In fall 1974, 10 Redbirds started a friendship that has lasted 42 years and counting. Over the weekend of July 23, these Illinois State alumni and their families returned to Normal to attend the Redbird-themed wedding of Joe Emerich ’10 and Casey Miller ’09.

Casey is the daughter of Bob Miller ’74, one of the original friends from that 1974 group. “To have everyone travel back to campus to celebrate my daughter’s wedding shows the strength of the friendships we’ve created and maintained over the years,” Bob Miller said.

man holding newspaper

The wedding couple created a special eight-page edition of The Daily Vowdette, based on Illinois State’s student newspaper, The Vidette. (Photo by Mark Romine)

The group’s friendship began when they shared a house on West Locust Street. They bonded over college experiences and their shared values. As the men started to graduate and go their separate ways, they decided to reunite once a year to maintain the bond they had created.

The men kept their promises, as there is a formal annual reunion every year over the last weekend of July. The “Annual,” as it has come to be called, has been held in a number of places over the years and has grown considerably in size.

“As everyone started families, the children became involved, and it grew to feel like one extended family,” Bob Miller said. “There are over 60 of us now.”

In 1992 the Annual’s location settled at the Wisconsin lake house of Dyann (Chana) ’76 and Ken ’76 Kotansky. Each year the families bond over boating, swimming, picnics, team sports, “the gauntlet” obstacle course, and fish fries.

This year the reunion was held just a block from Illinois State’s campus, in celebration of Casey and Joe’s wedding, at the Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal.

Al Bowman at wedding

Former Illinois State University President Al Bowman introduces the wedding party. (Photo by Mark Romine)

Casey reached out to Alumni Relations and Illinois State Athletics to secure gift bags filled with Illinois State swag for Redbird guests attending the wedding. Forty-seven Redbirds from seven states were in attendance. Former Illinois State President Al Bowman introduced the wedding party, and Reggie Redbird made an appearance on the dance floor.

Casey and Joe met when their paths continually crossed as undergraduates. Casey, a member of Zeta Tau Alpha, and Joe, who played on Illinois State’s golf team, had different experiences at Illinois State. Eventually, their friendship turned into a romance when they took a nine-day road trip from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Chicago.

“We chose to have the wedding here because it provided all the elements we were looking for. Guests could enjoy the restaurants and sights in uptown; alumni could revisit the Quad. I never thought I’d be in Pub II in my wedding dress,” said Casey. “Why would you go anywhere else?”

Both Casey and Bob Miller agreed that it was an exceptional experience to have generations of Redbirds together on campus again. Commitment to friendship is one of their highest values. Illinois State has given Bob Miller what most look for in a college experience—lifelong friendships.

“My mom once said to me, ‘If you have your health and you have your friends, nothing else matters,’” Bob Miller said. “And to have good, solid friendships for this long, I think is phenomenal. We are so blessed.”

(Photo by Mark Romine)

Reggie Redbird and several Illinois State alumni, including Casey’s father, Bob Miller (next to Casey), celebrated Joe and Casey’s wedding. Casey has continued her father’s tradition, in a way, by hosting an annual Zeta Tau Alpha Christmas party started by her 2005 pledge class. (Photo by Mark Romine)

The following Illinois State alumni started the Annual: Jerry Jonen ’79, Ken Kotansky ’76, Dave Labrum ’76, Mark Lyons ’77, Bob Miller ’74, Dave Porter ’83, Kirk Rimsnider ‘75, Brian Stiles ’76, Jim Talab ’79, and Tom Wisler ’75.

Andrea Casali can be reached at