The Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town by Jennifer Niven


  Tom Dehner

  Tom Dehner is Medicaid director in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Tom provides strategic policy direction, directs clinical policy, negotiates with federal and state regulators, and supervises plan operations for a health insurance program that covers more than one million members.

  Tom came to MassHealth in 2003 as chief of staff of the Division of Medical Assistance. In February 2004, Tom was named deputy Medicaid director. Before coming to work at MassHealth, Tom earned his law degree from Northeastern University. He later served as counsel to the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means, where he supervised legislative policy on insurance matters and health care.

  He is married and has three children. About his days at Richmond High School, he says, “Unless I was mistaken, Tom Mangas was the golden king of RHS. To me, he still is. I was just a lucky kid.”

  Teresa (Ripperger) Radtke

  As Teresa says, “Richmond High School was a great experience.” After high school Teresa attended Indiana University (Bloomington), where her relationship with Tom Dehner ended. Tom attended DePauw University and began dating someone almost immediately. “In retrospect, it was the biggest heartbreak of my life,” Teresa says, “but it was inevitable. We remained friends, though. I will always have a warm place in my heart for my first love.”

  Teresa met Tim Radtke at IU, they dated for six years, and they were married in 1992. They have two sons, Jake and Luke. They live in Muncie, Indiana, and chose to raise the boys in a smaller community very similar to Richmond. Tim’s high school experience was at a Catholic high school in Chicago, so Teresa had to convince him that a smaller public high school in Indiana was a good thing. Once Tim met friends and family from Richmond he agreed.

  Teresa has a successful sales career and continues to balance her career and motherhood. She says Tim is her rock and keeps her focused. She is just as social as she was in her high school days. She owes her leadership skills, confidence, and passion to RHS.

  Eric Lundquist

  Eric Lundquist lives in Chicago, where he is a process development scientist for Abbott Laboratories. (“Basically, if you see on the news someone manipulating red liquid in a Petri dish, that’s what I do—but on a large scale.”) He’s happily married and has two beautiful daughters.

  He said his parents live in the same house in Richmond, the one he grew up in. Over the years, his mom has clipped out articles from the Palladium-Item relating to my books and to my father’s death and sent them to Eric. He told me he’s proud of me. I told him how much he meant to me and how sorry I was for the way I acted when I was silly and sixteen. He said the smiley face I drew, all those years ago, is still there on the basement chalkboard.

  Alex Delaney

  After high school, Alex traveled the country in a van, following the Grateful Dead from state to state, city to city. He belonged to a hippie cartel, living a carefree lifestyle, part of the counterculture. Now he lives in Colorado. He is, according to him, one part Grizzly Adams, one part Buddhist monk. He has never married and is an accomplished stonemason, one of the best known, most in-demand in the state. His brother Chris was killed nine years ago in a kayaking accident and Alex says that tragic loss opened the world to him. He now makes the most of every day, traveling the world when he can, scuba diving, snowboarding, snorkeling with whale sharks.

  When we spoke recently, he told me about his dog Vela, who was just a puppy when he inherited her from Chris. He said, “I guess you could say she’s the third most significant woman in my life. The first two were Diane Weigle and you.”

  I said, “Can I put that in the book?”

  He said, “You can put it all in, sweetheart. I’m just honored to be included.”

  Tommy Wissel

  In 1989, Tommy joined the navy at the start of the Persian Gulf War. As he says, he saw a lot of the world as well as a lot of devastation. “It really makes you appreciate what we have.” He married Pam, the girl from County Market, that same year. He got out of the navy in 1993 and moved back to Indiana, where he worked for Dana Corporation. In 2004 Dana moved its operations to Mexico, and, Tommy says, “with the grades I got in Spanish (and the fact that I once pissed off Señor Sackett so bad that he sent himself to the office), I figured this probably was not a good transition for me.” So he took advantage of the tuition-free schooling offered for displaced workers and received a degree in electronics. He is now the maintenance supervisor at Smith Dairy in Richmond. He and Pam and their five kids— Maggie, Emily, Jacob, Katie, and Sarah—live in Lynn, Indiana, and his children attend Randolph Southern schools (one in every even grade except sixth). Tommy and Pam will celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary this year.

