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Wantagh grads remembered with digital walls

Classmates memorialized in labor of love

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Mindye Kahn-Brunner cares about the fellow members of her Wantagh High School class of 1975. So much so that in 1999, she joined a website, Classmates.com, so she could answer for herself the question of “whatever happened to … ?”

What she learned was that many of her classmates, and others with whom she went to school, had died in the nearly 25-year interterm. And she wanted to know more.

Early the following year, she decided to start a site of her own, so she could find out who among her friends and classmates had died. “I wanted to make sure they were remembered,” she said. Every day, new people joined the website.

The main focus of the site, https://wantaghinmemoryof.homestead.com, was to memorialize all those Wantagh High School students in her class who died each year, and to add their memory to those who had gone before.

Glenn Strachan had grown up in Wantagh, graduated at age 16 in 1975 and moved to California. He, too, wondered about his former classmates and acquaintances.

Strachan hadn’t known Kahn-Brunner in Wantagh. He was a software engineer who lived in Silicon Valley, he said, when he saw an early iteration of Kahn-Brunner’s “Virtual Memorial” website that memorialized members of her class.

Strachan’s interest went further. He wanted to create digital record of the entire school, focusing especially on those who had died in the preceding year. And it received an unexpected boost from former Wantagh High Vice Principal Nicholas Lennick, who sent Strachan hard copies of the school’s yearbooks, dating back as far as 1956.

Strachan was able to digitize these books at a rate of slightly more than three books per year. After 17 years, he has finally finished the books Lennick sent him.

To pay for the effort, Strachan held what amounted to a miniature version of a highly specialized auction. Whoever bid the highest won a hard copy of the yearbook on which Strachan had been working that year. Strachan himself kept a complete digitized scan of the book.

“I wasn’t that connected to Wantagh when I lived there,” Strachan said. “I graduated early and moved to California when I was 16.” He spent most of his working life until recently at various firms in Silicon Valley before moving back two years ago to take a development post at a major East Coast university, where he still works.

“My wife has stayed much more connected to Wantagh,” he said, “and we have neighbors in D.C. who are from Wantagh.”

But “Mindye is the heart and soul of the project,” Strachan said. Their website, https://wantaghinmemoryof.homestead.com, is maintained through donations and features entries of all kinds, including veterans, a guest book for visitors to sign and a chat room. It is clear from the entries that Kahn-Brunner’s labor of love has inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of Wantagh graduates to maintain their connection to their hometown and their loved ones.

So far, Strachan has recorded more than 1,300 deaths out of the some 13,000 who have attended in the years covered, including Strachan’s own brother, Merrill, class of ’68, who died 10 years ago.

The page has also inspired a number of Facebook spinoffs, but none have the emotional depth of the original.

Educator Dr. Steven Lando, of Great Neck, another member of the class of ’75, has used Kahn-Brunner’s original to create a poster for the class of ’75’s 40th-anniversary reunion. Those who are planning to attend have been adding comments and posting images of their own, he said. And Lando has discovered an additional 29 classmates have died in the past 12 months.

My wife [Jean] asks why I do it,” Strachan said. “I tell her, ‘No one else will do it.’ But I’m also happy to think people still remember those who have passed.”