Red River High School seniors had a sendoff event to remember, thanks to support from the school’s Class of 2001.

Earlier this year, when members of the Class of '01 decided not to hold a 20-year reunion because of the pandemic, they opted instead to raise funds for the school’s Class of '21 senior picnic.

In this most unusual year, fundraising for the seniors’ celebration was not possible, due to the pandemic. Receiving an infusion of $1,400 from the Class of '01 “opened up funding to do some other stuff and allowed us to give back more for the senior class,” said Tyler Nelson, RRHS activities director.

At the event, held last week, the seniors heard a talk by Hunter Pinke, the UND football player who was paralyzed in a skiing accident in December 2019. Later, they gathered for a class photo and enjoyed a barbecue picnic, outdoor activities and games at Cushman Field.

The donated funds helped to pay for many of these activities, the purchase of food for the picnic and T-shirts for the seniors, Nelson said.

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The idea to support the Class of '21 started in February when, communicating through their class’s Facebook page, Kaitlyn McKechnie and her classmates expressed mixed feelings about meeting for a 20-year reunion.

“Back in February was a very different time than now,” McKechnie said. Conditions then made some classmates wary of an in-person event.

“Back in February or March I don’t think anybody knew what conditions would be like – I mean, in Minnesota, they didn’t really relax all of the (restrictions on) gatherings and things like that until just a week ago,” she said. “For me, I don’t think we could have planned ahead with something without really knowing what the future was going to look like.”

“I think in order to plan something, we would have had to start in February or March, and that just didn’t feel right then,” she said.

There was a lot of back and forth about having a reunion.

“So I just wrote on the page, ‘if we can’t get together, what could we do together?’ ” said McKechnie, a teacher in Duluth. “That got a lot of responses.”

She contacted Red River Principal Kris Arason and learned that seniors usually do a lot of fundraising for the year-end celebration, but the pandemic had nixed those efforts this year. Arason suggested the Class of '01 could help by fundraising for the senior picnic.

McKechnie set up online accounts to accept donations and posted a message on Facebook.

“People just started donating, and we got up to $1,200 pretty quickly,” she said. About 50 people donated.

“We even had one person, who luckily, one day into it, said if you don’t get enough money, I’ll give you a check for whatever you need. ... But I ended up not needing his help because we got enough people to give smaller donations.

“We ended up raising $1,400 because more people wanted to donate after we reached the $1,200,” she said.

McKechnie marvels at the difference two decades can make.

“Twenty years ago, we had the internet, but the Class of 2001 did not have cell phones, we did not have Facebook, that’s for sure,” she said. “I just think it’s fascinating to then also look back and see, wow, how different things are now – like the fact that we can fundraise $1,200 and people just send money via (the phone app) Venmo to my cell phone.”

“I think it puts into perspective how things can change in 20 years, right?” she said. “And this whole year has put into perspective how life has changed, so I think that’s why people were so willing to give, and that it’s so easy. That’s something that is pretty new for this generation of people.”

On further reflection, she said, the classes of '01 and '21 have something in common: their education was interrupted by extraordinary events – the Flood of '97 and the pandemic of '20, said McKechnie, who was an eighth-grader at the time of the flood.

It’s also interesting to think, she said, that some members of the Class of '21 may be children of her classmates.

The Class of '21 is planning to produce a “thank you” video for the Class of '01.