It was a simple enough idea for someone with a natural instinct for reunions: Get a bunch of the guys together, like in the old days, and make it a benefit for the high school.
Not a big organized reunion with name tags and prizes, Rob Ukropina figured, but more like the way they used to hang out at In-N-Out Burger, talking football.
The reunion that Ukropina organized last year for the 1969-72 graduates of San Marino High School was so successful that this year's repeat is almost sure to be at least twice as big, and they're already talking bigger for next year and beyond.
Ukropina says he does not remember just how or when he got the idea. He just had fond memories of Friday and Saturday nights in an era when the guys gravitated to the In-N-Out on Foothill Boulevard, he said.
"You just run into people through the years, and you kind of want a reunion that would encompass more than just your class," he said.
What such a reunion requires, Ukropina's friends say, is Ukropina.
"He's the ultimate planner," said Bruce Holley, who is co-chairman with Ukropina for this year's stag reunion, scheduled for next week.
"Rob's class reunions were the finest ever," Holley said. "The Ukropinas are known for their high energy and the art of getting people together."
A third generation San Marinan whose extended family still lives there, Ukropina organized the fifth and 10th reunions for his class of 1972, was a consultant for others and master of ceremonies at others still. Ukropina, who has his own printing company, now lives in Corona del Mar.
He said that last year he sought only to bring friends together and give a financial boost to the financially strapped San Marino High School.
"I got guys from the four classes, and we put our picture on an invitation so people could see we actually got together," he said.
They decided to make it stag, Ukropina said, "because you generally stay in touch with guys, and girls changed their names when they got married, so they're harder to locate."
They also decided to charge $25 and make it a benefit for the high school athletic fund "because we wanted some real purpose."
They asked In-N-Out to come with its catering truck to re-create the hamburgers of 15 years earlier, cooked to order. This time they were old enough to drink beer.
About 80 showed up, from about 350 invited. Many others sent money and/or asked to be invited to the next reunion, Ukropina said. The net result for the high school was $500.
This year's reunion will be Aug. 1 at the Valley Health and Racquet Club, 4221 Arden Drive, El Monte, with the same menu. Representatives of classes from 1968 to 1974 are on the organizing committee, but Ukropina said the reunion is not restricted to those years because people from as far back as the class of 1962 have asked to come.
"And if women show up, we don't have a problem with that," Ukropina said. "The way it seems to be going, it may be an all-time San Marino High School reunion next year."
Holley said he thinks a casino night for couples would be fun and would raise still more money. "I think this will just keep evolving," he said.
Holley said that San Marino grads have tended to become especially close because the town is small, people tend to settle and raise their families there and the children go through school together.
"And then we never get together again," Holley said. At last year's reunion, "we just lived in the past all day, talking football."
'I don't think anyone discussed anything in the present," Ukropina said.