Written by Barb Koonter.
In 1988, Gary and Barb Koonter (from Michigan) went to Sydney, Australia to compete in the International Police Olympics. Gary, a retired corrections officer, compete in archery. There, he met Ray Mendes, who was the director of archery for the Olympics. A friendship was formed and in 1990, Ray, along with his wife and two of his older children, came to Michigan to visit the Koonters for a week. In 1992, they all met in Washington DC to compete in the Police Olympics. While Gary and Ray were competing in Archery, Barb showed Liz, her mother Olga, and 2 younger children around the nation’s capital. After the competition, they all flew to Michigan for another week of sightseeing in the state of Michigan. The 2 families have kept in contact over the past 23 years and when Barb announced their trip to Hawaii, they decided to meet again after 19 years apart.
In 1976, Gary and Barb along with good friends Jim and Judy Stark of Saranac went to Alaska for their 25th anniversary. While touring Alaska on Princess Cruises, they met a couple from Texas, Charles and Rita Swonke (also celebrating their 25th anniversary). Their friendship has continued over the past 15 years with the Swonkes coming to Michigan for a Koonter visit in 2006. When Barb mentioned a trip to Hawaii for their 40th anniversary, Swonkes and Starks were all in favor of another reunion.
Joy Thrun at Classic Travel organized the whole trip for the 4 couples, the Starks and Koonters leaving Lansing at 6am on Feb 10 and arriving in Hawaii at 3pm; and the Swonkes leaving Texas at 6am and arriving at 3:30pm. The Mendes’ arriving a day earlier and left a day later.
As the excitement of meeting was building, we all realized it was our 40th anniversary for all 4 couples. Another big reason to celebrate!
The week of departure turned to sadness as the Swonkes mother turned gravely ill with cancer and the doctor’s didn’t give her much time. Charles and Rita had to cancel their trip 3 days prior to departure.
The remaining three couples enjoyed a wonderful trip with daily tours set up by Globus and they visited 4 islands in their 12 day stay. After 12 days, the Michigan couples said goodbye to their Australian Friends and headed back to Michigan (snow and cold).
Swonkes mother did pass away, and they were glad they chose to stay home and spend her remaining days with her.
As for the Mendes, Starks, and Koonter, They are talking about meeting in 2012 in Europe to continue catching up and do some sightseeing around the world. This time, they hope Swonkes will be able to join them.