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University of Missouri

Pyramid Scheme

A group of 1970s graduates returns to campus to rebuild the living pyramid of their student days.

old picture of students forming human pyramid

In 1974, students whiled away time building a human pyramid. Several of the friends who lived on Rosemary Lane or Bass Avenue returned to campus Sept. 15, 2012, to rebuild their relationships and the structure.
Bottom row (L to R): Mike Clasen, unknown student, Jeff Copeland, Mark Patterson, Bob Walsh, Gary Whitaker. Second row: Maria Johnson (climbing), Mike Mattson, unknown student, Mark Thornhill, Bill Barnhart, Tom Young. Third row: Claudia Johnson, Karen Shelton, Ann Heyan, Lisa Copeland. Top row: Sandy Mattson, Nancy Barnhart.
Photo courtesy of Mike Sanders.

Last September, several living bricks from the human pyramid pictured above returned to campus to re-enact a moment from their student days and renew long-lapsed relationships.

This group of friends who met at Mizzou in the 1970s were just that. Friends. Not Greek brothers and sisters, scholars of a particular academic discipline, or fans of a sport. They hung out together; talked; listened to music; tippled; smoked (sometimes legal substances); swam (sometimes unattired); threw Frisbees; and generally caught on to life in their times of “Lean on Me” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Several of them lived in rental units on Rosemary Lane and Bass Avenue. The apartment at 1402 Rosemary was so much a headquarters that they christened the place Rosemary, called it by name and otherwise personified it. “Rosemary was our patron saint of good times, our mistress of serendipity. She wouldn’t tolerate routines or ruts,” says Mark Thornhill, BA ’75, who organized the reunion. Rosemary’s decree that party conversations must be uninhibited and wide-ranging led to a few scrapes between the friends. And on a beautiful spring day, she might suggest moving furniture into the front yard and spending the day there.

In their 1970s snapshot, the Rosemary-Bass gang might not appear to be destined for greatness. But their stories — like the time they ran off party crashers by playing an album of dry-witted monologues by New England fishermen — suggest their cleverness and resourcefulness. Among their number are a banker, cartoonist, two photographers, publisher, broadcaster, surgeon, artist, architect, nurse and psychologist.

Of all their youthful schemes and follies, building a human pyramid at Rock Bridge State Park in 1974 seems to have become their emblem. Their friendship was enough to bring several of them back to Francis Quadrangle Sept. 15. They recreated the pyramid as best they could, mindful of middle-aged bones, and filling in for missing friends with spouses and children.

Back in ’74, they never completed the original pyramid. Despite multiple tries and the powers invested in Maria Johnson’s Superman T-shirt (climbing tower on left), she never made the summit. However, the project’s fundamental optimism might be what Karen Walsh, Arts ’74, meant when she said of the group’s bond, “Certainly, this is not the end.”

Mizzou alumni from the 1970s return to the quad to recreate an old photo

Front row (L to R): Mark Thornhill, Jeff Copeland, Bob Walsh, Gary Whitaker, Mike Sanders. Second row: Lynn Kuntz, Steve Kuntz, Mike Mattson, Karen Walsh, Bill Barnhart. Third row: Cindy Thornhill, Emily West, Sara Hoffman, Cindy Copeland. Photo by Rob Hill.