People travel from near and far to attend a class reunion, but one member of the Class of 1969 traveled over 5,000 miles from her home country of Turkey to attend the Lake Mills High School Class of 1969 50th reunion, June 22 at the Lake Mills Golf Club.
Begumsen Ergenekon, was 17-years-old when she came to Lake Mills High School in the late summer of 1968 to stay with the Rev. and Mrs. Wilbur Behrend as a foreign exchange student through AFS.
She stayed in town with her American sister at a bed and breakfast for several days of the trip and stayed the remainder of the trip with fellow member of the Class of 1969 Ann Copsey.
She has great memories of her host family.
“I called them Dad and Mom,” she said. “I’m sorry they both passed away.”
Ruth Behrend passed away in January 2018 the same year as Ergenekon’s own mother.
“I lost two mothers and both my father’s too.”
Some of Ergenekon’s favorite memories of her time at Lake Mills High School included singing in the choir, playing the “foreign witness” in the school play and participating in forensics.
Another difference from her Turkish school experience included switching classrooms.
“Back home we waited in a classroom and different teachers came.”
She had the experience of traveling to Washington DC during President Dwight Eisenhower’s funeral during her time in the US.
“I had the chance to see his casket and coming from a military family myself I was quite impressed by that.”
She heard an address from President Richard Nixon.
They also visited the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks in New York City.
Ergenekon sees a lot of similarities between Lake Mills and her home country.
“I’m very excited about the research that’s going on in Rock Lake about the Tyranena people because Turan in Turkish means the ‘land of Turks,’” she said. “I feel there is a connection between that name and Turkey.”
She said Turkish people traveled through the Bering Strait and met Native Americans.
“They speak a Turkish related language.”
Ergenekon visited the Aztalan Museum and State Park for the first time on her trip last week.
“I was impressed by the preserved site, because I’m a social anthropologist and archeologist.”
Ergenekon met her future husband from Norway on her trip home. He was an AFS student in Janesville. They have one son Emre who is assistant director at a Sweetish software company in New York City.
Ergenekon is retired from the Department Graduate Program of Archaeometry, School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Middle East Technical University in Turkey. She is working on the memoirs of her life, including her time spent in Lake Mills. She encourages classmates of hers to contribute to her book by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.