  Whenever things get a little too intense around the house—whenever the girls overrun things—Tommy says to his son, “Jake, let’s go get some ice cream.” That’s their code to get out and take a break. Mostly he tries to keep his kids from pulling anything over on him or running too wild like he used to. He says they’re surprisingly—shockingly—well behaved.

  Tom Mangas, Heather Craig, Dan Allen, Jennifer Niven, Teresa Ripperger, Sherri Dillon, and Tommy Wissel

  Extra Credit

  It’s got a tiny skyscape,

  And the people are happy here …

  Back again in Richmond,

  Where the people all drive slow,

  Back again in Richmond,

  Where the people never go!

  —“Back Again in Richmond,” original song by Jennifer and Joey

  Each book is a journey. The journey of my first two books was rewarding and very special. The third, my novel, was deeply fulfilling in ways I can’t describe. But the journey of writing this book was by far the most laughout-loud, tease-your-hair-up fun. It was also surprisingly moving. It took me back to a happy time when my dad was alive and my parents were together, when Joey lived just across town, when I was young and silly and hadn’t ever lost anything or anyone, and it reunited me with some wonderful people. It also made me feel unnervingly like a high school girl again.

  The research was very different this time around. Instead of archives and libraries, I talked to real people and dug through my own memories. Mary Lou Griffey, alumni director at Richmond High School, generously gave me access to numerous yearbook photos spanning nearly a hundred years. After sorting through thousands of pictures, I stumbled across a photo of Joey, Laura, and myself from our Judy on Purpose photo shoot. The file was titled “High Hair,” and Mary said it had been used in a display at the school as the single example of 1980s hairstyles. “Great,” said Laura when I told her about it. “Of all the hair in all the years of that entire decade, they of course chose us.”

  The thing about writing a memoir is that if you want to use people’s real names it can be a good idea to get their okay to use those names in your book. This is something that didn’t occur to me when I sold my book about high school. At the time I sent out the proposal, I was having so much fun reliving every silly, embarrassing, humiliating, crazy adventure I had back in Richmond, that I didn’t stop to think about the other people involved in those adventures. The ones I would decide to contact to say:

  You can imagine how much fun it was to contact my classmates. And what the response was like, especially since they are all mothers and fathers and hard workers and businesspeople and heads of companies and upstanding, responsible citizens now.

  Some of my favorite replies:

  From Tom Mangas: “I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. Just as long as you change my name.”

  From Jeff Shirazi: “Um. What exactly is going to be in this book? Just how risqué are you planning to get?”

  From one of the cheerleaders (re. the subject of making out): “Jennifer, do not put this in the book! I don’t want my children to think their mother was a slut!”

  From Curt Atkisson: “Turned 40 yet? That dread can only be matched by finding out that
a woman you dated in high school who became a well-known writer is now writing an autobiographical book.”

  From my own mother: “I’ve just decided that I would like you to change my name in this book.”

  Is it any wonder that, when I proposed an in-person minireunion for the purpose of sharing stories and pictures and memories, it was almost impossible to (a) choose a date, and (b) get people together? Remember that I did not go to a small school.

  No, RHS is huge and our class was huge, which means there were many, many people to contact before this book could ever see the light of day. But the minireunion (in Richmond, of course) was fun and everyone was amazingly supportive. Jeff Shirazi even rented a plane and flew it himself from Columbus, Ohio, to the Richmond Municipal Airport so he could bring me some albums of high school pictures. (Which made my high school self squeal: Oh my God! Jeff Shirazi is renting a plane to come meet me!)

