria, where I had stayed with my family on a previous trip to the nation’s capital. I went grocery shopping and confirmed plans with the friends I was to see the next day.


Saturday dawned sunny and comfortably warm. After watching a bit of NBC’s coverage of the introduction of Representative Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, I left my resort and five minutes later arrived at Table Talk, a nearby restaurant. There I met one of my senior year roommates (and friend since freshman orientation), Paul Nelson, who currently works in the Washington office of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. As is customary whenever Paul and I talk, we exchanged news of career developments and life in general and then turned to discussing our beloved alma mater. We reflected on how our Wheaton experience shapes our current approach to life and work, and also the recent news from the school (see my post about it). Full from breakfast, we continued our conversation as we walked through a bit of Old Town and then went back to my resort.

We parted ways at the nearby King Street Metro Station, where Paul took a bus back to his home in the northern part of Alexandria, and I boarded a Metro train to Foggy Bottom in the District of Columbia. There, I rendezvoused with one of my oldest friends, Heidi Jahns (by “oldest,” I mean that I have known her for a long time, since youth group and through college; she is not advanced in years). Heidi lives in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Maryland, while working for Capital One in McLean, Virginia. We walked down New Hampshire Avenue to the Kennedy Center. Upon arrival, we inquired at the tour desk, and immediately joined a group who had just begun. The main focus of the tour was the artwork from all over the world in the lobbies and lounges, though we were also able to see the inside of one of the theaters and two of the presidential boxes (Me: “Can he call the Situation Room from there?” Tour Guide: “Probably”).

Wall and ceiling of the Israel Lounge
Kennedy Center - chandeliers from Sweden
It being lunchtime as the tour ended, we headed back to Foggy Bottom to find a place to eat. After about fifteen seconds of discussion we decided on the first restaurant we came to, Circa at Foggy Bottom. We both ordered artisan pizzas and exchanged news about life, work, home, and church. When we finished eating, we began our journey to Heidi’s apartment. We took the Metro to Alexandria to retrieve my car and then I drove us both to Rockville, with Heidi providing commentary, as our drive overlapped a large portion of her route home from work.

Arriving at the apartment, I greeted one of Heidi’s roommates, Elena Zitzman. I had known Elena from when she lived with Heidi at Wheaton; she is now in medical school. The three of us headed for a park near their church for a couple of fun hours of volleyball with some guys from their young adults group. I was very grateful for the much-needed physical activity in the midst of my almost thirty-five hours of driving during the trip. After five or six sets, Heidi, Elena, and I parted ways with the guys and headed back to their apartment, stopping en route for a few groceries.

We made dinner together, and while we waited for it to be ready, Heidi gave me the full tour of their apartment. Over our spaghetti and salads, we discussed our varied careers, church activities, and news of our mutual friends. We cleaned up and watched a bit of the Olympics before I took my leave.


Sunday morning was quiet. I worshipped at the local Alexandria Bible Church, and then returned to Wyndham for lunch and to change for the wedding. I could barely believe that my old roommate – and one of my closest friends – was getting married in a matter of hours. As it happens, I have known Sam and Leslie longer than they have known each other. Sam, as I mentioned, was my freshman year roommate, and Leslie was a music major in my class, so while they did not meet until sophomore year, I met both of them early in freshman year. I was pleased when they began dating, and extremely excited for them when Sam informed me last fall that they were engaged. I had a feeling as I got dressed that this might be the first wedding at which I would cry.

I made an uneventful drive to Frederick. Entering the church, I almost immediately found myself in the company of many people I had not seen over a year, particularly freshman year floormates and fellow Conservatory alumni. We all found seats in the sun-filled sanctuary and waited for the ceremony to begin.

The parents and grandparents were seated, Sam and his groomsmen (in gray) entered from behind the stage, and then Leslie’s bridesmaids (in purple) processed down the aisle. The opening perfect fourth of Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” sounded from the organ, and we all stood and turned as the back doors of the sanctuary opened and Leslie and her father began their walk. At dinner the previous night, while discussing weddings, Elena had mentioned the Twila Paris song, “How Beautiful,” and part of that text came to mind as Leslie processed: “How beautiful, the radiant bride / Who waits for her groom, with his light in her eyes.” I cannot think of a better word to describe Leslie at that moment than “radiant,” and when I glanced at Sam, his eyes and face were shining also. As I had expected, my own eyes were a bit wet.

The ceremony progressed quickly. The bride was given, vows and rings exchanged, the candle lit, and the couple presented. Not surprisingly, given that Leslie was a music major, they had planned a number of excellent musical selections, as well as the congregational song “Be Thou My Vision,” the Ostransky family hymn.

Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Ostransky

With Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Ostransky leading their wedding party back up the aisle, we were all dismissed to the reception. We made our way to the Stone Manor Country Club, a short drive from Frederick. The wedding guests all mingled and enjoyed hors d’oeuvres on the patio, where I had a chance to properly greet and chat with all the old friends in attendance, and then we all made our way to the pavilion for the wedding party’s entrance and dinner.

After toasts, dinner, and the first dances, the wedding party and the guests began to get up from their tables and mingle. After offering Sam and Leslie my congratulations, I bid good-bye to my other friends and headed back to Alexandria. It had been an excellent afternoon and evening, and I was very happy for Sam and Leslie.


Monday’s agenda involved packing, checking out, and driving to Columbus, Ohio. I arrived in the Columbus suburb of Blacklick around five. This halfway point en route to Chicago was also the home of Jeff Hobday, another of my senior year roommates and fellow small group member for much of college. At the time, Jeff was just half a week from moving to Ithaca, New York, to begin his studies at Cornell Law School, so I was glad my trip took my through Columbus before he left town. I spent an enjoyable evening with Jeff and his parents, exchanging news and discussing Jeff’s and my fall plans.


Jeff took me to a favorite local restaurant for breakfast, and then I was on my way for the final leg of my trip, Columbus to Oak Park. I turned out of Jeff’s neighborhood and, as Mr. Hobday had instructed me, did not turn until Indianapolis. I arrived in Oak Park much earlier than I expected, a little after 2:30 local time. In fact, the slowest part of the drive had been – of course – the Eisenhower Expressway through the west side of Chicago.


I had originally planned to title this post “Eastern United States Adventures.” As I began to outline it, I realized that every roommate and classmate I saw, with the exception of Heidi, I only know because of Wheaton. Even Heidi and I likely would not be such close friends had we not gone to school together, and the Flight 93 National Memorial also has a connection for me because of Wheaton. As such, I came to the conclusion that my trip was really a series of reunions with members of my Wheaton family – that great alumni community that reaches around the globe. It is a very special second family that I will always feel blessed to have, and I look forward to the next time my travels result in these Wheaton family reunions.

This is Rubio, over and out.

P.S. In addition to the pictures I included here, you can see more in my Facebook album (which I did title “Eastern United States Adventures”).

No comments: