Let us tell you a story about a group of students sunbathing between work shifts, a secret key used to help students sneak out at night, lipstick on bed pillows, a few friends hitchhiking across state lines. No, it’s not a movie; this was real life for Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) alumni who graduated between 1958 and 1969.
“We had a good class,” said Jennita Wright ‘62, smiling. “It was a lot of fun.”
This past May, they gathered at the Alumni Center on campus for the Golden Jubilee celebration, an event honoring MCN nursing alumni whose classes graduated 50 or more years ago. This year, the members of the Class of 1969 received their commemorative pins, designed by Mary Ann Watkins ‘62.
Dean Judy Neubrander welcomed everyone to the Golden Jubilee celebration. “How lovely to have the 100th anniversary occur on your special year,” she said. The group was also greeted with a surprise guest: Former MCN Dean Janet Krejci — who first established the Golden Jubilee celebration in 2015 — stopped in. “I love this community, and I’ll always have Mennonite in my heart.”
It’s clear that the bonds forged at MCN over the years have been strong. When Vada Saffer, Rosie Short, and Chara Roth ‘69 greeted each other, the room filled with laughter. “Rosie, Chara, and I were the three in our class who lived out of state,” said Vada. “We had a lot of quality time on the weekends staying here. And our friendship still continues.”
According to another ‘69 alumna, the best part of reunions is that “it’s been so many years, but when we get back together, we can go right on like we haven’t been apart.”
Imagine life in 1969: Richard Nixon was president. Popular shows such as The Brady Bunch, Sesame Street, and Scooby-Doo debuted. The first strain of the AIDS virus was found in the United States. An artificial heart was implanted into a patient for the first time. The starting nursing salary was $5 per hour, and the average new house would put you back $40,000.
During the celebration, alumni took turns sharing memories about their time at MCN. As the microphone went around, the memories flooded back, and their stories quickly turned to sharing secrets.
“When we were seniors, we went up on the roof, I think, and shared stories about our time at Mennonite,” said Edith Michalovic ‘62, smiling shyly. “We whispered about the key we had — a key that would let us into the dorm from the tunnel.” She giggled, then added, “The teachers didn’t know about that.”
Intrigued, Dean Neubrander asked, “How’d you get that key?”
Edith replied, “It’s a secret.”
Going the extra mile, Suzie Obert ‘64 described hitchhiking from Indianapolis to Bloomington to sneak into a boyfriend’s dorm. “This is the story I’m notorious for,” she said, laughing. “We were in Indianapolis, and I had a boyfriend I wanted to see in Bloomington. The trick was, I didn’t have a way to get to Bloomington. This one guy wouldn’t let me borrow his car. He said, ‘You can always hitchhike.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah! I can.’ I asked the other girls, figuring they wouldn’t do it. But they said, ‘Yes!'” When they arrived, the door was locked, and they had to climb in through the window.
More stories were shared about the friendships they forged and the instructors whose lessons they’ve carried with them all of these years.
Sunbathing on the nurse’s deck. Singing in the choir. Lunches at Dr. Ball’s house. Miss Nice’s insistence on strong bed corners. So many stories about Miss Maxwell and Mrs. Gaines.
And there’s Edith ‘62 and Steve Michalovic ‘64, who found love at Mennonite. “Steve was the second male nursing student, but the first single one,” Mary Ann Watkins said with a wink. “Ken beat him here, but Ken was married.”
Steve recalls how Edith brought him to Mennonite.
“We met in high school and went to the same youth group,” he said. Edith added, “We casually dated. But he went off to voluntary service in seminary school. Then, he came with when my dad brought me for my first day at Mennonite. Two years later, he felt called to nursing.” She turned and smiles at him. “In my senior year, he was a freshman student! We dated on and off until he graduated, then we got engaged.”
You get the feeling that everyone in the room knows how lucky they are to have each other. “Last year was my 60th reunion, and most of my classmates were there,” said Paula Boland ‘58. “This year, some were unable to come for health and family reasons. I’m so grateful we got together last year.”
Others in the room nodded their heads. In just an afternoon, the room had filled with memories, laughter, love, tears, compassion, and gratitude. Wrapping up the event, another alumna from the class of ‘69 said, “These were three of the most memorable years of my life. I couldn’t have asked to go to a better school. We have made wonderful friendships that have lasted our entire lives.”
“Thank you for this,” said Vada Saffer ‘69. “We appreciate today.”
This story was originally printed as part of MCN’s 2019 Commemorative Flame Magazine. To view the full magazine, visit the Mennonite College of Nursing website.
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