As outrage over Facebook’s shady ways flows like never before, there remain a few sunny corners of goodwill, warm memories, and great laughs within the social media beast. Though often used to fire up political ire or fuel conspiracy theories, Facebook Groups are places to connect with people of similar interests, ensuring that conversations usually stay on point rather than veer into vitriol. I’ve long been a member of the “Memories of Old Santa Barbara” group (founded August 2011, 15,000-plus members) and joined “Support Santa Barbara Biz Online” (March 2020, 6,800+) during the pandemic.
But now one fast-rising group dominates my Facebook feed, making me and most of my college buddies smile every day: “I partied in Isla Vista ‘95-’02.” Just founded on August 27, the group also already boasts nearly 12,000 members, some of whom are now pushing for a real-life reunion next summer.
“I’ve heard that there’s been an uptick in people visiting Isla Vista to see their old haunts, going to Sands, going to Freebirds, going to Island View Outfitters to get shirts,” said founder Drew Wendland, a West Virginia–raised contractor who attended UCSB from 1996 to 2001 and now lives in Thousand Oaks. “I’m glad that people are excited about reconnecting with the community.”
Wendland had been following a different Isla Vista group that had been founded by Ollie Ongpin in 2008, but it then renamed itself on August 22 as “I partied in Isla Vista ‘88-’94.” That’s about the time that UCSB grad and Santa Barbara resident Tyler Tomblin was killing pandemic time by posting new content on that group’s page. “I got my photo album and started scanning shots, and it really took off,” said Tomblin, whose friends started sharing and bumped that membership to more than 6,000. “We had this little group of friends that became a catalyst for the second group.”
Once those specific years were identified, Wendland realized that he wouldn’t know many people in that group, so started the new one five days later. “I tried to get a swath of years where people would know each other and have had similar experiences,” he explained of picking the 1995 to 2002 range. “I invited about 200 friends from college, and they invited their friends, and now it’s like a Sprint commercial. It’s pretty incredible.” The content is mostly old photos, questions to the crowd about life then and now, and plenty of forgotten memories and friendships revived.
Support for the reunion is not quite so viral, with just over $2,500 raised of the $50,000 goal. The loose plan is for July 16 to 18, 2021, with a concert, ideally starring a big UCSB alum like Jack Johnson or Steve Aoki. Some are joking that it sounds like the notoriously swindly Fyre Festival, but Wendland assures he’s not taking anyone’s money, just testing the waters. “I still don’t really know how that’s gonna go,” he admitted.
As the group’s administrator, Wendland now checks the site multiple times a day, takes down any posts deemed offensive, and recently banned politics completely. “I want to stay on top of it and keep it a fun group,” said Wendland.
It’s working, as this recent post illustrated. “One thing I’ve noticed within these thousands of posts and comments is not one negative or disparaging comment about anyone or anything,” wrote Emi Juhasz Saffian. “It’s the most feel good vibe energy group I’ve ever been a part of and it just further proves what a magical, special experience we shared and obviously all appreciate. I feel like we are all chillin’ in one big living room, passing the bong around, and trying to piece those years together laughing and reminiscing like one big family.”
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