Cheering on Day 1 are old family friends, at left, Tom Doody and his wife Julie flanking her mom Marge Johansson, and, to their left, Gen Johansson, and Doug Grant and his mother Fran. The Johanssons and Grants were "great neighbors" in Dhahran in the mid-'60s.
As California college kids in 1976, Julie Johansson and Andrea Csaszar-friends from the first grade in Dhahran--crashed the 10th biennial Annuitants Reunion in Monterey. In October they returned for the 30th reunion at the same hotel, but this time Julie Johansson-Doody was an annuitant herself, and Csaszar a former Aramco Services Company (ASC) employee.
"For us, back then, it was like visiting family-seeing our 'aunts and uncles' -while our parents were working in Saudi Arabia," Johansson-Doody said, amid music and nonstop conversation at the Hyatt Regency, nestled in the pines in sight of the Pacific coast. "It's the same now, only we're the 'aunts and uncles."'
That unique "homecoming" spirit prevailed for this year's 270 attendees throughout the Oct. 24-26 reunion, even though "home" was more than 8,000 miles away. Attendees ranged from 90-year-old Roy "Buddy" Haug, who joined the company in 1946 at age 20 and retired 40 years later, to Eric Madsen, who just wrapped up his 37-year career. And connections to the company and the kingdom stretched back even farther, to the early days of the enterprise.
Reunion hosts Rob and Christien Petrie
welcome guests Oct. 24.
Haug's father Roy, Sr., arrived from Bahrain to work in Dhahran in 1938, the same year Madsen's father Lynn and his uncle John Lunde joined the company-and all stayed for long careers. "It would really be sad and a shame to let that spirit go," Madsen said.
There was no fear of that in Monterey. Indeed, hosts Rob and Christien Petrie and their reunion committee guided a festival dedicated to renewing old ties and recalling connections to the kingdom so well that one could feel the homecoming spirit expand as the event unrolled.
"We sincerely hope that you will enjoy visiting and reminiscing with your ex-colleagues-which is the prime reason we are all here," Rob told guests at the reunion's launch, going on to thank guest-speaker Saud Al Ashgar, retired senior vice president of International Operations; Khalid Al Mulhim, general manager of Government Relations; and Basil Abul-Hamayel, ASC president, for attending.
From left: ASC President Basil Abul-Hamayel lauded annuitants ' contributions to the company in his Gala Banquet speech Oct. 25; Andrea Csaszar, left, and friend Julie Johansson-Doody, pals from the first grade in Dhahran, recalled attending the 10th Annuitants Reunion in Monterey as college students in 1976; keynote-speaker Saud Al Ashgar introduced his audience to a "transformed company" with accomplishments across the kingdom and around the world.
They added their voices to Saudi Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser's thoughts about the retirees' special links and importance to the company.
"There's no better word than 'family' to describe the bond among Aramcons," Nasser wrote in his welcome message. "Our people form lifelong ties. Friendships made in Aramco offices, in the field and in our company communities continue to flourish across the years and miles, whenever and wherever you meet."
He highlighted the "Who's Who" of company pioneers who had attended the Monterey reunion 40 years previously. They included Schuyler "Krug" Henry, who waded ashore at Jubail in 1933 to kick off oil exploration in Saudi Arabia, and Floyd Ohliger, who announced the 1938 oil strike that ushered the kingdom into the oil era.
"You built on [the pioneers'] accomplishments, as today's Aramcons continue building on yours," Nasser said, wishing the group a good time "as you celebrate the history you made together."
Speaking at the Gala Banquet sponsored by ASC on Oct. 25, Abul-Hamayel praised expatriates' contributions to the company. "The ones who made the first journeys to Saudi Arabia-and those who came later-helped our company become what it is today," he said. "In addition to your hard work, you mentored your Saudi colleagues and helped turn us into the strong, sophisticated workforce we are today. Your dedication made a profound difference in the success of Saudi Aramco and your collective influence continues to be felt."
