Drawn to Port’s biggest one-day celebration and the rhythms of a popular band, local graduates will resume a reunion ritual Friday on the lakefront
For Port Washington High School alumni, the place to be the night before Fish Day — dubbed Fishmas Eve — is NewPort Shores’ outdoor patio at 407 E. Jackson St.
A few classes hold reunions there, but most come because they’re in town for Fish Day or to attend a class reunion elsewhere, NewPort Shores owner John Weinrich, a 1983 Port High graduate, said.
“We didn’t plan it. It just happened, and it’s been happening every Friday before Fish Day for seven years,” Weinrich said. “Everyone meets here from all over the country. Hundreds and hundreds, at least 500 last year, come. If they have a formal reunion, they leave early to come here where their friends are. It’s not just one year, it’s all the different years coming together so they see friends from other classes.”
The audience loves to rock and sing with Otto Day and the Nites, whose members are mostly Port High grads and a popular band when they were in high school, Weinrich said.
The band played at a class reunion at NewPort Shores about seven years ago and has been playing Fishmas Eve every year since, said Rich Merritt, lead vocalist who organized the band with three other Port High grads in 1978. Three new members joined the band in 2005.
“It’s our favorite show of the year. You see a lot of people you haven’t seen since the year before. As a lead up to Fish Day, I don’t think it gets any better,” said Merritt, who graduated in 1973.
“You can’t see the parking lot, it’s just all people. It’s so nice to look out and see the huge crowd, the moon on the water and the stars in the sky. It’s marvelous.”
Jim Bathke, who plays lead guitar and graduated in 1972, said the band is energized by the crowd.
“It’s really electric,” he said. “It’s so much fun to be on the stage. It’s all about the crowd.”
Sue Feith Shannon and Vicki Lunde Czisny, both 1974 Port High grads and best friends since middle school, have been in that crowd every year and even skipped family gatherings rather than missing Fish Day or Fishmas Eve.
“We shop all year around looking for things with fish on them,” Shannon said. “We’re known for our fish stickers. We give out fish stickers to anyone who doesn’t have fish on their outfits. If you see people walking around on Fish Day with fish stickers, you know they were at Fishmas Eve.
“Last year, I brought this crazy fish balloon and everyone wanted to dance with my fish. I love hanging out with my girlfriends.”
She even brings her own wine glasses with fish on them.
Dubbed the Queen of Fishmas Eve by her classmates, Shannon said her outfits for Friday nights aren’t nearly as outrageous as what she wears on Fish Day.
Terry Bretl, Class of 1972, has been to every Fishmas Eve also, figuring he’s been going about10 years.
“You see people that you may not have seen for 30 years,” he said. “One time, I talked for a long time to a guy who looked a little familiar. It turned out he used to live four doors away from me. He moved to Florida as a kid and I hadn’t seen him since.”
Otto Day and the Nites draws a big crowd wherever they play, adding to the fun, Shannon said.
Gary “Otto” Klever, who plays drums, said the crowd starts big and gets bigger as the night wears on.
“We like to pull out a lot of dancing songs that get everybody dancing and throw in songs we did in the ’70s,” said Klever, who graduated in 1971.
In addition to Merritt, Bathke and Klever, the late Scott Krier played bass guitar in the original band. The three newer members are Gary Haseley on keyboard, Wes Decker on guitar and Eric Madunic, who plays bass and is the only member who didn’t graduate from Port High.
Image Information: DRINKING FROM FISH-THEMED wine glasses, 1974 Port High graduates (from left) Vicki Lunde Czisny and Sue Feith Shannon posed with Appleton residents Nicole Jung and Katie Bathke, daughter of Otto Day and Nites guitarist Jim Bathke, during last year’s Fishmas Eve at NewPort Shores. Although Katie graduated from Appleton High School, Bathke said his daughter counts down the days to the event. Photo courtesy of Otto Day and the Nites