  At the minireunion, we relived the old stories. We laughed so hard my stomach hurt for days afterward. My classmates let me photograph them. They let me record them as we talked and laughed and talked and laughed. They shared stories with me that I had never heard. They agreed to let me use their names in the book. Even Tom Mangas changed his mind and agreed (albeit tentatively, warily), although he had visited with his mother before coming to meet us and received the following advice: “Be careful what you say because she might write it down!”

  They have given me their full support, these former classmates of mine. Everyone has been great (far better than I would have been given the subject matter!), but I do have to single out a few folks:

  Joe Kraemer, without whom none of these pages would exist. I wouldn’t have survived Richmond (college, Los Angeles, life) without him. Thanks for being, bar none, my BFF.

  Eloise Larkin Abernathy (the pseudonym my mother, Penelope Niven, suggested I use to conceal her identity in this book) who taught me all about Big Dreams and who has learned many a shocking thing about her daughter while reading this manuscript, but who continues to love me anyway.

  Jack F. McJunkin Jr., fastest father on earth (be it in car or on foot), who isn’t here to see this book, but who lived through much of it while it was happening with great patience, style, and humor (I realize now in retrospect).

  John Hreno, who has been to every reunion and who knows every story.

  Laura Lonigro—best girlfriend ever. Thanks for pictures, late-night phone calls, laughter, memories, and moving to Richmond all those years ago. What on earth would I have done without her?

  Heather Craig, for being there before anyone else, and for being there again.

  Teresa Ripperger Radtke, for her enthusiasm, generous help, and for nearly out–Harper Leeing Joey. If you are writing a book and need something organized, call Teresa!

  Jeff Shirazi, for going the extra air miles and for entrusting me with his photo albums.

  Tommy Wissel, for some of the funniest (and most unprintable) stories I’ve ever heard. He is a book all by himself.

  Eric Lundquist, for first love.

  Alex Delaney, for the bear, for boxes opened, and for himself.

  Dan and Kim Allen, for going above and beyond.

  Tom Dehner, for his generous, modest self. I giggled for five full minutes after talking to him on the phone the first time, and, of course, called Joey immediately afterward to tell him all about it. (“Oh my God! I just talked to Tom Dehner!”)

  Shane M., for Barrett Attic days, Sounds from the Attic, and letting this high school girl hang out with him.

  Tom Mangas, for letting me use his real name.

  Sherri Dillon Bergum, for proving me wrong about cheerleaders, and for sharing her newfound sparkling wit.

  Becky Scheele, for party pictures, yearbooks, girl time, and for “keeping it real.”

  Hether Rielly Schlosser (fastest driver in the Midwest), Curtis Atkisson, Ross Vigran, Lisa Fanning, Dan Mikeska, Robert Ignacio, Ronnie Stier, Leigh Torbeck Walkotte, Todd Irwin, and Troy Hildreth for all their help.

  Mr. Van Shank, for saving me from Flossy Flamingo and showing me what a great teacher truly is.

  Mary Lou Griffey, Rachel Sheeley, and Sue King—three marvelous researchers and treasured friends.

  Mike and Melanie Kraemer, my adopted parents, who rescued Joey and me from more than one catastrophe with the car, and who have miraculously managed to maintain their sense of humor and their youthful good looks.

  Penelope Niven, John Hreno, Roy Hall, Angelo Surmelis, and Lisa Brucker, who didn’t go to high school with me but who read the book in its rough form and got it. I crown you honorary kings and queens!

  John Ware, my remarkable agent and friend, for his constant encouragement and his faith in this project. He would have made a terrific cheerleader (in the best sense of the word!).

  The amazing team at Simon Spotlight—Jennifer Bergstrom and Tricia Boczkowski, Katie Rizzo, and Michael Nagin for the super-cool cover. And most of all to Sarah Sper, kindred spirit as well as dynamite editor supreme.

  Charlie Sheen, Ramon Estevez, and David Woodbury for believing in this book, and Lisa Lang, Wendy Steinhoff, and everybody at Warner Bros. for seeing its small-screen potential.