He emphasized the important roles that the company's 10,000-plus expatriates from 94 nations play at Saudi Aramco and its subsidiaries and spoke about Saudi Aramco's expanding operations- to 20 cities in 14 countries today.
He said the company's global footprint had widened substantially since the 2014 reunion, with the establishment of new offices in China and the Republic of Korea, as well as th~ United States. "We inaugurated a brand new research center in Detroit last year, and over the past four years we inaugurated two other U.S. centers in Houston and Boston," he said.
Abul-Hamayel introduced Al Ashgar, the keynote speaker, who retired in 1997. He also thanked Ali Baluchi for his continued support. Baluchi has attended every annuitants' reunion but one since 1958 and he spearheaded the three expatriates' reunions held in the kingdom since 2000. Baluchi invited attendees to attend the next gathering in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
Al Ashgar reiterated the company's appreciation of the hard work and friendship of its American and other expatriate employees.
"You and your predecessors contributed immensely to the growth of Aramco and, by extension, Saudi Arabia," he said. "You left behind a heritage that you and I are all proud of being part of."
He also hailed the valuable work of retirees in America as envoys for the company and the kingdom.
"Your contribution did not stop while working in Saudi Arabia- and here I have to extend my expression of appreciation to those who were there as spouses," he said to loud applause. "You all have been good ambassadors of Saudi Arabia in your local communities."
(1) A lovely autumn evening greeted guests at the Gala Banquet on Oct. 25. (2) Nancy Howell tees off in the golf tournament won by the team of Brad Holland , Glyn Jenkins and Neil Horton. (3) Vicci Turner, right, celebrates with Adele Tave res and her mother Dee McClellan. (4) Khalid Al Mulhim, Saudi Aramco Government Relations general manager, chats with Roy ""Buddy·· Haug, who joined the company 70 years ago, and his wife Delores. (5) Laurie and Fred Swanson join in the fun on the dance floor.
He went on to describe Saudi Aramco's growth and evolution in many fields, including- on the community side- the fact that the company's dining and shopping facilities are now run by concessionaires. He drew gasps of wonder from oldtimers when he reported that the Dhahran Commissary is open around the clock and that other concessionaires' shops include Saadueddine sweets, Baskin-Robbins ice cream and Costa Coffee.
Not only that, but "half the cashiers at the Commissary are young Saudi women," he said.
He also cited Dhahran's rapid growth, with 1,500 new houses and a new Commissary planned for Dhahran Hills. Twohundred new homes are targeted for occupancy in 2017.
On the energy side, he noted that so much has happened since he retired two decades ago that he finds it hard to keep up.
"During the last few years Aramco has been transformed," he said, becoming a "major participant in the petrochemical business" through joint ventures with U.S., Japanese, French and Chinese companies to produce petrochemicals in Saudi Arabia. Other joint ventures with Chinese and Korean firms "have petrochemical production integrated with oil refining."
Another new focus lies in furthering opportunities for commerce in Saudi Arabia through the company's New Business Development organization.
He also paid tribute to the soon-to-open King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran. It includes "a 21stcentury public library, a world-class theater for 1,000 people and a cinema and a museum about the kingdom," he noted, plus special learning facilities for all ages.
Al Ashgar said its Archive would especially interest many annuitants. "[It] will make the 80-plus-year history of the company and its people available to the public and to researchers," he said. He thanked those who "have already contributed items of historic and archival significance to the company for preservation and future display."
Nearly 30 retirees and family members took the opportunity to share stories of their time with the company through filmed oral-history interviews with two representatives of the Archives team.
"The Center is capturing the firsthand accounts and experiences of employees, both Saudi and expatriate ... ," said team member Debbie Edwards. "Reminiscing through oral dialogue has the power to build a stronger bond across a diverse population of employees, creating unity and a common drive to accomplish the seemingly impossible."
