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Way Back at Mac: Class of ’47 sets the Bar High

As the academic year draws to a close, there is always a flurry to get friends’ contact information before we all hightail for summer. For seniors, this process is especially important. We are all probably familiar with the difficulties of staying in contact with high school friends, and this challenge is just as present four years later. Some people SnapChat, others may prefer email chains and some may simply lose contact, but nowadays, few write letters. Well, back before the privilege of apps and internet, sixteen Macalester alumni from the class of 1947 stayed in contact in a very special way. For 40 years, they sustained a bi-annual letter writing round robin. Considering that I’ve written about two letters in the past year, this 40-year feat is pretty incredible. The following article was published in the November 1986 edition of Macalester Today and follows their story from Macalester through forty years of letters. The only question is: are you up for the letter writing challenge?
• kogrady@macalester.edu

From “A ‘Round Robin’ Comes Full Circle,” by Betty Schultz Frost ’47.

Last summer, a very special mini-reunion of the class of 1947 met in the lulls of Frisco, Colorado, three hours’ drive from Denver. All were unusually well acquainted with each others’ lives, thanks to a resolution made 38 years before: Shortly after they left Macalester, 16 women — all raised in the Twin Cities — had made a letter-writing pact. The resulting “round robin” (or simply “R.R., “ as it came to be known), a twice-yearly packet of their news-filled letters, has been faithfully kept up for nearly four decades. Last July [1986], these 16 women, together with sundry husbands, came to Colorado to see with their own eyes the people they had read about for so long. What follows is a report by one of those ’47 women on how the R.R. came to be and how it changed over the years.

From the first day we girls of the class of ’47 enrolled at Macalester, we spent our time trying to fit everything in: studying, attending compulsory Chapel and weekly Convo, passing Senior Life Saving, and, of course, writing our “guys overseas” and dating those poor lonesome Air Corps cadets on campus. We were part of what was then the largest graduating class in Macalester history — 145 people.

In those days, Hubert Humphrey taught political science to the Air Corps boys, while student Walter Mondale emceed the “Queen of Hearts,” a February beauty contest. Many of us were waiting for soldiers, sailors, flyers and Marines to return from the war; meanwhile, we knit mufflers, studied at the newly constructed Weyerhaeuser Library, and chatted with President Turck over coffee in the Old Main grille.

Tuition was $125 per semester then, which seemed like a lot. Out-of-town students lived on campus; most local students lived at home with their families to save the cost of room and board, commuting to Macalester by streetcar, on foot or (for a few lucky ones) in the family automobile. Sixteen of us in-town girls became friends then — a friendship that has endured more than 40 years.

Within a year after we left Macalester, Betty Ann Baker organized the Round Robin by circulating a list of all of us in our new geographical order. One of us wrote a letter and sent it to the next person on the list; the second wrote her own letter, then passed the two letters on to the next “Robin”; the third passed on a packet of three letters, and so on up to 16, the number it has remained ever since. When the packet came around to you again, you took out your own letter, substituted a new one, and sent it off again. Thirty-eight years later, the “RR” is still circling the continent: north to Duluth and Hibbing, south to Mankato, Minn., east to Pennsylvania and westward to Colorado and California.

Most of us married that first year out of college. Now we had shed our bobby sox, sloppy sweaters and saddle shoes, and we had to learn to keep house — in any kind of housing we could find. Our first letters reflected despair: over cakes that fell and wringer washers that twisted the towels, and over working at mundane jobs to send our G.I. husbands through school.

Our 1950s letters were bulging with talk of babies and toddlers. We were all married by then, and we stayed at home to sew, knit, cook and raise children. We became active in the P.T.A., the League of Women Voters, and our churches.

In the 1960s, everything changed. Our accumulation of 2.9 children apiece were graduating from high school and starting out for colleges and technical schools.
If school was good for our kids, we Robins decided, we were going back for more of it! Once those children got their diplomas and certificates, five of us became teachers — in early childhood, kindergarten, first grade and college.

By the 1970s, most of us were grandparents, and the envelopes bulged with photographs.
Today, we find, our offspring do not always do our bidding nor follow our lifestyles, but we love them anyway.

Incidentally, we are all planning our next reunion of Robins and spouses — for 1989!

April 22, 2016

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