  Satchmo, Rumi, and Lulu, the most involved, devoted literary cats I’ve ever known.

  Heather Webb, for making my hair much smaller than it was in high school.

  And to Richmond High School, Dennis Middle School, Westview Elementary School, Earlham College, Morrisson-Reeves Library, the Palladium-Item, the Wayne County Vistor’s Center, and, most of all, to Richmond, Indiana, my hometown. I hope you’ll still let me visit after you read this book.

  Q & A with Jennifer Niven McJunkin

  • Who were you in high school? I was sometimes a brain, sometimes a beauty, sometimes a rebel, sometimes the girl next door, sometimes popular, sometimes a wallflower, sometimes Scarlett O’Hara at the barbecue. I was a chameleon.

  • Who did you want to be in high school? Demi Moore, Scarlett O’Hara, Jaclyn Smith, George Sand, Stevie Nicks, Frida from ABBA, Jane Austen, Belinda Carlisle, Debbie Harry. I wanted to be anyone larger than life who moved on the world stage.

  • Who are you now (in what ways are you similar to your high school self)? I’m still more comfortable with men than with women and I still trust men more (other than my mother, the women in my family, and a handful of girlfriends). I’m still a flirt. I still feel like an outsider sometimes, especially in smaller places. I’m confident and I know who I am. I’m an artist. I’m boy crazy. I’m silly. I’m disciplined. I’m serious. I’m spontaneous. I want everyone to like me. I try to please people. I’m happy. I have fun all the time. I worry about everything. I’m positive. I am younger than my age. I dream big. I think anything is possible. I still plan to be a rock star. I am constantly growing at lightning speed. I like loud music and driving fast. None of these things have changed.

  • If you had to label your high school self in a simple category, what would that be? On a more superficial level, I was the flirt. On a deeper level, I was the outsider. I never truly felt like I fit in, although I wanted to.

  • What do you think made your high school experience so unique/special? There was something about that one enormous high school in that one small town. All eyes were on us. We were all collected into one school. Even when I was dying to get out of Richmond and RHS and go far, far away to the big city, there was still a part of me that was proud of that big, grand high school and the impression it made, the pride the town took in it, the quirky and charming town itself, and the colorful characters unique to Richmond. I remember the way my classmates looked at me when I went to college in New Jersey—with people who’d grown up in Manhattan or Philadelphia or Boston or L.A. When I said I grew up in Indiana, they looked at me as if I was from Mars. And there was a part of me that really enjoyed that.

  • What’s the most valuable thing you learned from your high school experience? Besides learning to type, I learned to talk about things that affect
you, even if someone says you shouldn’t. Not to hold things in because this can damage you—it’s not healthy. To let people see inside those boxes. To really experience what’s in front of you at the moment without always looking ahead toward the next thing, because you just might miss what’s right there. And what was right there in front of me were some pretty incredible people in a pretty incredible place. I’m glad I was able to realize it before I left.

  For the Reader …

  Now it’s your turn …

  High School Questions

  • Who were you in high school?

  • Who did you want to be in high school?

  • Who are you now (in what ways are you similar to your high school self)?

  • If you had to label your high school self in a simple category, what would that be? (Were you the jock, the brain, the nerd, the geek, the wallflower, etc.?)

  • What do you think made your high school experience so unique/special?

  • Craziest memories?

  • Funniest memories?

  • Hardest/saddest memories?

  • Can you share specific memories of the following:

  • Teachers (Those you hated, those you loved; funniest, favorite, most memorable classroom moments.)

  • Skipping school

  • Detention/other punishments (Specific times you might have gotten into trouble.)

  • Breakups (Friendships? Romances?)

  • Sex and dating (Did you feel like everyone was doing it but you? Were you doing it? Did you want to do it but had no one to do it with? Did you do it but wish you’d waited?)

  • Parties (Do any specific party moments stand out? Funny ones? Scary ones?)

  • Anything else you want to add?

 
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