Some people say that college is the best time of your life. But Heidi and Charlie Dees have been making memories and building stronger friendships with the families of 10 of Charlie’s college friends every summer since 1986.
The Dees met at the University of Evansville — where the men of each of the families who take part in the annual tradition were members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
“[They] were mostly football players with a few swimmers in the mix,” Heidi said.
The first summer, the men decided to spend a weekend together at Kentucky Lake with their families, and the next year they did a weekend in Gatlinburg. After that, they decided a full week of vacation was necessary.
“The wives wanted a beach so we moved the trip to the Outer Banks,” Heidi said. “As more kids came, we needed a private beach with less violent waves. Sunset Beach checked all of our boxes and we have been returning to this beach for the last 23 years.”
The 10 original couples come from different states, including South Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, California and Kentucky. There were 65 people in attendance at this year’s trip.
“Most families are able to attend every year,” Heidi said. “It’s a trip that we never want to miss. Reconnecting with your college friends annually is priceless.”
The children of all the couples remain close friends as well, Heidi said, and the older children sometimes bring their significant other.
“We are now entering those years where a few of our children now have spouses and are starting families of their own,” Heidi said.
The Sunset Beach trip is the week of the Fourth of July. They rented seven houses this year, although they continue to need more as grandchildren arrive.
Each year they take a group picture, have catered meals, rent bikes, play golf and bocce ball, and have karaoke and improv nights. There is also yearly swag for each family – towels, hats, T-shirts and cups.
“Our kids look forward to this trip as much as we do,” Heidi said. “The kids now outnumber the adults.”
The events are planned by two couples each year, but for 2023, their kids are making the plans.
“We learned early on that our group is special and we call it our beach family,” Heidi said. “We help each other through the ups and downs of life. We have a beach thread on our phones and share pictures and stories the entire year to keep in touch. We have lost two wives, parents, and have battled cancer and COVID through the years. We lean on each other when times are tough. We also celebrate all of our blessings with each other.”
Heidi said that while the children are now in college and beyond, they plan to make this trip a priority and carry on the tradition.
One of her children wrote a song about their time together and accompanies it with his guitar as he shares it each year.
“Gone to Carolina to Unwind sums it up for all of us,” she said.
Within the song, the sentiments are echoed:
“That’s how we do it in Sunset Beach
Tan bodies and sandy feet
Good friends and good times
Special drinks filled with limes
These friendships will last forever
Through ups and downs and all kinds of weather
‘Cause beach love is the strongest kind
May we have many more years of fun in the sun.”