This May, Highland was privileged to host a group of friends who have been retreating together for decades. These friends have been a significant part of each other’s lives through the years, and one way they have fostered their connection is through yearly retreats. They call themselves the New York Gang, and 2017 marks about 44 years of gatherings.
In the 1960’s, this group of friends were young people living in New York City and Long Island. Many of them met at The House of Friendship, a Mennonite Church in the Bronx. Their common bond was the need for a community of supportive relationships, particularly as young families far from their home networks. As they raised their children together, they became family to one another in very real ways. They recall a time when one young boy could not distinguish between his relatives and friends from the New York Gang, insisting that the adults from their group were his aunts and uncles.
In about 1973, the older children of the group went to summer camp at Spruce Lake in Pennsylvania. At the end of the week, their parents decided to stay for the weekend rather than immediately making the long drive home. They had so much fun that they extended an invitation for their friends to join them the following year, and a tradition was born. They have gathered each year for the 44 years since then, either for a retreat or for someone’s wedding.
Over the years, the New York Gang has supported each other through sorrow as well as joy. They have prayed for each other through sickness, and grieved spouses lost. One unexpected loss stands out as a particularly strong memory for the group. Just days before their 1996 retreat, a last-minute schedule change put one of their group on TWA Flight 800, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island, killing all on board. Everyone except the new widow gathered for their retreat as planned, and they shed a lot of tears and prayed together that weekend. Most of the group extended their trip to be at the funeral that Monday.
To this day, the group has continued their habit of loving and supporting each other through whatever life brings their way. Though they miss those they have lost, they have also welcomed in new members. Several who had lost spouses have since remarried, and the new spouses were all quickly adopted into the group. The New York Gang has also grown by inviting in others they knew from back in the New York days.
The group started coming to Highland Retreat in 2013, when they were looking for a more intimate place to gather. They enjoy being at a place where they are known. A big draw for them was Highland’s Executive Director, Kent Kauffman, who is one of the children of the group. Kent was a toddler the first year they retreated together, so the New York Gang has known him all his life. One person remembers Kent as a boy guessing that they were 76 years old, and commented, “I am not 76 yet, but I will be shortly, and I think we will still be getting together.”