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Reunion: Webster College alumnae exchange stories during dinner at CJ Muggs
By Megan Favignano and Julie Turek
Mary Connaghan, 87, sat with nine of her classmates at a long table at CJ Muggs in Webster Groves. Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra hummed from a portable stereo as the 10 women celebrated 65-years since their 1947 graduation from Webster College, now Webster University.
“If you’re a friend, you’ll always have a friend,” Connaghan said. “And I think Webster taught us that.”
The group met on Friday, Sept. 28 before the alumni celebrations of the university’s Homecoming Reunion and Parents Weekend. The 10 women passed around a photo of them at their last reunion, five years ago. They discussed their lives and Webster.
Mary Riffel Jamboretz, 1947 alumna, remembered what life was like on Webster’s campus. Residents had a curfew of 10 p.m. If any student was even 10 minutes late, Jamboretz said Sister Flaget, a nun and teacher at the time, waited at the door with a watch.
“Sister Flaget would say, ‘Alright, you’re 10 minutes late so you’ll be in 20 minutes early the next time,’” Jamboretz said. “She was a wonderful nun and we loved her, but she was strict.”
They would often be back by curfew, Jamboretz said. Then, they would sneak out to parties.
The young women had fun during the day too.
Mary Connaghan once pushed Joan Schmiedefkamp in a wheel barrel down the first-floor corridor of Loretto Hall in the late 1940s. Schmiedefkamp, Webster College class of 1949, howled with laughter.
Connaghan said she and her friends would also find the fun in an ever-present part of life at the time — World War II. When servicemen were in town, Connaghan said Webster held dances.
“World War II was on, and we had groups of soldiers and sailors come out for different things,” Connaghan said. “We did a lot for the war, the bonds and entertaining.”
Dr. George Donovan, Webster College president from 1931-1950, reported the student body sold $312,593.75 in war bonds and stamps. In his annual report for the 1943-44 school year, he also stated students volunteered at the U.S.O., entertained the Armed Forces and donated blood — all for the war effort. The report said a B-24 Liberator, a military plane, was named after Webster College in appreciation of Webster’s efforts.
After graduation, the class of 1947 went in separate ways, but many of them still kept in touch. About 10 years after graduating, the women still living in the St. Louis area started to meet for lunch every other month.
Thirty-eight women graduated from Webster College in 1947. The small class has maintained a high attendance level at homecoming weekend compared to other classes.
“We are the class that always turns out in big numbers,” said 1947 alumna Peggy Gaskill at the 65th anniversary dinner. “It’s kind of amazing. Some classes will have one or two people — not us. Whoever started this every-other-month-lunch-get-together, I guess they are responsible for our continued closeness.”
After years of bimonthly gatherings, the group slowly found it more difficult to meet. The alumnae promised to meet every five years during the Webster homecoming weekend. Gaskill said their group has been motivated to stay connected.
“We have always had the most people,” said Connaghan at dinner. “When we were out 60 years we had this big crowd of people. People came from out of town. Since then we have lost three to dying and others with Alzheimer’s . . . so we are down to 10 of us this year.”
One of their classmates, Pat Walsh Long, died last week.
Walsh Long lived at Bethesda in Webster Groves, where Connaghan lives now.
When Connaghan was first informed of her friend’s death, she immediately called her fellow classmates to let them know.
“These are friends that I have had for so many years. They are like sisters,” Connaghan said. “We do stay in touch but it’s sad, really. Peg can’t see, Rosemary can’t hear and most of us don’t walk too good. It’s not the same. Old age stinks.”
Every year the university holds a Golden Circle Luncheon for the alumni class celebrating its 50-year anniversary since graduation. At the end of the weekend there is also an Alumni Celebration Gala where the Reunion Honor Classes are recognized. The years of 1942 to 2007 were celebrated this past homecoming weekend.
The class of 1947 said it also plans to attend the alumni celebrations of Webster’s homecoming weekend in 2017. The alumni will celebrate their 70-year anniversary at that time. With health issues playing a large factor in hindering attendance, the group fears its numbers will decrease in the next five years.
Connaghan said despite what the future may hold for the remaining members of the class of 1947, the gathering will always remain an important part of their lives.
“We have other friends, but these are people we are really close to,” Connaghan said at dinner. “I think it is just an old friendship. We know each other so well.”