The Party of the Half Century

The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed because there are no innocents, just a half-century milestone we’re thrilled to be marking and a legendary party about which some people would prefer we don’t speak.

To celebrate properly, and excise old demons, speak we must.

Our story begins on a cold December evening in 1984, when Ron and Peggy Kostelnik traveled out of town and left their middle daughter, the good one, home alone.

Word spread the way it did back in the 80s — a whisper here, a high five there, a rotary phone dialed among friends. Eventually, most, though not all, of the Xavier Class of 1986, many from the Class of 1985 and some from the Class of 1987 gathered in gleeful celebration of a parentless home.

Some brought beer. Most drank it.

The doorbell rang.

Kathy’s friend Brenda answered the door.

A couple of Appleton Police Officers politely introduced themselves.

Brenda closed the door. She reconsidered that response, and cracked the door back open.

The APD reintroduced themselves and got to work, eventually citing most of the attendees for underage drinking.

Those kinds of adolescent mistakes happen from time to time, but I think the real story here is how mad our parents got when they found out, as they did via a phone call from Kathy that night, that their daughter, the good one, had broken the law.

In fact, as soon as he got back to Appleton, our dad stormed down to the police station, not to reprimand the officers for their treatment his princess, but to suggest they increase both the number and severity of the citations. They declined.

I recently spoke to now retired Appleton Police Officer Rick Nilson, who said he was a young officer, relatively new to the force, when he got a call on a Sunday evening that an angry man was in the lobby of the police station.

“I walked out into the lobby and I didn’t know who your dad was at the time but he looked huge to me and he was just livid,” Officer Nilson said. “Most parents come down to the station because they want to get their kids out of whatever ticket we’ve issued. But, your dad was just the opposite.”

Back at home, Kathy’s punishment was swift and impressively creative.:

  1. She was grounded for the rest of her high school career (later amended to three weeks).
  2. She was made to get a job at a Darboy Fried Chicken branch, then walking distance from our house, where she single-handedly shredded cabbage for 200 pounds of coleslaw a day.
  3. She was banned from a much coveted class trip to Spain. (They lifted the ban after an eloquent plea from the heroic Señora Wisnefski.)
  4. My dad dropped Kathy off at school that Monday morning and announced that it would be the last ride to school she ever got from him.
  5. Neither she nor her younger sister Jenny were ever left home alone overnight again.

Our mom was also Kathy’s English teacher and the Junior Class Moderator, which made for an awkward Monday in Mrs. Kostelnik’s English class.

Ay yi yi.

What a disaster!

So, we, her siblings, in-laws and nieces and nephews, are recreating it. Naturally.

On August 18th, in honor of Kathy’s 50th birthday, we’re hosting a big party. In attendance will be those original party goers — including Brenda — brave enough to face our mother, who will also be there and will still be mad.

“I just don’t understand why we would be celebrating that party, Laura!”

A few of the arresting officers, some of whom, like Officer Nilson, have since retired, will be joining the fun, along with the indomitable Señora Wisnefski and anyone else who wants to swing by and wish the amazing Kathy Kostelnik Finley a Happy 50th birthday.

Kathy rebounded nicely from her early disgrace, and became a celebrated teacher, library media specialist, wife and stepmother. She’s risen above every challenge, including the six-year battle with cancer she continues to fight today, with grace and poise.

But, honestly, I speak for my brother Mike and sister Jenny, when I say, we still can’t believe our parents’ middle daughter, Kathy, the good one, hosted that party!

We’re not leaving anyone out of this shindig. Swing by our house, the scene of the original crime, on August 18th to wish Kathy a Happy Birthday!

We’d love to see you there.

Kari Me Brenda Gary
Kathy, and Brenda and their friends Gary and Kari look so innocent here don’t they? In truth, they mostly were. But they also had a lot of fun…
Gary, John, Me
Here’s Gary, John (AKA Jigger), and Kathy around 1985.
The Whales!
This picture really doesn’t belong in this post, but I’m including it anyway. While a student at UW Madison, Kathy called me for suggestions on what she should be for Halloween. At the time, the big news of the day was all about a group of whale stuck in ice. I told her they should go as a bunch of whales stuck in ice. I was half joking, but they ran with it. Apparently, they had a great time.
Amy Me 1986
Kathy and her co-hort Amy yucking it up.
Spain - Amy S. and Steve
Amy and Steve on the trip to Spain Kathy almost missed.
Ski Trip '86 - 2
More ski trip fun…
Ski Trip '86
I’m pretty sure they’re singing…
Brenda Me Graduation
Kathy and Brenda, rebounding nicely from their junior year mishap, graduated from high school in 1986.
Paula Me
Here’s Kathy and her friend (and future college roommate) Paula at their high school graduation.
Laura and Me
Kathy and another college roommate Laura.

15 thoughts on “The Party of the Half Century

  1. I remember them that young and beautiful. Great kids! And the famous party never changed my opinion of them. Looking forward to sharing with all of them at this year’s party.

  2. Thanks for getting that Spain trip back for me, Señora! I still don’t know how you did that. I’m looking forward to this year’s party – but I still insist I was the good one!!

  3. I remember that party well. I showed up with Jenny Hodgkiss and saw how out of control it was and was too afraid to get in trouble so I never even stepped foot in the house. I was way too afraid of my dad to get in trouble because he would have responded the same way your dad did!!

  4. Oh my oh my ….I had strict parents so I was afraid to pull any stunts while in HS. (until I got to college and discovered dorm life, alcohol and boys — another sequel) My brother, five years younger, on the other hand, was a professional tester of the system. He came home one time from surfing at Padre Island and bragged to me he got a traffic ticket for possession of pot. He explained there was noting wrong with it — “after all, Johnny Carson smoked it!” Well I was better than the police at Padre; I sang like a canary to my parents. Dad finally found the hidden joint and when he heard my brother’s noisy car nearing, he lit the joint and left it burning in the alcove where my brother had to come through. Half way through his stroll into the house, the teenage with the flowing locks froze in his tracks. He too was grounded for the rest of his high school career (his later amended to a month). His payback was raising four teenagers. I’m sure my dad is smiling from Heaven.

  5. Laura,
    Often thought but not expressed until now – thank you for sharing your writing gift with us all. You must have had a good teacher 😉 I have laughed and cried reading your pages. Today it was laugh. While I wasn’t at the Gen 1 party (still think I should have gotten an A in English for not attending), I’m really looking forward to Gen 2. What a clever idea.
    -Whale 2

    1. You definitely should have gotten an A for not attending! Looking forward to seeing you at the party!

    2. Whale 2 –
      Your English teacher just agreed that you deserved an A for not attending. She and I are both thrilled that you’ll be at this year’s event! See you in a few weeks!

      Whale 3

  6. I will NEVER forget that Monday English class. Your mom was so mad! We all just wanted to shrink under our desks. I’m hoping to make it up that weekend. Thanks for the memories!

    1. Thanks Cori! I thought I was the only one who remembered how hard that Monday was!! I hope you can make it to the party. We’d love to see you – that includes your former English teacher!!

  7. Happy Birthday to the good one!! Hey, it was the 80’s. It happened. (Class of ‘86, woot!!) Great story and relatable. Brought back a few memories for me—not saying anymore. 😉 So, if she was the good one, does that make you the b—nah.

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