Maybe you can help me, or perhaps someone you know can help me. I’m looking for a high school yearbook, specifically a copy of the 1976 yearbook at Willingboro High School in New Jersey.
The yearbook I’m hunting is not for me. I still have mine, the 1965 Raconteur from Maine-Endwell High School in upstate New York, all 206 pages of it, with the usual sprinkling of candid photos and handwritten remembrances sprinkled among seriously dated portraits of the 250 or so members of our class. Glasses were big in ‘65, literally and figuratively. Think Buddy Holly.
My hunt for the 1976 Willingboro yearbook is on behalf of a graduate of that class, Ron Bogdan. While I am not sure how I managed to hold onto my yearbook despite dozens of moves to various cities just in the first 10 years after high school graduation, Bogdan recalls vividly how he lost his. It was in the 1980s, and Bogdan had the book and some other possessions in a cardboard box in his father’s office in Hightstown. A hurricane hit, the building flooded, and “the yearbook, family pictures, cards from old girlfriends were all reduced to mildewed waste and had to be thrown out.”
Bogdan, who now works for the AnswerNet/Signius telecommunications company on Witherspoon Street, accepted his loss at first. But with the advent of the Internet in the late 1990s, he began to prowl the chat rooms and search engines, looking for clues that might lead him to an otherwise unwanted copy of the ‘76 Willingboro yearbook.
Then, as he says, “a light bulb went off. I thought, ‘Ron, if you want your book that badly, others must feel similarly about their books’.” While the search for his yearbook was like trying to find the needle in a haystack, he realized he was finding lots of other yearbooks — the needles other people were searching for.
That led to a part-time business, which Bogdan hopes, might soon be even bigger as he twists it in yet another direction. Up until now Bogdan acquires old yearbooks from used bookstores, flea markets, E-bay auctions, estate sales, and Craig’s List. Then he posts news of an acquisition on high school reunion message boards, and at websites such as classmates.com, hoping to find someone who will pay around $75 to reclaim that part of their past.
Now, however, Bogdan is planning to register people in search of a specific book for a fee of $6.95, and then focus his search on fulfilling those requests. Once he finds a book, he will sell it for the usual cost, minus the registration fee.
All of this was the subject of a press release Bogdan sent off to the media, me included, a week or so ago. U.S. 1 doesn’t normally cover retail stories, but this one — coming right after I had written about photographer Dick Druckman and the power of the still photograph even in this multimedia age — caught my eye.
Could the simple high school yearbook be the last perfect bound, hard copy book standing, after all the others from the Encyclopedia Britannica to the Gideon’s Bible have been spindled or Kindled into electronic formats?
Bogdan confirms that high school yearbooks are the king of the genre; in fact, he reports, there is almost no market for college yearbooks. Leaving high school, Bogdan says, “represents your first real big break in life with people who are part of your group. It is the first hard separation we are asked to experience.” In his case he was president of the student council and active in clubs. “Behind the scenes I was coming from a broken home,” he says, with dysfunctional parents.
After high school, Bogdan studied business at Mercer Community College and at Trenton State College, and eventually ended up in the credit and collections field. But high school remained a warm memory. In 2001, as he was planning his class’s 25th reunion, it proved to be an emotional salve to distract him from the horror of 9/11, when his younger brother died at the World Trade Center.
But as enduring as the high school yearbook has been, Bogdan is already seeing electronic versions being offered, sometimes in conjunction with the hard copy, so that future generations may at least be able to reprint their book if they lose it.
But what about those hand-scrawled remembrances? Won’t people always want the hard copy for their friends to sign? Bogdan isn’t sure. “I’m noticing that a lot of the newer books I get seem to have fewer dedications,” he says. Kids today, he surmises, might not be used to signing hard copies in any form.
Or, I suggest, adults who lose interest in their yearbook may have been relatively anti-social high school students, and just never got many classmates to sign it. I look through that now 44-year-old M-E Raconteur. I’m a little surprised to discover that precious few classmates signed my book. But my heart leaps a little to find a warm greeting from the fetching homecoming queen, and another, somewhat flirtatious comment from a cute-as-a-button junior.
An adolescent voice whispers in my ear: Maybe she likes me. And maybe Bogdan will find a copy of his 1976 yearbook. Personally I would bet on Bogdan. If you know anything about his yearbook, or have a yearbook need of your own, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.