Robert E. Lee High School Class of 1994 will gather Columbus Day weekend in Arlington to remember the days when grunge music and "Beverly Hills 90210" ruled pop culture, and the Bill Clinton era dominated American politics. But the alumni will have more on their minds.
Lee’s 10-year reunion banquet takes place on Saturday, Oct. 9, at Arlington's Key Bridge Marriott. The event will be staged as a "nonprofit cocktail party" in conjunction with the LHS Class of '94 Reunion Committee, to honor the memory of Grier Hansen, a member of the class, who died suddenly on Columbus Day weekend 2001 of a heart attack.
"Not a day goes by I don’t think about Grier. It’s going to be bittersweet for sure," said Matt Grzegozewski, a classmate and close friend of Hansen’s, who plans on attending the reunion, which will be held in the "View Ballroom" at the Marriott, located on Lee Highway.
Through the efforts of classmate Alice Crisci, the reunion will be a nonprofit event, which she dubbed "The Martini Project," and will be conducted in memory of Hansen.
"I said, ‘If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do something for Grier.’ It seemed like the right thing for us to do," said Crisci.
After the $2,000 needed to put on the event, all proceeds from ticket sales to the reunion will be donated, both to the American Heart Association and to the Grier Hansen Memorial Fund, a $1,000 scholarship given to one graduating Lee senior a year. The fund was established in November 2001.
"It's not only touching, it's comforting to know that others miss him as much as his father and I do, and that they still remember the qualities that made him who he is," said Jeanne Hansen, Grier Hansen's mother, who retired from teaching English at Lee High School. Although she now lives in Virginia Beach, Jeanne Hansen has been invited to the reunion and plans on attending.
"I'm thrilled, and I can't wait to go," she said. "I had not heard of anything like that for a reunion before."
ACCORDING TO his friends, Grier Hansen was an enormously popular member of the Class of 1994.
"He was everybody’s friend. He was the guy who was always taking care of everybody, giving these enormous bear hugs," said Crisci. Hansen was involved in drama during high school, earning the starring role in several plays and participating in the school’s Madrigal productions. He attended William and Mary College and majored in economics. Along with Crisci and Grzegozewski, Hansen was part of a group of 15-20 who traveled each Columbus Day after college to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. In 2001, Hansen was traveling by car back from the getaway with his new girlfriend, Shannon Hurley, when he suffered a heart attack and died at a nearby hospital.
It was a devastating blow to those who knew him.
"It was and still is huge," said Crisci. "Grier dying was perhaps the most difficult, both because of who he was individually, and who he was to the group. We’ll still hear a random song playing in our car, and just cry."
Crisci said she takes satisfaction that after periodic struggles with his weight, Hansen had finally found himself, and what she believes was true love.
"He was finally peaceful and happy in his life," she said.
The 2001 beach getaway was the last one for the group, and the reunion will be the first time many have been together since that trip. Grzegozewski said having the reunion will be a time of healing.
"I think the reason it works so well is because everybody in our class loved Grier. The fact that he died so young and was such a popular person, everybody’s excited to have their 10-year reunion, but also because he meant so much to everybody."
In addition to the proceeds from ticket sales, the reunion will feature a silent auction and a five-minute video tribute to Hansen. A table will also feature mementos from Hansen's life, as well as three other '94 classmates who have died.
Crisci said she is expecting between 50 and 100 people to attend.
"Everybody’s really happy that we’re doing this, that we’re getting together specifically to honor him," she