(6) Ali Baluchi received a standing ovation from guests including his wife Amira for his longtime support of annuitant relations. (7) Gary and Fran Patton, who met in Dhahran, attended their first reunion. "rekindling memories of what we had," said Fran. (8) Rhona Messinger arrived in Dhahran with her new husband Robert in 1954, a year before photographer Bert Seal. whose pictures brought back many memories. (9) Snake dancing was one "order of the evening" Oct. 25. (10) Saying "goodbye" Oct. 26 was made easier by a fine Farewell Dinner, sampled here by Becky Cline and John Powell.
Khalid Al Mulhim reached out to retirees to turn their stories about Saudi society into educational tools in the United States. He asked them to think about new ways of explaining Saudi Arabia to friends and neighbors, stressing the need to offer Americans a balanced picture of the kingdom from those who know it best.
"I think you made the history of this company. We really need to build on this bond you have created, and today's reunion is a true testimony to all of that," he said.
"We count on your help, your support and your understanding as true ambassadors, not only for Aramco but for the whole nation."
Former Dhahran residents Judy and Mike Butler took Al Mulhim's message to heart on a tour around the Monterey Peninsula the next day with 25 other attendees. After visiting the Cannery Row district memorialized by John Steinbeck, watching waves crash on the rugged Pacific shore and stopping by the Pebble Beach Golf Course (at $525 a round, there were no takers in the group), they ventured on to Carmel.
There, Judy was buttonholed on the sidewalk by a Californian who recognized the letters on her necklace spelling her name in Arabic. That started a conversation-about the reunion and Aramco and Saudi Arabia.
Reunion attendees had ample time to tell all sorts of tales during tours, on land and at sea, and before and after presentations by former Aramcons. Hugh Renfro, who worked for Aramco in the 1950s and '60s, spoke on "Saudi Oil Past and Present," and Elizabeth Mclellan, who worked at the Dhahran Health Center beginning in 1986, discussed her nonprofit's effort to collect and redistribute discarded medical supplies to improve health care around the world.
Pictures elicited conversations, too. Bert Seal, who joined Aramco as a photographer in the 1950s, brought along several binders full of black-and-white photos-of Dhahran and Tapline and formal events involving the royal family in Riyadh, for instance.
"There's my office; there's where my husband worked; there's the scho..o l!" Rhona Messinger exclaimed as she turned the pages of one binder. She'd come as a newlywed in 1954 from England to Dhahran, where her husband Robert had worked since 1948. (They'd met on holiday in Amsterdam in 1953, and she'd gladly traded the chilly, damp postwar English weather "to be under a palm tree in the heat," she said.)
Their three sons were born in Dhahran, and one, Ray, works there nowliving just a couple of blocks from where he was born. "I loved it there," Messinger said, gazing at Seal's photos. His pictures also caught the eye of a Monterey Herald reporter who interviewed half a dozen retirees for a story published Oct. 27.
"By the time Bert Seal, 86, came to work as a photographer for Aramco's Public Relations Dept. in 1955, the landsea pe and culture were evolving," she wrote. "New constructs became his photographic material; he took pictures of Aramco's communities, neighboring towns and the king's palace. Seal also recalls dining alongside Saudi royalty and spending weekends among camels in Bedouin desert camps. He was 'always impressed by Arab hospitality."'
That hospitality and the legacy of working in Saudi Arabia that lives on through the children (and grandchildren) who grew up there were among the most talked-about subjects in Monterey.
Ninety-five-year-old Bill Hayes, who joined Aramco's San Francisco office in 1947 and worked all over the globe, including Dhahran from 1960-'66, can count on one hand friends from his generation who are still around to attend reunions. But that doesn't matter because of the children, many of them retirees themselves, who turn out.
"I have fun here as long as I know even the kids of the parents [I knew]," he says. "They are the same way."
(1) Rob and Christien Petrie, Monterey, 2016 (2) Jim and Linda Shearon, Asheville, 2014, (3) Rick and Rianne Chimblo, Tucson, 2012, (4) Karen and Al Fallon, Las Vegas. 2008, (5) Tony and Judy Germani, Branson, 2006