Fifty years ago, the Beatles took America by storm, a postage stamp cost 5 cents, Joe Frazier won an Olympic gold medal in boxing and the first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line in Dearborn, Mich.
But in Weatherford, the high school welcomed its first-ever foreign exchange student from Germany.
Now, some 50 years later, the Weatherford High School Class of 1964 got together a few weeks ago to celebrate is half-century reunion, and they were again joined by their long-distance friend.
Christian Schnabel, who currently resides in Lüneburg, Germany, once again made the 5,075-mile trip to Weatherford to reconnect with old classmates and to talk about what has happened over the past 50 years.
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“My visit to Weatherford and the class reunion was wonderful,” Schnabel said. “Going down memory lane, I call it. The people, the places after 50 years, the friendships…it was overwhelming. I felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle.”
Schnabel’s journey to Weatherford was made possible through the International Christian Youth Exchange program and his host family, Rev. and Mrs. Robert Haynes and their son, Bobby. Rev. Haynes was the pastor at Couts Methodist Church during this time, and his family lived in the old parsonage at 117 E. First St.
The International Christian Youth Exchange began in 1958 and was one of only a few programs that offered overseas opportunities for youth 16-18 years of age. Unfortunately, the program dissolved in 1972.
When Schnabel first moved in with the Haynes family, he could speak only a few words of English but within nine months after arriving in America, he placed second in a statewide oratorical contest with his speech being delivered in English.
After finally moving back to Germany in 1966, Schnabel studied Theology at Abitur (1966) and at The University of Gottingen (1971) before becoming a pastor. He served as pastor for 40 years before retiring in 2009.
Schnabel and his wife, Marie Elisabeth Schnabel, ne’e Svensson, currently have four children and five grandchildren.
But there’s more to the story. Schnabel’s oldest daughter, Johanna Elisabeth, also participated as a foreign exchange student and came to Weatherford High School during the 1991-92 school year.
“[Johanna] enjoyed it,” Christian said. “Maybe one of our grandchildren will continue the tradition.”
Schnabel’s letter to his classmates that is printed in the 1964 Weatherford High School Melon-Vine yearbook:
To my classmates:
If an American comes to Berlin and fortunately meets only friendly Germans, he will think all Germans are friendly.
Consciously or unconsciously, it is always the personal experience that influences one’s thoughts about a foreign country. When I came to Texas, I was critical and skeptical as everybody is about strange things at the beginning of a new experience.
In the remembrance of my entire life, Weatherford will be symbolic of Texas, Weatherford Senior High School of all American high schools; and even you friendly classmates are in my eyes representative of all Americans.
I have, of course, not only seen nice things in this year, but most of my doubts you have destroyed with friendliness and love.
I will tell in Germany about this year with you. I have also become to a certain degree a Texan. You may question that because of my accent, but habits are faster to learn than a language, and I will be proud of the Texan in me.
Many thanks to my teachers and all other friendly school officers, including the ladies from the kitchen.
Christian G. Schnabel